Kola Owolabi plays 20th-century organ music on the landmark organ built in 1950 by Walter Holtkamp, Sr., in Crouse College auditorium at Syracuse University, incorporating many ranks of the 1889 Roosevelt and 1930 Estey organs that preceded it. Kola Owolabi is Associate Professor of Organ at the University of Michigan in Ann
Arbor and from 2006 to 2014, he taught at Syracuse University and served
as University Organist.
Calvin Hampton: Prelude and Variations on Old Hundredth
Olivier Messiaen: L’Ascension
Petr Eben: Four Biblical Dances
Sacred Expressions: Twentieth-Century Music for Organ
by Kola Owolabi
In choosing a program for this recording, I decided to feature two rarely recorded works by significant twentieth-century composers and play them on an iconic instrument that was pivotal in the development of mid-20th-century American organ building. I have chosen major works by Calvin Hampton and Petr Eben, presenting them alongside Olivier Messiaen’s L’Ascension, a staple of 20th-century organ repertoire. Each of these composers has a distinctive musical voice and all found inspiration in sacred themes from the Christian tradition: while Eben’s music gives us programmatic descriptions of biblical stories, Messiaen explores the mystical side of Roman Catholic spirituality, and Calvin Hampton provides a set of variations on a very popular tune from the Genevan Psalter.
I have a great affinity for the music of these three composers and was gratified to discover that Calvin Hampton gave frequent performances of Messiaen’s organ works on his recital programs, including numerous complete performances of the early cycles, La Nativité, L’Ascension, and Les corps glorieux. In 1972, Hampton performed L’Ascension at Calvary Episcopal Church in New York City on the four Sundays in February, accompanied by seven dancers in the nave.
This recording opens with music of Calvin Hampton (1938-1984), who studied with Arthur Poister on the Holtkamp organs at Syracuse University, receiving his master’s degree in organ performance in 1961. Hampton’s career was based in New York City, where he was organist at Calvary Episcopal Church, performing a free organ recital every Friday evening at midnight, from 1972 to 1982. As a composer, he was known for his eclecticism, writing works such as his Concerto for Saxophone Quartet, Strings and Percussion, which was performed by the New York Philharmonic in 1977. He also was very interested in theatre organs and silent film accompaniment, and belonged to a spiritual rock band called Sevenfold Gifts. He wrote numerous choral works for his choir at Calvary Church and published many hymn tunes, several of which were written for rock ensembles.
The Prelude and Variations on Old Hundredth was published in 1975. It was performed by the composer on his midnight organ recital series, and then later that year received its European premiere by Cherry Rhodes at the International Organ Festival in St. Alban’s England. Calvin Hampton writes, “The Doxology [Old Hundredth] is perhaps the most often played chorale of all time but has been the least dealt with by the great organ composers of the past generation. It is my intention to correct this oversight in one giant, eclectic stroke.” Originally consisting of a prelude and nine variations, Hampton later inserted three additional variations, composed for Cherry Rhodes. Hampton acknowledges that his variations were modeled on music composed by 20th-century composers of sets of variations for organ, including Max Reger, Johann Nepomuk David, Sigfrid Karg-Elert, Charles Tournemire and Marcel Dupré.
Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) was organist at Église de la Sainte Trinité in Paris from 1931 until his death in 1992. As a composer and teacher, his innovations in modality, harmony and rhythm have had an inestimable influence on succeeding generations of composers. Much of his music is shaped by his devout Catholic faith but also draws on a variety of disparate elements, including Hindu mysticism, Indian and Greek classical rhythms, plainchant and birdsong. Messiaen was an avid ornithologist and traveled internationally, painstakingly transcribing the songs of numerous species of birds. These birdsongs became the basis of many compositions for piano, organ and orchestra. Central to his melodic and harmonic language are his use of the modes of limited transposition, a series of scales, each based on a recurrent interval pattern. These scales can only be transposed a small number of times (two to five) before generating the original pitch collection.
Messiaen’s L’Ascension was composed in 1933 as a four-movement suite for orchestra, and he arranged it for organ the following year. While he was easily able to transcribe the first, second, and last movement, the third movement proved to be more difficult, and he replaced it with an entirely new movement, Transports de joie…, which was the first of his ecstatic toccatas for organ. Throughout the cycle, Messiaen mixes his modes of limited transposition (particularly the second, third and seventh) with major-minor tonality. The first movement is centered in E major, and the subsequent movements move up by half-step to F major, F# major, and G major respectively, symbolizing Jesus’ ascent into heaven. As the last movement ends with soft string and flute stops on an unresolved dominant-seventh chord in second inversion, one can imagine the apostles’ poignant sense of awe as Jesus is taken from them.
A clear example of Messiaen’s innovative approach to musical form can be seen in the second movement, which features two main themes in alternation. The opening theme is presented at first as a monody (unaccompanied melodic line), then appears beneath an ostinato progression of chords in the third mode of limited transposition, and returns at the end of the piece, with arpeggio figuration in the treble, accompanied by lush chords. The three statements are separated by a second theme, which is greatly expanded in its second iteration. In his 1944 treatise, Technique de mon langage musical, Messiaen identifies this form as “Variations of the First Theme, Separated by Developments of the Second.”
Titles of the four movements are listed below, with the scriptural quotation that inspires each movement:
1. Majesté du Christ demandant sa gloire à son Père (Majesty of Christ praying that his Father should glorify Him) “Father, the hour is come: glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee” (John 17:1)
2. Alléluias sereins d’une âme qui desire le ciel (Serene Alleluias from a soul longing for Heaven) “We beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we may in mind dwell in Heaven.” (Mass for Ascension Day).
3. Transports de joie d’une âme devant la gloire du Christ qui est la sienne (Transports of joy from a soul before the Glory of Christ which is its own glory) “Giving thanks unto The Father which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the Saints in light… has raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Colossians 1:12; Ephesians 2:6)
4. Prière du Christ montant vers son Père (Prayer of Christ ascending towards His Father) “And now, O Father, I have manifested Thy name unto men… and now, I am no more in the world, but these are in the world and I come to Thee.” (John 17: 6, 11)
Petr Eben (1929-2007) is the foremost internationally recognized contemporary Czech composer. He is known primarily for his numerous organ works, including several pieces for organ with other instruments. However, he has also written song cycles, choral music, chamber music and orchestral works. Eben’s music is profoundly influenced by his Roman Catholic faith, his experiences as a prisoner in the Buchenwald concentration camp during World War II, and the hardships of living in Communist Czechoslovakia. He has had firsthand experience of human beings’ ability to overcome suffering, and therefore has used his music to bring hope to his audiences, offering a spiritual message that often could not be spoken in a climate of political censorship.
Four Biblical Dances, composed in 1992, is a suite of pieces which dramatically portray scenes from the Bible in which dancing occurs. The relevant biblical passages are quoted below, along with Petr Eben’s commentary on his work:
1. The Dance of David before the Ark of the Covenant And David rejoiced before the Lord with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet. (II Samuel 6:14-15)
This movement contains two sharply contrasting themes. The first expresses the solemn and royal character of the dancer which is represented by a trumpet fanfare. There follows a passage with rhythmically accentuated chords which leads to the second theme, a melody which suggest oriental dances and bears some resemblance to the Hebrew folksong. It depicts David’s spontaneous dance in undignified attire which was the cause of his wife Michal’s mocking indignation. The final part of this movement combines the two themes; many times however the royal theme is interrupted with variations of the dance melody.
2. The Dance of the Shulamite Dance, dance, maid of Shulam, let us watch you, as you dance! (Song of Songs 6:13)
This is the only lyrical movement of the cycle in which the beautiful bride from the Song of Solomon is portrayed. A dreamy introduction, also influenced by the Orient, and a brief call to the dance written with a time signature of seven-eight, precede the intimate theme of the Shulamite played on the flute.
3. The Dance of Jephtha’s Daughter And Jephtha made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return will be the Lord’s and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” When Jephtha returned to his home in triumph, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines. She was an only child. When he saw her he tore his clothes and cried, “O my daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.” (Judges 11: 30-31, 34-35)
This is the dramatic movement of the cycle. It opens with a dance by the maidens in which the organ imitates small percussion instruments such as the tambourine. The extended dance is interrupted by the anticipation of a threatening theme. A dramatic chord presages a tense and menacing development as the distant sound of trumpets announces the approach of Jephtha’s army and the dramatic meeting between Jephtha and his daughter, which is represented in the music by prominent pedal solos and turbulent passage writing. Jephtha’s tragic vow to sacrifice the first person he meets at his house, if he is victorious is revealed. The final part of this movement begins with his daughter’s lament on her imminent death, and reference to some of the earlier dance melodies are transformed into funereal music.
4. The Wedding in Cana And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee. (John 2:1)
Although a dance is not mentioned in the holy scriptures at this event, I cannot but imagine that with so much good wine there would not have been some dancing. After a brief introduction, the movement begins with a joyful invitation to dance. A lively interlude leads to a wedding march for the trumpet and the movement concludes with a cheerful dance-toccata.
Kola Owolabi is Associate Professor of Organ at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. There he teaches courses in organ, improvisation and sacred music. From 2006 to 2014, he taught at Syracuse University and served as University Organist. He also held positions as Sub Dean and Dean of the Syracuse Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
Dr. Owolabi has had an active career as a solo recitalist, including performances at St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in New York, St. James Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, The Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY, St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Toronto, Cornell University, Pacific Lutheran University and The University of Notre Dame. International venues include the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica and Église du Bouclier in Strasbourg, France. He was a featured performer at the American Guild of Organists National Convention in Boston in June 2014, performing three recitals at Methuen Memorial Music Hall. He also performed a concert for the Organ Historical Society Convention in Syracuse in August 2014. He has performed numerous concerts as organist and harpsichordist with the Grammy-nominated vocal ensemble Seraphic Fire and Firebird Chamber Orchestra, based in Miami, Florida.
Dr. Owolabi is a published composer and has received commissions from the Royal Canadian College of Organists and the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto. His solo organ composition Dance was selected for the Royal Canadian College of Organists National Competition in August 2013, where all of the finalists performed this composition. His choral works have been performed internationally by ensembles such as the Santa Cruz [California] Chorale, Nashville Chamber Singers, Illinois Wesleyan University Choir and the Elmer Isler Singers in Toronto.
In 2002, Dr. Owolabi was awarded second prize and audience prize at the American Guild of Organists National Young Artists Competition in Organ Performance. He holds degrees in organ performance and choral conducting from McGill University, Montreal, Yale University and Eastman School of Music. His former teachers have included Bruce Wheatcroft, John Grew, Martin Jean, Thomas Murray, Hans Davidsson and William Porter.
John Crouse, a Syracuse wholesale grocer, banker, and trustee of Syracuse University, selected the site and oversaw the construction of the building that first served as the College for Women and now houses the Setnor School of Music, College of Visual and Performing Arts. Executed in the Romanesque Revival style with Victorian Gothic details to plans by architect Archimedes Russell of Syracuse who earlier had taught architecture at the university, the building was completed in 1889.
The original organ in Crouse College Auditorium was built by the New York City firm of Frank Roosevelt, successor to Hilborne L. Roosevelt, Op. 423, 1889. It had three manuals, 42 stops, 2,624 pipes, 33 couplers and accessories, “Roosevelt Patent Chests,” and a Lawson Gas Engine to supply wind; it was 32’ wide, 14’3" deep, and 34’ tall.
The Estey Organ Company of Brattleboro, Vermont, rebuilt the organ as their Op. 2244, 1924, in consultation with Dr. George A. Parker, music faculty, 1882-1938. The Estey organ cost about $15,000.00; it retained virtually all of the Roosevelt pipes and the Roosevelt facade, and was fitted with a new, movable, tilting-tablet console.
Meanwhile, in Hendricks Chapel on campus, the Aeolian Organ Co., New York, provided a new four-manual organ, Op. 1771, 1930.
In 1949, the university contracted with Walter Holtkamp of Cleveland for four new organs. It was decided to use much of the Roosevelt pipework in the new Crouse College organ, along with some pipes from the Hendricks Chapel Aeolian, itself to be replaced with a new three-manual Holtkamp incorporating much of the Aeolian pipework.
The new Crouse College organ was dedicated 13 November 1950 with a recital by Arthur Poister, who collaborated with Walter Holtkamp in the design of the instrument. For an account of the importance of the organ, let us turn to the words of Will Headlee, Professor of Organ and University Organist, written for the occasion of a Silver Anniversary Concert, 7 August 1975, repeating the program that inaugurated the Holtkamp organ:
“The significance of the Crouse Organ, both musically and historically, could hardly be exaggerated. Built squarely in the middle of the twentieth century, it represents Walter Holtkamp’s coming of age as an organ builder and stands as his greatest achievement. Only his earlier instrument in the Cleveland Museum of Art could be considered more important historically, but it has been removed. And the musical workability of the Crouse organ places it in a very special category beyond the Museum organ. The situation in Crouse could not be more favorable for this type of organ and the acoustical properties of the room are an indispensable part of the organ’s sound.
“In 1950 this country was in the midst of a growing organ reform movement. It had begun earlier in Germany and got under way here in the late thirties. Two men, G. Donald Harrison of the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Co. and Walter Holtkamp of Cleveland, Ohio, emerged as the leaders of this movement dedicated to the classic principles of organ building. Most American organists of the fifties preferred Harrison’s thinking, and he was considered for the Crouse organ. But history shows that Holtkamp much more pointed the direction things were to go. Since then new leaders have emerged and the reform movement has continued.”
—amended from Alan Laufman’s description published in the Organ Handbook for the 25th Convention of the Organ Historical Society, June 1980, and first quoted by kind permission in Will Headlee’s Raven CD OAR-440, 100 Years of Organ Music at Syracuse University
Walter Holtkamp, Sr.
A precursor to Walter Holtkamp’s creation in 1950 of the Crouse College organ was an ”experimental” organ he built for display at the 1933 convention of the American Guild of Organists in Cleveland. His tonal ideas thus demonstrated shortly thereafter established Walter Holtkamp, Sr. (1894-1962), as the prominent standardbearer of organ reform in the United States.
Conceived as a one-manual instrument of divided compass, 61 notes GG-g3, the organ was eventually expanded to two manuals and installed in a Cleveland church. Visually, it shows a compelling architectural flair (as designed by Cleveland architect Richard Rychtarik) and concentration on pipe display. Within a brief few years, the ”functional display”of the Crouse College organ evolved, at first retaining handsome carvings and ornamental woodwork that evolved in the 1940s to clean and uncluttered lines of organs such as that at Crouse College. Perhaps the music on this recording shares the 20th-century inspiration for straightforward statements, though not necessarily simple ones.
When Walter Holtkamp, Sr., built this organ in early 1933, he had been at the helm of the family organbuilding business in Cleveland since 1931 following the unanticipated deaths of his father, Henry Holtkamp (1858- 1931), in March and his elder sister, Mary, who had earlier joined the firm and died in an automobile accident in June while on company business. He led it through the Great Depression and into an illustrious future. His son, Walter Holtkamp, Jr. (1929- ), joined the firm in 1956 and led it until retirement in 1997. His son, fourth-generation organbuilder F. Christian Holtkamp (1955- ), joined the firm in 1987 and assumed its operations in 1997. Organbuilder G. F. Votteler founded the firm in 1855.
—William T. Van Pelt
Setnor Auditorium, Crouse College, Syracuse University
Holtkamp Job. No. 1649, 1950
many ranks from Frank Roosevelt Op. 423, 1889, and Aeolian Op. 1771, 1930
Great 61 notes, Holtkamp slider chests
16’ Quintadena (capped)
8’ Gemshorn (Roosevelt Gt. Gemshorn)
8’ Gedackt (Roosevelt Sw. St'd Diap., wood
4’ Gross Octav (Roosevelt Ch. Geigen Principal rescaled)
4’ Spitz Flöte
2’ Super Octave
16’ Dulzian (½-length wood)
Chimes (20 tubes, Deagan Class A a0-e2, 1925
Swell to Great 16 8 4
Positiv to Great 16 8
Swell 61 notes, pitman chests
16’ Lieblich Gedackt (Roosevelt Sw. Bourdon, wood, bored stoppers)
8’ Geigen Principal
8’ Gamba (Roosevelt Sw. Salicional)
8’ Gamba Celeste TF (Roosevelt Sw. Vox Celeste)
8’ Rohr Flöte
8’ Flauto Dolce
8’ Flute Celeste TF
4’ Octave Geigen (Roosevelt Sw. Octave)
4’ Bourdon (Roosevelt Ch. Flute d'Amour, wood, bored stoppers)
2’ Flautino (Roosevelt Sw. Flageolet, tapered)
II Sesquialtera (Roosevelt Sw. Cornet)
V Plein Jeu
Swell 16 8 4
Positiv 61 notes, pitman chests
8’ Quintadena (Roosevelt)
4’ Rohr Flöte
2’ Nacht Horn
Swell to Positiv
Pedal (32' & 16' octaves and reeds on offset unit chests; 8' and higher flues on one pitman chest)
32’ Grand Bourdon (12 Aeolian stopped wood pipes, Aeolian chest; 13-up from Sub Bass)
16’ Principal (Roosevelt Gt. Double Open Diap.)
16’ Sub Bass (Roosevelt Ped. Bourdon)
16’ Gamba (wood, Aeolian chest)
16’ Quintadena (Gt.)
16’ Lieblich Gedackt (Sw.)
8’ Octave (Roosevelt Gt. 2nd Open Diap.)
8’ Violon (Roosevelt Sw. Spitz Flöte)
8’ Stille Gedackt
5’ Quinte (Roosvelt Sw. Open Diap. rescaled)
4’ Choral Bass (Roosevelt Gt. Octave)
4’ Hohlflöte (Roosevelt Sw. 4' Hohl Flöte)
II Rausch Quinte (Roosevelt Gt. Octave Quint and Super Octave)
III Mixture (Roosevelt Gt. Mixture, rescaled)
16’ Posaune (Roosevelt Ped. Trombone, metal resonators, leathered maple shallots, wood blocks)
16’ Dulzian (Gt.)
8’ Trumpet (Roosevelt Gt. Trumpet)
4’ Rohr Schalmey
2’ Rohr Schalmey (ext.)
Great to Pedal
Swell to Pedal 8, 4
Positiv to Pedal 8, 4
Combination Action (original Holtkamp capture machine)
6 Generals, duplicated by toe studs on left:
1-3 left under Swell; 4-6 left under Great
8 Swell, under Swell
6 Great, under Great
6 Positive, under Positiv
Swell to Pedal Reversible piston, left under Swell
Great to Pedal Reversible piston, left under Great, duplicated by toe stud on right
Positiv to Pedal Reversible piston, left under Positiv
Full Organ Reversible piston, right under Great, duplicated by toe stud on right. Red light.
Setter and Cancel under Positiv, left and right
Crescendo Pedal (order established by Arthur Poister), green light