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Damin Spritzer has gathered a fascinating program of mostly obscure works by English composers, most created in the early 20th-century (1903-1956). She plays the famous organ of Hereford Cathedral in England, the organ slightly enlarged since its construction in 1892 by Henry Willis (Willis I, "Father" Willis), including the addition in 1909 by Henry Willis II of a 32' Bombarde.
Norman Gilbert: Psalm Rhapsody Qui habitat (1953)
Healey Willan: Elegy from Rondino, Elegy and Chaconne (1956)
Healey Willan: Elegy (in D-flat Major, 1933)
Alec Rowley: First Rhapsody in G Minor, op. 12 (1915)
Alec Rowley: Rhapsody (No. 2) in D Minor (1921)
John Ireland: Elegiac Romance (in C Minor, 1903)
Harold Darke: Elegy in E-flat (1949)
Harold Darke: Rhapsody in E, op. 4 (1908)
Ernest Bullock: Rhapsody No. 1 in C Major (1912)
Ernest Bullock: Rhapsody No. 2 in C Minor (1913)
Harvey Grace: Rhapsody, op. 17, no. 1 in G Major (ca. 1915)
Edward Elgar: Elegy, op. 58 (1909)
Rhapsodies & Elegies
by Damin Spritzer
Rhapsodies and elegies are highly improvisatory musical outpourings of profound emotion and expressiveness. They defy strict forms and allow both composer and performer free and full range of performance and interpretation. They are free-flowing in structure and feature a broad spectrum of highly contrasting mood, color and tonality. Rhapsodies are typically one-movement works which are episodic yet integrated, often passionate or nostalgic. Though a motive or theme may be woven throughout a rhapsody, an air of spontaneous inspiration makes a rhapsody freer in form than a set of variations and a rhapsody seldom follows the textbook rules of any one musical form. The elegy is a close cousin to the rhapsody and also is intended to be highly expressive and full of emotion and longing. However, elegies are generally more contained or refined in form and are often shorter than rhapsodies. In English literature, an elegy is a poem of serious reflection, often written in remembrance of a tragic loss or event. A work named with the adjective “elegiac” often refers to the expression of similar mournfulness or sorrow. The improvisatory nature of these works coupled with the constantly changing texture and dynamics make them extraordinary vehicles for individual interpretation, and offer the chance to use the full expressive and colorful range of any given organ.
This collection of works was inspired by the organ rhapsodies of Herbert Howells (1892- 1983) though none of them are recorded here. His compositions and organ music are considered to be the pinnacle of the English Romantic era, and the culmination of the tradition of composition inextricably linked to hundreds of years of musical excellence in the Church of England. This program is an exploration of the lesser-known or forgotten organ solo works of the English Romantic era. Many of these composers worked together, studied with the same professors, or were influenced and inspired by each other and in some cases by the same historical events (such as World War I). The works are played on the important instrument of the period: the 1892 “Father” Henry Willis organ at Hereford Cathedral in England.
Two quotes from Herbert Howells perhaps best embody this genre of music: “…in a rhapsodic composition there should be nothing extraneous to the one idea upon which the consciousness has brooded in rapture... the preparation of the background, the emergence of the tune which is the reason of the rhapsody, the elaboration of the brooding background, the fuller version of the tune, the gradual dying down and fading, and the ending of the spell.”1 And, my personal favorite, which says so very much about Howells, and so very much about this music: “I have composed out of the sheer love of trying to make nice sounds.”2
Organist Sir Ernest Bullock (1890-1979) was a pupil of, and assistant organist to, Sir Edward Bairstow. He served the church of Manchester Cathedral (1912-15) before the war. Following the war, he was organist at St Michael’s College, Tenbury (1919), organist and choirmaster of Exeter Cathedral (1919- 27), and Westminster Abbey beginning in 1928, where he provided the music for several royal functions including the coronations of King George VI (1937) and of Queen Elizabeth II (1953). In 1941, he became Gardiner Professor of Music at Glasgow University, an appointment which included the position of Principal of the Scottish National Academy of Music. He was knighted in 1951 and, in 1952, succeeded Sir George Dyson as director of the Royal College of Music, a post he held until his retirement in 1960.
Bullock was essentially a church musician, and his published compositions include twelve anthems, among them Give Us the Wings of Faith (1925), two settings of the Te Deum, and two of the Magnificat. He was also widely influential as an administrator and as an adjudicator at many musical competitions. He served as president of the Royal College of Organists (1951-2), chairman of the music committee of the Scottish Arts Council (1943-50), a member of the music panel of the Arts Council of Great Britain (1945-7) and joint chairman of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (1952-60).
Published separately in collections edited by Arthur Eaglefield Hull, these two rhapsodies are curious pieces. The First Rhapsody in C Major is triumphant and makes use of the two Tuba stops on the instrument for the main theme, later combined with the mysterious contrasting theme of the second section. The Second Rhapsody is in two parts, the first a cortege-like procession that gradually builds to a tremendous descending passage of planing chords that leads to a solemn, hushed funeral march, including a drum effect being heard in the pedals.
Harold Darke (1888-1976) studied organ with Walter Parratt and composition with C. V. Stanford at the RCM. As organist of St Michael’s, Cornhill, for 50 years (1916-66), he gave a midday recital each Monday that made him a city institution and garnered him a worldwide reputation as a performer. He founded the St, Michael’s Singers in 1919 and remained its conductor until 1966. During the war, Darke was acting organist of King’s College, Cambridge (1941-5), and then a Fellow (1945-9). He gave recitals at the Royal Festival Hall to mark his 75th, 80th, and 85th birthdays. Though he composed extensively for organ and choir, he is best remembered for his Communion Service in F Major and for his exquisite setting of the carol In the bleak mid-winter. Holding an Oxford DMus and an honorary Cambridge MA, he was president of the Royal College of Organists (1940-41) and a member of the RCM teaching staff (1919-69).
Of Darke’s Elegy, little is written in his various biographies. Throughout the plangently mournful though brief work, the motive heard in the opening bars develops, expressing strong emotion. On a much larger scale, the Rhapsody, op. 4, was his first published work for organ. The opening pedal motive permeates the entire 330 measures of the work. Writes Peter Hardwick,3 “the overpowering mood of warm emotionalism, seriousness, and yearning in Darke’s Rhapsody…is derived from the style of the great German tradition of the nineteenth century…such Romantic orchestral writing…” It is his grandest and longest work for organ, and far more deserving of a place in the repertory than it presently occupies.
Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934), one of England’s most prominent composers, was the son of a piano tuner as well as a lifelong Roman Catholic. Among his best-known and beloved compositions are orchestral works including the Enigma Variations, the Pomp and Circumstance marches, his concertos for violin and for cello, and two symphonies. He also composed significant choral works (including The Dream of Gerontius), chamber music, songs, and was appointed Master of the King’s Musick in 1924. He and his wife lived in Hereford from 1904 to 1911, and Elgar was close friends with Dr. G. R. Sinclair, then the organist of the cathedral. Elgar participated in the renowned Three Choirs Festival that continues to this day. Manuscripts of Elgar are preserved in the Hereford archives, and a beautiful statue installed in 2005 depicts him surveying the cathedral from his bicycle across the green, inscribed with his quote, “This is what I hear all day - the trees are singing my music - or am I singing theirs?” Elgar was knighted soon after he and his wife moved to Hereford, and his years there are understood to have been creative and happy.
Norman Gilbert (1912-1975) was an organ pupil in the mid-1930s of Sir Edward Bairstow at York Minster. He held positions at St. John’s Church in Warley, Halifax, and St. Paul’s Church, Llandudno, and was later Music Master of Headlands Grammar School in Swindon, Wiltshire. Very little is written of him; his compositions for organ are few. The Psalm Rhapsody is perhaps his longest organ work and bears the subtitle, Qui Habitat, a reference to Psalm 91, often invoked in times of hardship and known as the Psalm of Protection ("He who dwelleth in the shelter of the Most High"). An exuberant work, the harmonic language is sometimes reminiscent of Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Harvey Grace (1874-1944) was an English organist, music editor, and a prolific author on music. He trained as a church musician at Southwark Cathedral and served as organist of St. Mary Magdalene, Munster Square, in London and for East Grinstead Parish Church. From 1931 to 1938, he was organist at Chichester Cathedral. As a church musician, he was known for his wish to obtain good singing from his congregation as well as his choir, and he worked 1925-33 with the annual festival of working-girls’ clubs held in the Royal Albert Hall. He wrote a number of books on church and choral music, edited the organ music of Rheinberger and Franck, made transcriptions of Bach for organ, and composed many organ pieces. A member of the committee of the Church Music Society and of the Archbishop’s Committee on Church Music, he received an honorary doctorate from the Archbishop of Canterbury for his services to English church music. For 26 years, he edited the Musical Times (1918-44). His own contributions, under the pseudonym “Feste,” were distinguished by their common sense and humor. The majority of his own compositions were for organ. This Rhapsody, op. 17, is a beautiful and creative work that develops the theme heard in the opening bars throughout a number of keys, styles, and permutations, and it is full of both simple tenderness and virtuosic sturm und drang.
John Nicholson Ireland (1879-1962) was a composer, pianist, organist, and teacher who is sometimes called “an English Impressionist.” His early life was sad: his unhappy childhood included the early death of both parents which influenced the lonely, introspective side of Ireland’s personality and music. He was tormented by feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, affecting his creativity in many ways throughout his life. He entered the RCM in 1893, concentrating on the piano for four years, though he increasingly became involved in composition and was determined to study under Stanford, which he did from 1897 to 1901. Stanford’s teaching could be harsh and even cruel, and, because of his sensitive spirit, Ireland suffered more than most. However, later in life he always spoke well of Stanford’s teaching. Ireland made his living mainly as an organist and choirmaster at St Luke’s, Chelsea, from 1904 to 1926. From 1920 to 1939, he taught composition at the RCM, and for many years he lived at Gunter Grove, Chelsea, in “the quiet haven of a few intimate friends.” In Ireland’s best compositions, a firm structural sense is combined with a deeply personal poetry and harmonic language. There is an English lyricism reminiscent of Elgar, a distinct chromatically embellished use of harmony, and roots in the Classical-Romantic tradition. Peter Hardwick says of the Elegiac Romance: “…for those with a love of music with a serious, mysterious, Romantic mood, the composition is a veritable feast, containing voluptuous harmonies, emotional lyrical melodies, and a grand full orchestral apotheosis near the end.”
Alec Rowley (1892-1958) was a composer, organist, and pianist. In 1908, he entered the RAM and studied composition, organ, and piano, winning both scholarships and prizes for composition. He was organist at St. John’s, Richmond (1912-21), and St. Alban’s, Teddington (1921-32), and was appointed professor at Trinity College of Music in 1919. A many-faceted musician, he made valuable contributions to music education through his dedicated teaching as well. As a performer, he was well known for the series of piano duet broadcasts he made with Edgar Moy (1933-43). He served as musical adviser and reader to six publishing houses. His larger and more demanding organ works have been neglected, including these two rhapsodies and other works and hymn settings. Both rhapsodies are energetic and dramatic, full of contrasts and interest. The First Rhapsody in G Minor, op. 12, is declamatory and forceful with the accaciatura motif in the main theme. A light-hearted contrasting section in B-flat major provides a brief respite from the intensity of the writing, and a searing Tuba solo in the recapitulation intensifies the return of the primary material. The Rhapsody (No. 2) in D Minor is highly improvisatory and full of curiously asymmetrical phrases and mercurial shifts of color and texture. Peter Hardwick writes of Rowley that “…when listening to, or playing, Rowley’s warmly Romantic, melodious, usually chromatic pieces, some with dramatic gesturings that can be extremely thrilling, one may be struck by how idiomatic they are.”
James Healey Willan (1880-1968), born and educated in London, is now largely remembered as a Canadian composer, teacher, organist and choirmaster. Particularly influential as a teacher, he wrote many choral and organ works that remain standards of the literature. His early education was undertaken privately, but at the age of eight he entered St. Saviour’s Choir School in Eastbourne where he studied until 1895. Several positions as organist and choirmaster in and around London culminated in his appointment to St. John the Baptist, Holland Road, in 1903. Willan’s compositions reflect the thoroughness of his training and the musical language of the late 19th century, and feature Romantic melodies and strongly chromatic harmonies. Organists remember him most for his large-scale Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue for organ (1916), as well as for many of his lovely choral works. The Elegy in D-flat, composed in 1933 in memory of Lynnwood Farnam (1885-1930), was published in 1947 and 1949. The work also exists as an incomplete Largo for Organ and Orchestra (strings and tympani). The E-flat Elegy, in memory of ”H. L. B.” (Harold Brooke), is excerpted from the 1956 Rondino, Elegy, and Chaconne. Similar in form, both utilize the beauty of the tenor register for the sweeping, poignant melodies that open and close each, in both cases bookending a sweeping crescendo and diminuendo.
1 Katharine E. Eggar quoted in John Nixon McMillan, The Organ Works of Herbert Howells (University of Iowa, 1997), 47-48.
2 Spicer, Paul. Herbert Howells. Brigend, Wales: Poetry Wales Press Ltd., 1998. P. 185
3 Hardwick, Peter. British Organ Music of the Twentieth Century. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003.
The community of Hereford Cathedral has worshipped continuously for longer than 1,300 years. To this day it is a vibrant and active center of the town of Hereford as well as the site for its superb musical program and a library of historical documents of incredible antiquity and significance. The cathedral was founded in the year 696 and, in the year 794, was dedicated jointly to St. Ethelbert and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The current structure incorporates parts of the Romanesque rebuild from approximately 1107-48. Among the treasures of its library and archives are numerous musical manuscripts, the 8th-century Hereford Gospel, the c.1300 Mappa Mundi (the oldest surviving world map of its kind), the 1217 copy of the Magna Carta, and the Chained Library, created in 1611.
Hereford continues to host and commission art. During the Spring of 2018, Hereford was the site of Poppies: Weeping Window, a sculptural art installation by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper (as excerpted from Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red containing more than 888,246 handcrafted red ceramic poppies) to commemorate every British or Colonial life lost in the First World War, and which was visited by nearly 200,000 people. That installation holds a poignant connection with the elegies and rhapsodies chosen for this recording, nearly all of which were composed just before, or just after, World War I.
Hereford has had a nearly unbroken succession of gentlemen musicians since the 1517 appointment of William Woode. Organists and composers of note include John Bull, John Farrant, Samuel Sebastian Wesley, George Robertson Sinclair, Edward Elgar, Percy Clarke Hull, Roy Cyril Massey, Roger Fisher, David Briggs, Huw Williams, Peter Dyke and Geraint Bowen. The choir vests in unusual and beautiful blue cassocks in honor of the Virgin Mary. Though it is an unintentional premiere, it is an extraordinary privilege to be the first woman, and the first American, to record this historic instrument in a cathedral that holds such a prominent place in musical history. Damin Spritzer
Hereford cathedral’s world-famous organ was built by “Father” Henry Willis in 1892, replacing a Gray and Davison organ of 1862-64 for which the existing case was designed by Gilbert Scott. The console was originally situated within the organ case, beneath the front pipes, and it was the first cathedral organ in the UK to include Willis’ invention of adjustable pistons.
Modifications were made in 1909 by Henry Willis II, including the addition of the 32’ Bombarde and the 16’ Ophicleide to the pedal, and in 1933 the pneumatic action was rebuilt by Henry Willis III who installed a new, detached console on the north side of the choir, opposite the case, which is still in use. A very few tonal changes at that time included the addition of mutations on the Choir organ and enclosure of the flutes on the Solo organ.
After four decades of daily service, restoration work between 1977-78 was performed by the Durham firm of Harrison and Harrison, who have looked after the instrument since. Very little was done to the organ tonally, except the addition to the pedal of two stops: a Schalmei 4’ reed and a Mixture IV. A Mixture IV was also added to the Great.
In 2004 the instrument was again refurbished, and today it has four manuals and 67 stops.
The 32’ stops are dramatically mounted on the wall behind and beneath the elevated organ case, and many visitors have enjoyed watching the reeds of the lowest notes of the Bombarde in motion during a performance.
1892 Henry Willis organ
Great 58 notes
16 Double Open Diapason
8 Open Diapason No 1
8 Open Diapason No 2
8 Open Diapason No 3
8 Claribel Flute
8 Stopped Diapason
4 Principal No 1
4 Principal No 2
III Mixture 17.19.22
IV Mixture 126.96.36.199 (1978)
16 Double Trumpet
Swell to Great 16, 8, 4
Choir to Great 16, 8, 4
Solo to Great 16, 8, 4
Choir 58 notes
8 Open Diapason
8 Claribel Flute
8 Lieblich Gedacht
4 Lieblich Flute
2-2/3 Nazard (1933)
2 Spitzflute (1978)
1-3/5 Tierce (1933)
III Mixture 15.19.22 (1978)
8 Trumpet (1933)
Choir 16, 4, unison
Swell to Choir 16, 8, 4
Solo to Choir 16, 8, 4
Swell 58 notes
16 Contra Gamba
8 Open Diapason
8 Stopped Diapason
8 Vox Angelica TC
4 Lieblich Flute
III Mixture 17.19.22
16 Dulzian (1933)
16 Double Trumpet
Swell 16, 4, unison
Solo to Swell
Solo 58 notes, *enclosed
8 Viola da Gamba *
8 Voix Célestes (tenor C) *
8 Harmonic Flute *
4 Concert Flute *
2 Hohl Flute *
16 or 8 Clarinet *
16 or 8 Orchestral Oboe *
8 Cor Anglais (1909) *
16 or 8 Tromba *
4 Glockenspiel (39 gongs, 1909)
Solo 16, 4, unison
Great to Solo
Pedal 30 notes
32 Double Open Bass (ext OB)
16 Open Bass
16 Open Diapason (12 notes fr. Gt)
8 Principal (1978)
8 Stopped Flute (1978)
4 Fifteenth (1978)
4 Open Flute (1978)
IV Mixture 188.8.131.52 (1978)
32 Bombarde (ext Ophicleide, 1909, zinc resonators 1920)
16 Ophicleide (1909)
4 Clarion (1978/2004)
Great to Pedal
Swell to Pedal 8, 4
Choir to Pedal 8, 4
Solo to Pedal 8, 4
8 General Pistons
Great: 8 pistons
Choir: 8 pistons
Swell: 8 pistons duplicated by foot pistons
Solo: 8 pistons
Pedal: 8 foot pistons Pedal
Two pistons to the couplers
Cancel pistons to Choir, Great, Swell, Solo, all couplers, and octave couplers
Pedal cancel foot piston
2 general cancel
Great and Pedal combinations coupled
Generals on Swell foot pistons (2004)
8 divisional and 128 general piston memories (2004)
Combination sequencer (2004)