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Listen to an hour of piano or organ music from the pianonoise archives. All from the fingers of Michael Hammer, webmaestro, concert pianist and organist.

The Current program: live from St. Paul Cathedral Pittsburgh on July 14, 2019. Thanks to the recording prowess of David Hoffman, and with his kind permission, the music from the concert at St. Paul played live! Thanks to Don Fellows, Ken Danchik, and the folks at the cathedral for giving my the opportunity to play their excellent Beckerath, widely regarded as one of the finest instruments in the country.

*total playing time = app. 57 min.


notes from the program:

Dietrich Buxtehude was of sufficient fame that a young Bach walked 250 miles to hear him. It is my contention that this charming, spring-like prelude and fugue set formed the model for Bach’s own D major fugue with its virtuoso pedal part. The older composer also gives the feet quite a workout, although among the twitter of the Baroque birds that may be less obvious.

One of the innovations of the time of Michael Praetorius was the use of multiple choruses in different parts of the church. The organ itself had emerged only a century or so earlier as an instrument capable not simply of sounding all the stops at once, but of being capable of multiple distinct sonic possibilities. I hope to use “O Praise the Lord, my Soul” to show several of the coloristic features of the excellent Beckerath organ.

Several pieces for liturgical use are on today’s program. Girolamo Frescobaldi’s toccata is part of a collection of pieces to be used in the mass, this one for the period after the Eucharist. It is in four sections of about 45 seconds each so that the organist can draw his efforts to a close when the priest is ready to continue.

The two Spanish pieces on the program show vivid contrast. Jose Lidon’s short Sonata architecturally resembles a sonata by Domenico Scarlatti, the transplanted Italian of a generation earlier. Each of its halves is repeated. The fiery composition features the trumpets “en chaminade,” those pipes directly over the organist’s head which come out of the wall sideways and are quite loud! In my rendering, Juan Cabanille’s effort begins in calm mystery. Stops are gradually added over the course of the repetitive chord progression until by the end we are at last hearing the entire organ sounding at full volume, bringing the first half of today’s recital to a close.

Les Rameaux (“The Palms”) and Scherzo are early works of their respective composers. The first is based on the chant “O Son of David” which can be heard tolling out in the pedals in whole notes in much the way Michael Praetorius or his German Protestant contemporaries would have composed a piece based on a chant, though with very 20th century harmonies. Although Langlais did not officially repudiate the piece he later seems to have regretted parceling out the chant in this non-rhythmic fashion. While Langlais was extremely prolific, writing around 300 pieces for organ, his Parisian colleague Maurice Durufle was not. His Scherzo (1926) was written three years earlier than “Les Rameaux” and remained one of fewer than a dozen pieces that he wrote for organ.

Vidas Pinkevicius is an organist, teacher, and blogger who lives in Vilnius, Lithuania. His Veni Creator Spritus, based on the ancient church chant for Pentecost, was written in 2010.

The last two pieces on the program are both based on a chant for Easter, “O Sons and Daughters, let us sing.” Jean-Francois Dandrieu’s composition comes from the Classical French tradition of organists creating sets of virtuouso variations on chants and noels. Writing nearly two centuries later, Alexandre Guilmant delivers a piece in ternary form, in which the central section is a set of variations; it is flanked by the thunderous delivery of a motive from the tune’s third phrase transplanted to major and fashioned into a joyous dance.


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