Archive - Jul 15, 2013


French toccatas

I sometimes get so caught up in a piece of music that I listen to is several times per day for weeks. My most recent obsession is a toccata by the French composer Maurice Durufle. I have a Virgil Fox recording to play in the car but really prefer it played here on Youtube by a young, new organist named Nathan Laube. 

The strange thing about this recording is that it is not made in a cathedral, as it seems. Instead, it is an organ that has been outfitted with the sounds of a great French pipe organ and is here a living room. Note the feet of the people on the right.

And yet the sound is mighty. 

This piece ("songs" are ditties people sing, works like this are "pieces") is angry, cacophonous and emphatic. I could listen to it all day for its sheer raw power. 

The sounds here are stolen from one of the Cavaille-Coll organs in France. Cavaille-Coll organs were so excellent, so revolutionary, that they actually shaped organ composition rather than the other way around. The above tocatta would not have been composed if the Cavaille-Coll instruments had not been built, just as Chopin's works would not have been written if he hadn't the luxury of the modern piano (a luxury not afforded Beethoven, Bach, and even Mozart).

Here, perhaps for the second time on this blog, is a more popular piece, also a French tocatta, this one by Charles Marie Vidor. It, too, was written in response to the instrument Cavaille-Coll made available to the composer, a master work that produces a growling sound which, unless called into being by Mr. Cavaille-Coll, would never have entered the human experience.

I hope the organ manual (keyboard) on this organ has electronic assist to help pull the key down. Otherwise, the sheer strength it would take to open up to twenty or more pipes with each finger stroke would prevent most people from ever hoping to play this piece at full volume. There is an organ in St. Paul, MN which sounds great, but which has no electronic assist in a stupid attempt to keep it historically authentic. The organist is a slight female of great accomplishment, but she lacks the bulk to play the Vidor tocatta with all the stops pulled without lifting herself off the bench. 

OR, if you want to indulge in even more emphatic, angry modernity than the Durufle toccata, here is Messaien's legendary Dieu Parme Nous played on the same organ. I can't resist posting this piece again in case it snags just one person. Modern classical music can be eye- and ear-opening. But you've got to be patient with it. 

Free Stage

free stage.jpg 

Here is a picture of our family doing the final number, joined by Mom, in our performance at the free stage at the fair last night. We were singing "In the Sweet By and By." 

Photo by a friend and gentleman in the front row, Jamie Armstrong of Maple Lake during the summers, Kentucky the rest of the time.