Category Archives: Organists and Composers

Seventh Sunday of Easter – 01 Jun 14

Flor Peeters

Flor Peeters

Opening Voluntary: Prelude on Jesu, nostra redemptio– Flor Peeters (1903-1986)

Closing Voluntary: Intrada in G major – Charles W. Ore (b. 1936)

Today’s opening voluntary is a chorale prelude on the Latin hymn, Jesu, nostra redemptio, “Jesus, our redemption.” Both the text and the melody are anonymous. Although the earliest manuscript versions of this Ascensiontide hymn are from the Eleventh century, hymnologists believe that it dates back to probably the 8th century.

Jesu, our hope, our heart’s desire,
Thy work of grace we sing;
Redeemer of the world art Thou,
Its maker and its king.
How vast the mercy and the love,
Which laid our sins on Thee,
And led Thee to a cruel death,
To set Thy people free!
But now the bonds of death are burst;
The ransom has been paid;
And Thou art on Thy Father’s throne,
In glorious robes arrayed.
O may Thy mighty love prevail
Our sinful souls to spare!
O may we stand around Thy throne,
And see Thy glory there!
Jesu, our only joy be Thou,
As Thou our prize wilt be;
In Thee be all our glory now
And through eternity.
All praise to Thee who art gone up
Triumphantly to Heav’n;
All praise to God the Father’s name
And Holy Ghost be given. 

The chorale prelude is the composition of Florent Peeters (1903-1986) who was born in the village of Telen, east of Antwerp, Belgium in 1903 as the youngest of 11 children, most of whom played musical instruments.  By the age of only 8 years, he deputized for his eldest brother at the local church. He studied formally at the Lemmens Institute in Mechelen and was appointed assistant to his teacher, Oscar Depuydt , at the St. Rombouts Cathedral in Mechelen at the age of 20. Peeters later succeeded to his teacher’s position and remained as the principal organist there for 63 years. He taught at several musical institutions and also performed widely and internationally as a recitalist, including 10 separate tours through the United States. Peeters wrote extensively in many fields, but mostly for the organ, for which he composed over 550 works.

The setting played as our opening voluntary treats the melody in an “alternating” manner with the upper manual playing a gentle free variation of the tune interspersed with sections on the lower (great) manual which quote the tune literally  but with a dense chromatic harmonization.

The closing voluntary is a short fanfare composed by American organist, Charles W. Ore. Ore was born 18th December 1936 in Winfield, Kansas.  He studied at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and at the University of Nebraska.  He was professor and chair of the Department of Music at Concordia College in Seward, Nebraska from 1966 to 2001. He currently serves as organist of First Presbyterian Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Today’s composition is one of 8 similar pieces published as a collection by Augsburg Publishing House in 1981.

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany – 09 Feb 14

Louis-Nicolas Clérambault

Louis-Nicolas Clérambault

Opening Voluntary: Duo – Louis-Nicholas Clérambault (1676-1749)

Final Voluntary: Grand plein jeu – Louis-Nicholas Clérambault (1676-1749)

Our opening and closing voluntaries are both compositions of the French composer, Louis-Nicolas Clérambault.  Clerambault was born in Paris in 1676 and came from a family of musicians.  As a youth, he first studied violin and harpsichord and later became the pupil of French organist André Raison (d. 1719).  He also studied voice and composition with Jean-Baptiste Moreau (1656-1733), court composer to Louis XIV.  Clérambault was first organist of the Grands-Augustins and later succeeded Guillame-Gabriel Nivers (1632-1714) as the organist of the prestigious church of Saint-Sulpice. He was employed at the same time by  the royal house of Saint-Cyr, an institution for young girls of impoverished nobility. He later succeeded his teacher, André Raison as organist of Saint-Jacques after Raison’s death in 1719.   In addition to his work with the organ, Clérambault was a prolific composer of vocal music and wrote widely, both religiously and secularly, in the increasingly-popular, 18th century genre of the cantata, of which he is acknowledged the master of the French form. He also wrote many motets and other choral works for church use.

His surviving organ work is known in his Premier Livre D’Orgue, “First (and unfortunately only) Organ Book,” published in 1710.  This work consists of two “suites” based on the first and second Gregorian church “modes” or tones, the foundation of religious chant.  He had originally intended to complete a suite on each of the 8 church modes, but only created works on the first and second.  Both the opening and closing voluntaries are from the Suite du Premier Ton (Suite on the First Tone) in the Dorian mode.  This “mode” corresponds to the  scale on the piano on the white notes beginning with D, sometimes with a flatted ‘b’ (an “option exercised by Clérambault in this suite) and thus, most similar to our modern key of “D-minor.”  These pieces, along with the rest of the collection are typical of French organ composition of the 17th and 18th centuries.  The “Duo” is a fugue-style composition in two voices in which the supporting line frequently echoes and varies the themes introduced in the upper voice.  The “Grand plein jeu” is a piece for full organ and, in the Livre D’Orgue, serves as the introduction for the suite and collection as a whole.  It is in a grand, richly-ornamented style.

Third Sunday after Epiphany – 26 Jan 14


Opening Voluntary: Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light” – Richard T. Gore (1908-1994)

Our opening voluntary today is a composition by American composer, Richard Taylor Gore, born 25th June, 1908 in Takoma Park, MD and died 15 December 1994 in Wooster, OH.  Gore studied in Berlin, at the Eastman School in Rochester, NY from which he received a doctorate and with famous American organist, Seth Bingham (1882-1972).  He was organist of Cornell University and then taught at Wooster College from 1945 until his retirement in 1974. Dr. Gore was also a Fellow of the American Guild of Organists.

According to Dr. Gore’s own notes, this piece formed one of an original collection of more than 20 similar pieces from which he chose 10 for publication in 1976.  His original inspiration, he wrote, was Charles Tournemire’s (1870-1939) L’Orgue Mystique, a monumental composition of 51 sets of five pieces, each covering the cycle of the liturgical year and each based on the appointed Gregorian chants for the day.  The first piece of Gore’s set to be composed was based on Psalm 70.  Gore wrote in the foreword to the collection, “While on leave in 1975/75 I set about writing organ music based on plainsong melodies for other psalms, trying, as in the case of the 70th, to catch the moods of the poem.  From the more than twenty I wrote that year, I chose the nine most successful and added the 70th to round out the ten.  Instead of adopting the complexities of Tournemire’s musical language, I stayed within the tones that make of the mode of each psalm melody.” He concludes “If these psalm preludes suggest some of the glories of those inexhaustible poems, they will have accomplished their task.”

The piece played today as our voluntary is fourth in the collection and is based on the plainchant melody for the Introit for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost.  We chant a simpler version of selected verses as our Gradual Psalm today at mass.

The Lord is my light and my salvation; 
whom then shall I fear? 
the Lord is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1 (Prayerbook Psalter, BCP, 1979)




1st Sunday of Advent – 1 Dec 13

Philipp Nicolai

Philipp Nicolai

Opening Voluntary: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (BWV 645) – J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

Choral Introit: “Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul” – H. Alexander Matthews (1879-1973)

Today’s organ voluntary is based on the great German hymn, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, which we sing in English translation as our entrance hymn today (“Sleepers wake! A voice astounds us,” # 61, The Hymnal 1982). This classic hymn, sometimes known as “King of Chorales,” was both written and composed by 16th century Lutheran pastor, Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608). The hymn was written during the time of a deadly epidemic that raged in his town of Unna, Westphalia from July of 1597 to January of 1598.  Claiming some 1300 victims in total, the pestilence resulted in as many as 30 burials per day, most of which Nicolai could observe from his home that overlooked the churchyard. In such dark times, it was not surprising that Nicolai’s thoughts turned to death and the contemplation of the “last things.”  Nicolai reported that he was, at this time, most concerned with “the contemplation of the noble, sublime, doctrine of Eternal Life, obtained through the Blood of Christ. This I allowed to dwell in my heart day and night, and searched the Scriptures for what they revealed on this matter.” It is hardly surprising that the full German original is, thus, filled with scriptural illusions (from Isaiah, Ezekiel, The Revelation to John, 1st Corinthians and the Gospel of Matthew). It is most obviously related to the parable of the wise virgins from the Gospel of Matthew as evidenced by Nicolai’s subtitle “Of the Voice at Midnight, and the Wise Virgins who meet their Heavenly Bridegroom.” The text and tune were first published in an appendix to his meditations in the year 1599.  It first appeared in English in the Lyra Davidica of 1708, a hymnal published in London of translations from German and Latin.  It was made popular to English listeners as part of Felix Mendelssohn’s (1809-1847) “St. Paul” oratorio which premiered in English translation in Liverpool in the year 1836.  Although most often sung to the translation by the famous Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), the editors of The Hymnal 1982, commissioned a new translation by Carl Daw which they felt conveyed more of the vigor of the German original.

Our opening voluntary is the famous “Schübler” chorale version (BWV 645) of Wachet auf, Bach’s own transcription of his setting from his Cantata 140, composed originally for the 27th Sunday after Trinity. The name “Schübler” is that of the engraver and publisher of the 1748 collection of organ transcriptions. Originally for solo voice and orchestral accompaniment, Bach sets the chorale tune in the solo tenor line accompanied by the main orchestral motive in the soprano line and a correlating base in the pedal.  Our entrance hymn, #61,“Sleepers wake! A voice astounds us,” is the chorale harmonization from the same cantata, an isorhythmic ( in even rhythm) form of the original unevenly rhythmic composition (found as #62 in The Hymna 1982) by Nicolai.

23rd Sunday after Pentecost – 27 Oct 13

Georg Friedrich Händel

Georg Friedrich Händel

Opening Voluntary: Fugue in C Major á 3 – Georg Friederic Händel (1685-1759)

Choral Introit: Lætetur cor – Simple English Propers

The Opening Voluntary, the “Fugue in c Major á 3,” comes from a set of six pieces published as a collection attributed to the famous German-English Composer George Friederic Händel, usually known as his “Six Little Fugues.”  As to whether these fugues actually were the genuine works of Händel himself or another composer working in a similar style remains a musicological question to this day. All six of these works are fugal and typically English in style, and all are in 3 voices or “á 3.”

Georg Friederic Händel was born in 1685 in Halle, Duchy of Magdeburg into a family indifferent to music.  Händel’s father, 63 at the age of his birth, was a barber-surgeon.  His father, who intended that his son should study law, when he discovered his son’s strong propensity to music, was so alarmed by this that he strictly forbade him to play any musical instrument.  Flouting his father’s orders, Händel obtained a small clavichord, a stringed keyboard instrument popular for practice in the Baroque era and known for its soft tones, and secreted it in a room at the top of the house.  His first biographer writes that “to this room he constantly stole when his family was asleep.” While still a child, Händel traveled with his father to visit a relative who was serving as a valet in a ducal court.  It is said that Händel was sat down on an organ bench and surprised everyone with his playing abilities. This event was said to have helped the duke and Händel to convince his father to allow him to study music. At that time, he became the student of Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow, organist of the Marienkirche of Halle.

In 1702, Händel commenced study of the law at the University of Halle at his father’s wishes but continued to work as a musician, being first organist for a year at the Cathedral of Halle and then becoming violinist with an opera orchestra in Hamburg.  He produced his first two operas in Hamburg in 1705. He relocated to Italy the following year of 1706 where he composed both operas and sacred music. In 1710, Händel became Kapellmeister to the German prince Georg, the Elector of Hanover who, in 1714, became King George I of Great Britain and Ireland.  Händel settled then in England where he remained for the rest of his life.  Within 15 years, Händel had established three opera companies and over his later career completed more than 40 operas.  In 1737, after a crisis of health, he turned progressively to the composition of English choral works, particularly grand oratorios, the most famous today being “The Messiah” of 1742.  At the time of his death in 1759, Händel was both wealthy and  widely respected. He was given a state funeral with full honors and buried in Westminster Abbey.


Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – 22 Jun 13

Johann Jakob Froberger

Johann Jakob Froberger

Opening Voluntary: Canzona – Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-1667)

At the Offertory: Prelude on HANOVER – Jan Bender (1909-1994)

Closing Voluntary: Prelude on Mit Freuden zart – David Schack (b.1947)

Today’s opening voluntary was composed by early, German, Baroque composer, John Jakob Froberger, who was born most probably in Stuttgart in 1616.  In 1637, he was appointed organist to the Austrian emperor in Vienna. Froberger studied with Frescobaldi for a time in Rome and travelled widely in his career.  He is one of the few great masters who wrote almost exclusively for the keyboard and was the first, in Germany, to give equal attention to the organ and the harpsichord.  Perhaps due to his education and wide travels, his musical style blends features of German, French and Italian keyboard music.  The canzona is a distinctive musical form of the 16th and 17th centuries, of which this is a fairly typical example.  Canzonas are sectional (this one in three sections) and markedly rhythmical, often varying meter between sections. The instrumental canzonas were forerunners of the fugues of the later baroque era.

The short piece at the offertory was composed by Holland-born, Jan Bender (1909-1994).  Bender was a student of Hugo Distler and was drafted into the German military in WW II. He spent a year in a French prison camp before he was released in 1945.  Bender came to the U.S. in 1960 where he lived and taught until his retirement in 1975 when he returned to Germany, remaining there until his death in 1994.  This piece is a brief hymn prelude on the tune HANOVER, sung as our entrance hymn (#388, The Hymnal 1982).

The closing voluntary is based on tune, Mit Freuden zart, sung as our final hymn (#408, The Hymnal 1982). One of the great tunes of the Reformation, Mit Freuden zart was first published in Kirchengesänge, an early hymnal of the Bohemian Brethren, in 1566. David Schack, composer of this setting, was born in 1947 and currently holds the position of organist at First Lutheran Church of Omaha, NE.  He holds a degree in church music from Valparaiso University in Indiana and was later an assistant professor at Concordia University where he taught organ and other musical courses.

Third Sunday after Pentecost – 9 Jun 13

Girolamo Frescobaldi

Girolamo Frescobaldi

Opening Voluntary: Toccata Cromaticaper l’Elevazione” – Girolamo Frescobaldi

At the Offertory: Kyrie “della Domenica” Girolamo Frescobaldi

Closing Voluntary: Prelude on Lobe den Herren – A. W. Leupold

The opening voluntary and the music at the offertory were both composed by Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1674), one of the greatest of Italian musicians of the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods.  Born in Ferrara, he transferred to Rome in his early 20s and became the organist at the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. In 1608, he was appointed organist of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, a position that he held intermittently until his death.  Although he was to compose many different types of music, it was instrumental music, particularly keyboard music, that formed the bulk of the composer’s work.  He published eight collections of keyboard music during his lifetime, and it is for these works that he is most remembered today. The selections performed today come from his Fiori Musicali  of 1635. This was his only keyboard collection devoted entirely to church music and his last one containing completely new pieces. The majority of the works are “alternatim” compositions intended for performance in alternation with choir chanting the music of the mass ordinary. The brief “Kyrie” heard at the offertory is one such example.  Other pieces were “occasional” pieces of music intended to accompany the physical actions of the mass, such as today’s “Toccata Cromatica,” originally intended to accompany the elevation in the canon of the Mass. This piece makes use of a “special effect” of Baroque Italian organs known as the “piffaro.”  This effect was produced by using two sets of pipes simultaneously, one of which had been tuned slightly flat to produce an undulating sound.  It is related to the “celeste” stops of organs of the romantic period and later.  We achieve this on our organ today by employing the ability to partially “draw” one of the stops and hence limit its airflow, resulting in a slight reduction in pitch.

The postlude today is a chorale prelude on the tune for our entrance hymn (# 390, The Hymnal 1982), Lobe den Herren. It is the work of Anton Wilhelm Leupold (1868-1940). A native of Austria, Leupold became the organist of St. Peter’s Church, Berlin in 1899, a position he would hold for the next forty years.  Although he composed many types of church music, the bulk of his works were in the genre of the Chorale prelude, of which he left some 200 examples.

Second Sunday in Lent – 24 Feb 13

A. Édouarde Batiste

A. Édouarde Batiste

Opening Voluntary: Verset – Antoine Édouarde Batiste (1820-1876)

 At Communion: Antienne – Antoine Édouarde Batiste (1820-1876)

 Final Voluntary: Ite missa est – Antoine Édouarde Batiste (1820-1876)

Antoine Édouarde Batiste was born in Paris in 1820 and was the son of Jean Batiste, a baritone singer and composer in the Imperial Chapel of Napoleon III.  He entered the Conservatory of Paris at the young age of 8 and remained at that institution for the rest of his life, being elevated to the status of full professor in 1839, when only 19 years old. Batiste was the organ student of François Benoist (1794-1878) and studied composition with Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842) and Jacques Fromenthal d’ Halévy (1799-1862).   In his student years, he won many prizes at the conservatory including those in solfeggio, harmony, accompaniment, counterpoint, fugue and organ. In the year of 1842, he became the organist at Saint-Nicholas-des-Champs in Paris, where he remained for 12 years.  In 1854, a new four-manual organ was installed in the church of St. Eustache and inaugurated by a number of famous organists of the time, including César Franck (1822-1890).  This organ, built by the firm of Ducroquet, was felt to be one of the most important in modern Paris.  That same year, Batiste became the principal organist at St. Eustache and remained in that position until his death in 1876. Batiste was a well-regarded recitalist and performer of his day.  Eulogizing his playing after his death, Joseph G. Lennon, an American who had studied privately with Batiste wrote, “Batiste’s organ playing was one of the chief attractions for foreign musicians visiting Paris. On his programmes were always found compositions from the greatest masters of this noble instrument…His improvisations will never be forgotten by organists who were fortunate enough to hear him extemporize preludes, fugues, offertoires, communions or elevations, while his treatment of the organ in accompanying voices was simply marvelous.” In that role as accompanist, Batiste was the organist for the premier performance of Hector Berlioz’ (1803-1869) Te Deum, which was conducted by the composer himself and performed at St. Eustache for the opening of the Exposition Universelle of 1855.

Batiste composed literally hundreds of pieces for the organ that became popular both in America and in England. English organist, William Spark (1823-1897), himself the organist at Town Hall in Leeds and the editor of Batiste’s works for their English publication, wrote about Batiste’s compositions in his 1888 book, Musical Memories. He particularly admired his Andante movements which he described as “not only very melodious but also very skillfully constructed.” “Batiste’s organ music,” he opined, “ is sometimes noisy, always brilliant and not so sacred and dignified as English church music is expected to be.” Unfortunately, Batiste’s music fell rapidly into disfavor not long after his death.  Only a short number of years after Spark, American organist, Clarence Eddy (1851-1937) wrote in 1897 that, “Batiste was a prolific composer, but his compositions are played very little now even in France and not highly esteemed.”

Today’s organ pieces are from Batiste’s Opus 24 and 25 collection published as Cinquante Pièces and consisting of some 50 compositions for liturgical use.

3d Sunday after Epiphany – 27 Jan 13

King's Chapel, Boston

King’s Chapel, Boston

Opening Voluntary: “Introductory Voluntary” – Francis Linley (1771-1800)

At Communion: “Voluntary” – Thomas Loud (1792-1886)

Closing Voluntary: “A Fuge or Voluntary” – William Selby (1738-1797)

All of today’s incidental music is counted as being of “Early American” origin, although all of the composers were of English birth. Musically, they all shared a common heritage and produced highly conventional and similar compositions for organ. It would not be until significantly later, in the mid and mostly late 19th centuries, that organ building and composition would take on a unique character in the United States.  In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, however, much of American organ music in the English speaking parts of the colonies and the United States was indistinguishable from that of its English parent.

The Opening Voluntary is a composition by Francis Linley (1771-1800).  Linley, blind from birth, married a wealthy and also blind woman and was able to set up a music publishing business.  After his wife deserted him and his business failed, he came to Philadelphia in 1796.  He stayed in the United States for only 3 years before returning to England in 1799 where he died only one year later.

The short piece at The Communion was composed by Thomas Loud.  Son of an English piano maker, Loud came to Philadelphia in 1812 where he worked as an organist, pianist and piano-maker. In 1824, he and two of his brothers founded the Loud piano company. The piece played today is from a book published by “Loud’s Piano Forte and Music Store “in Philadelphia in 1841.  This book had the rather grand title of The organ study, being an introduction to the practice of the organ: together with a collection of voluntaries, preludes and interludes, original and selected, a model of a church service, explanation of the stops and their combinations, studies for the instrument and examples of modulation intended to aid the extempore student: accompanied by an engraving and description of the mechanical construction of the organ.

The Closing Voluntary is by William Selby (1738-1797). Selby was a native of England and emigrated to Newport, R.I. in 1774.  In 1776 or 1777 he came to Boston as organist of King’s Chapel, but, during the revolution, when King’s Chapel was closed and unused, Selby was forced to become a storekeeper. In 1783, he returned to his duties at King’s Chapel and became active as an impresario and teacher as well. He produced one of the first sacred concerts ever to be given in Boston, with a program of vocal , choral and instrumental works by Bach, Händel and, of course, himself.

Music for Additional Listening – Grand Solemn March by Henry Smart

The Grand Solemn March in Eb was one of the most popular of Henry Smart‘s organ compositions in his day and was frequently performed at recitals through the end of the 19th century.  This masterfully-performed version is actually played on a fully digital organ using the software Hauptwerk.  The sample sounds employed are from the 1892 Willis organ of Hereford Cathedral in Great Britain.

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