David Briggs plays the organ of Blackburn Cathedral
Organ: David Briggs
Entrée Grand Orgue Pierre Cochereau (1924-84) (from ‘Les Offices du Dimanche’, 1974) transcribed by David Briggs
Scherzo Symphonique (1968) Pierre Cochereau (1924-84) transcribed by David Briggs
Pierre Cochereau was the world-famous organist of Notre-Dame de Paris from 1955 until his death in 1984. He had been a piano pupil of Marguerite Long, and later studied with Marcel Dupre (organ), Maurice Durufle (harmony and counterpoint) and Tony Aubin (composition) at the Paris Conservatoire, where he won all the major prizes. Dupre described his pupil as ‘an improviser without equal in the history of French twentieth century organ music’. He was a prodigiously talented improviser and had an unmatched reputation as a leader in this field. He made frequent concert tours all over the world and his recitals at Notre-Dame were attended by thousands of people. For lovers of the French organ music scene in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, the words ‘Pierre Cochereau aux Grandes Orgues’ acquired a certain ‘cult status’, such was the osmosis between this great organist, his chic biniou (as he loved to call his beloved instrument) and his huge public at Notre-Dame. He was truly a legend in his own lifetime.
I never had the good fortune to meet this extraordinary personality who has so influenced my own musical development. Over a period of 11 years, from 1984, I spent thousands of hours transcribing some of his more famous recorded improvisations from LP (and later CD). Everything that Pierre Cochereau improvised at Notre-Dame from 1969 until his death was recorded by Francois Carbou, Cochereau's greatest confidant, and owner of Disques du Solstice. The many releases of Cochereau at Notre-Dame have become benchmarks for the study of improvisation, and have won considerable popularity amongst the music-loving public.
The two improvisations on this recording are typical examples: the first, a typical Prelude to a high mass, is an intense and moving crescendo-diminuendo, based on the ‘Kyrie Orbis Factor’. With music like this, often beginning on the Recit Tutti (boite fermee) coupled to the Fonds 16' 8' 4' of the Grand Orgue, Cochereau, seated high up at the west end of Notre-Dame at the console of the enormous 5 manual Cavaille-Coll, used to ‘take possession of his cathedral’, as one commentator has put it. The second piece is a virtuoso concert improvisation, a slow Introduction followed by a highly-charged Scherzo, with a particularly extravert nature, based on two contrasting themes. In these two pieces my principal performance target was to make the Blackburn organ sound as close as possible to the Cavaille-Coll in Notre-Dame - I think it comes pretty close!
Choral No.1 Cesar Franck (1822-90)
Cesar Franck was also revered, in his own time, as a genius in the art of improvisation. He taught organ at the Schola Cantorum in Paris, and allegedly 90% of the organ class was taken up with the pursuit of improvisation techniques. He was a fundamentally important composer for the organ and left many towering masterpieces for the instrument. Franck was hugely influenced by the organs of the peerless French symphonic organ builder, Aristide Cavaille-Coll. He was the first organist at St Clotilde, where Cavaille-Coll had built one of his most famous instruments. Franck once described this instrument as his ‘orchestra’. I studied the First Choral on Franck’s own instrument at St Clotilde in November 1985 with my own teacher, Maitre Jean Langlais. This piece comes very close to the heart of Franck, the archetypal romantic composer. Dating from 1890, it is one of Franck’s last works for the instrument and he proof-read the manuscript on his death-bed. It is cast in the form of a vast symphonic fresco in four principal sections and owes much to Variation form. It sounds particularly authentic at Blackburn. Incidentally, we decided specifically not to have the organ tuned before this recording in order to give an even more authentically French sound!
Symphonie en Improvisation (22 June 2003) David Briggs (b.1962)
The term ‘Organ Symphony’ dates from the early years of the twentieth century, its principal protagonists being composers Charles-Marie Widor (the Organist of St Sulpice) and Louis Vierne (Organist of Notre-Dame). The four-movement Symphony on this CD was improvised at about 11.20pm, right at the end of our recording session, and is the result of a final push of adrenaline! Cast in four movements, it is based on free themes, conceived entirely on the spur of the moment. The first movement, Moderato, is greatly influenced by Widor, is highly chromatic and densely harmonised, and is loosely based on a subject subconsciously borrowed from the Fifth Symphony of Dimitri Shostakovich. The second movement is a vivacious Scherzo on the Flutes and Mutations, on an original (I think!) theme. The sound world seems intriguingly Harry Potteresque! The third movement is a luxurious Adagio, influenced by the harmonic language of both Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler and shows off the opulent strings (Swell and Solo coupled at 16' 8' and 4' pitches) of the Blackburn organ. The Final ventures more into the second half of the twentieth century (harmonically and texturally), perhaps the principal influences being Dupre, Cochereau as well as Yves Deverney (one of Cochereau’s successors at Notre-Dame, and another genius in the art of improvisation, whose life was cut short in 1989 at the age of only 56).
Messe Alme Pater (1985) Jean Langlais (1907-1991)
Jean Langlais was organist at Basilica of St Clotilde from 1945, when succeeded his teacher, Charles Tournemire. He was totally blind from the age of 2, and entered the Institut des Jeunes Aveugles in Paris, where he studied piano, violin and harmony. In 1923 he became a pupil of another celebrated blind organist, Andre Marchal, who prepared him for entry into the class of Marcel Dupre at the Paris Conservatoire. He was (with Olivier Messiaen) the last pupil of Paul Dukas, for whom Langlais had a great respect. He became a hugely popular recitalist in the United States, and made frequent tours. A fervent Roman Catholic, Jean Langlais was one of the most prodigious composers within the French liturgical tradition, his output comprising over 300 works. One of the pieces that Langlais composed during the two years when I was his pupil (1984/5) was the Messe Alme Pater. Langlais adored Gregorian Chant, and was particularly influenced by its inherent sense of modality. In these 4 movements, you can hear the unique harmonic language of Jean Langlais, alongside the rhythmic elasticity which informed his approach to all music making.
Incantation pour un jour Saint Jean Langlais
Incantation pour un jour Saint was composed in 1949 and again is enormously influenced by Gregorian chant. Sectional and highly improvisatory in style, the music shows the tutti of the Blackburn instrument off to great effect.
Attende Domine Jeanne Demessieux (1921-1968)
Jeanne Demessieux was an organist of matchless technique. Her death from cancer at the age of only 47 deprived the world of a great artist, in the prime of her career. In 1933 she began an extensive period of study with Marcel Dupre at the Paris Conservatoire, and sprang into the public limelight with a historic series of Bach Concerts at the Salle Pleyel, Paris, in 1946/47. She maintained a worldwide career as a virtuoso organist as well as being ‘titulaire’ at S. Esprit (from the age of 12!) and La Madeleine (from 1962 until her death). She also taught at the Conservatoires of Nancy and Liege.
Attende Domine is one of a collection of ‘12 Chorals-Preludes’ which were published in 1950. It is a Choral-Paraphrase on the plainsong ‘Advent Prose’ and is a particularly luscious example of post-romantic harmony.
Allegro Deciso (Evocation, Op 37) Marcel Dupre (1886-1971)
Born in Rouen in 1886, Marcel Dupre’s grandfathers were both organists, his mother was an excellent pianist and his father, Albert Dupre, was organist at the Abbatiale of St Ouen de Rouen, and also directed a choral society. It was perhaps only natural, therefore, that Dupre became a child prodigy on both piano and organ. He could improvise well at the age of only 10, and at the age of 12 became Organist at the church of St Vivien in Rouen. At the age of 15 his first choral composition was performed and he was already well on track to becoming a professional improviser, composer and interpreter. He had prodigious powers of memory and a remarkable technique, based on an intensive and methodological study from an early age. He studied with Alexandre Guilmant from 1898, and then from 1902-1914 he studied piano, organ and fugue at the Paris Conservatoire. In 1914 he was the first winner of the Prix de Rome. In 1920 he made history by playing the complete works of Bach from memory at the Conservatoire, and repeated the triumph the following year at the Trocadero. He became a world-famous concert artist, performing frequently in the USA (from 1921). In 1934 he succeeded Charles-Marie Widor at the keys of the grand Cavaille-Coll at St Sulpice, where he remained titulaire until his death. He was professor of organ at the Paris Conservatoire from 1926-54 and had many famous students there. His own talents as an improviser frequently left his audiences speechless.
Evocation dates from 1941 and was dedicated to the memory of his father and the famous Cavaille-Coll organ at St Ouen. Allegro Deciso is the last of three movements and has justly become one of the most famous works of the composer’s entire oeuvre.
Gloucester October 2003
One of the foremost Concert Organists of his generation, David Briggs enjoys a busy touring schedule which takes him all over the world. He has built a considerable reputation as an exciting performer and communicator, with particular emphases on orchestral transcriptions and the art of improvisation. In this latter field, David studied with Jean Langlais in Paris; transcribed (over a period of eleven years) many of the recorded improvisations of Pierre Cochereau, the famous Organist of Notre-Dame de Paris; won the Paisley International Improvisation Competition; became the first British winner of the coveted Tournemire Prize at the St Albans International Improvisation Competition, and now teaches at the Royal Northern College of Music, the Royal Academy of Music and Oxford University.
He is Organist Emeritus at Gloucester Cathedral, where he directed the music for eight years, after having held positions at Truro and Hereford Cathedrals and King’s College, Cambridge, where he was Organ Scholar. He was Principal Viola in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, playing under conductors such as Sir Simon Rattle, Sir Charles Groves, Charles Dutoit, and Kiril Kondrashin, and was awarded their Bulgin Medal for Musical Excellence. He obtained his FRCO at the age of seventeen, winning all the prizes and the Silver Medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. Whilst at Gloucester, he oversaw the complete rebuilding of the Cathedral organ by Nicholson, and directed three Three Choirs Festivals, conducting some of the UK’s finest professional orchestras, notably the Philharmonia.
David Briggs is increasingly in demand as a composer and has a waiting list of about two years. Notable recent works include his millennial oratorio, ‘Creation’; ‘Messe pour Notre-Dame’ for two organs and choir, and ‘Te Deum Laudamus’ for the 125th anniversary of the Benedictine Abbey at Subiaco, Arkansas. 2003 commissions include anthems for Knoxville, Tennessee; Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; Bristol Cathedral, UK; an Organ Concerto for Blackburn Cathedral, UK, and a setting of the Solemn Requiem Mass for All Saint’s Episcopal Church, Atlanta, Georgia.
David’s schedule for 2003 includes some fifty concerts - in the USA (four trips), UK, France, Belgium and South Africa - and in July he had the privilege of being a member of the jury for the St Albans International Organ Competition.
His passions include listening to orchestral music, organ design and construction, general and civil aviation, luxury cars and beautiful countryside.
In the USA and Canada David is represented by Phillip Truckenbrod Concert Artists. You are warmly invited to visit David’s website.
The Organ of Blackburn Cathedral
Blackburn Parish Church was built in 1826, and organs by Gray (1826 and 1831) and Cavaillé-Coll (1875) were placed on the west wall of the church. The building was re-consecrated as a Cathedral in 1926, when the Diocese of Blackburn was established, and ambitious plans to extend the building were drawn up. When the large transepts were completed in 1953, Henry Willis III was commissioned to move the organ to a bridge at the East end of the Nave. In 1964 the organ was taken down so that a temporary wall could be built, dividing the nave from the transepts to enable work to begin on restoring the nave, whilst the remainder of the cathedral could be used for worship. J.W. Walker and Sons removed the organ and lent the cathedral a four-rank, totally enclosed, extension organ, which served well for five years.
A scheme for a new instrument was drawn up by John Bertalot (the Cathedral Organist), in consultation with Francis Jackson and Bert Collop (managing director of Walker’s). William Thompson, a generous benefactor from Burnley who had already given large sums of money for the restoration of the Nave and the building of the Lantern Tower and Spire, was asked by John Bertalot to give £30,000 to pay for the new organ. On 20th March, 1968, an envelope arrived from him with a cheque for 30,000 guineas (£31,500) made out to John Bertalot. The new organ was dedicated on 20th December 1969. It was voiced by Walter Goodey and Dennis Thurlow. John Hayward, the artist, consulted with Walker’s to produce the stunning highly coloured organ “cases”, including swell boxes which are in full view, and a doubly mitred Serpent, coloured green and gold.
The organ swiftly gained an enviable reputation for its vibrant tonal quality, most notably the fiery reed stops. However, from as early as 1983, serious problems became apparent, particularly in relation to the wind system and action. At the same time, the Lantern Tower also required major work, thus delaying work to the organ. In 1994, shortly after Gordon Stewart’s appointment as Director of Music, David Wood took over the care of the organ. Some short term problems were attended to and the console was modernised.
In October 2000 an appeal was launched to restore the organ. I was keen that all of the 1969 tonal features should be retained, but that the opportunity should be taken to provide various extra colours to enhance and better equip an instrument that is expected not only to accompany liturgy on a daily basis, but also to present the complete range of solo repertoire in a stylistic manner. For example, I felt that an oboe on the swell and a Fifteenth on the Great were essential additions. Also that a reed at 8’ pitch on the positive and a vox humana would be useful and that the organ really needed additional 8’ foundation pitch, more gravitas on the pedal and extra 16’ manual tone. In order to address these desired tonal additions and to bring the organ into proper working order, I devised a scheme to restore and enlarge the organ, in consultation with David Briggs, John Bertalot, Canon Andrew Hindley, Greg Morris and David Wood. The organ was restored and enlarged between July 2001 and June 2002, during which time a Rodgers digital instrument was used.
The entire instrument has been cleaned and overhauled. A Fifteenth on the Great and a Cliquot-style Cromorne on the Positive have been added. The new Solo department has been positioned above the Great, with new stops: Flûte Harmonique 8’, Viola 8’, Viola Céleste 8’, Flûte Octaviante 4’ and Voix Humaine. The old swell Cromorne has been moved to the solo, and renamed “Clarinette”; in its place on the swell is a new Hautbois. Two new ranks of pipes have been made available on the pedal: a 6 2/5 Grosse Tierce and 10 2/3 Grosse Quint. Two new digital ranks, by Walker Technical Company USA, have also been made available on the pedal: 32’ Sub Principal and 16’ Flûte Ouverte. A wealth of octave and sub-octave couplers have been provided. A new 4 manual console has been built by Wood of Huddersfield, in the style of the original 3 manual console. A new cymbelstern and star have been added and safety features for maintaining the instrument have been incorporated.
David Wood and his colleagues have developed the instrument with great skill; they have breathed new life into all the wonderful original colours which had been sounding tired for some years and have blended new ranks into the organ in such a sensitive way. The result is an incredibly versatile and reliable instrument with a tremendous range of dynamic and tonal colour, coupled with a sense of sheer power, but also great subtlety and tremendous beauty. There are few organs in the world that can demonstrate the entire solo repertoire with such a convincing sense of style. It is also a fantastic organ for the liturgy, capable of accompanying choir and congregation in a sensitive manner. The full range of the organ’s capabilities was shown off to great effect at the opening recital by David Briggs on 6th July 2002. This recording provides further evidence!
Blackburn, February 2003
Produced by Richard Tanner
Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews
Photograph by Brian Newton