Symphonies by Schubert and Mendelssohn
transcribed for Organ Duet by David Gibbs
Played by Greg Morris and David Gibbs
on the organ of Blackburn Cathedral
This CD brings together two symphonies written in the first third of the 19th century, at a time when composers were struggling to come to terms with the vastly expanded symphonic horizons revealed by Beethoven, and Romantic influences from other art forms such as literature were beginning to make their presence felt in music. Although both Schubert and Mendelssohn showed certain Romantic tendencies in their works (for example Schubert in his vast output of songs, Mendelssohn in the programmatic input which influenced some of his works) both also remained true to classical ideals of formal balance.
Symphony No. 5 in B flat D485 Franz Schubert
Franz Schubert was well known in his life-time as a composer of songs, and piano and chamber music, but the much less marketable genre of the symphony held a life-long fascination for him - in a letter to his publisher he described such works as “strivings after the highest in art”. His first symphony was composed when he was only 16, and by the time he was 19 he had composed another five. Of these early symphonies, the fifth is perhaps the best known. It was finished on 3rd October 1816, and performed shortly afterwards by a private orchestra which had evolved from the Schubert family string quartet.
The symphony is lightly scored for only 1 flute, pairs of oboes, bassoons and horns, and strings. It followed on remarkably quickly from the fourth symphony, the only one of Schubert’s completed symphonies in a minor key, which he titled “Tragic”. The fifth is completely different in character. It is a sunny, graceful, beautifully balanced piece, and very much a “Classical” rather than “Romantic” symphony - it is definitely not a response by the young Schubert to the challenge presented by Beethoven’s symphonies, but rather a delightfully fresh and invigorating look back at the world of Mozart and Haydn. Commentators have pointed out the similarities between this piece and Mozart’s 40th Symphony in G minor, and indeed Schubert?s work does seem to be heavily influenced by the older master, particularly in the 1st and 3rd movements. However, for all the similarities of forms, harmonic progressions and themes, the mood of Schubert’s masterpiece is a world away from the nervous tension which characterises the first movement of Mozart’s 40th.
In contrast to his normal procedure, Schubert does not begin the symphony with a slow introduction. Instead, four wind chords (a progression which later forms a crucial part in the development section) and a dancing violin scale lead straight into the graceful first theme. The violin melody itself is beautiful enough, but the dialogue with the cellos adds a spirited extra dimension to the texture. The second subject is more stepwise and lyrical, and Schubert uses the two themes to create a wonderfully compact sonata-form movement.
The second movement employs an ABABA structure, and the lyrical opening theme displays Schubert’s skill for writing tuneful melodies. Schubert employs one of his favourite key relationships to introduce the second theme, which appears in C flat major, a major third below the tonic. This theme contrasts with the first in the sense that it incorporates much more dialogue. The lively minuet and trio does have striking similarities to that of Mozart’s 40th Symphony, although it avoids the off-beat accents of that movement. But perhaps the crowning glory of the symphony is the finale, which in its lightness and delicacy compares favourably with anything similar composed by Mozart. The themes are beautifully constructed, and they are developed in an enterprising fashion. A barn-storming finale it is not, but a movement full of humour and delicacy it most definitely is, and it is a perfectly weighted conclusion to this most classical of Schubert’s symphonies.
Symphony No. 4 Op. 90 Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy
In May 1830, Mendelssohn set out from Berlin on a trip that would take him through much of Italy – although because he visited Goethe in Weimar and also the cities of Munich, Salzurg, Linz, Vienna and Budapest, he did not in fact arrive in Venice until 10th October. However, the city made a vivid impression on him, as a letter home reveals: “Italy at last. And what I have all my life considered as the greatest possible felicity is now begun and I am basking in it.” Although the churches, the landscape and most of all the art impressed Mendelssohn, he was rather less complimentary about the music: “As I was earnestly contemplating the delightful evening landscape with its trees and angels among the boughs, the organ commenced. The sound was at first quite in harmony with my feelings: but the second, third, and in fact all the rest quickly roused me from my reveries and sent me straight home for the man was playing in church, and during divine service, and in front of respectable people thus: [he quotes a trite tune] and with the Martyrdom of St Peter close beside him.”
Nevertheless, his stay in Italy, which also included visits to Bologna, Florence, Rome and Naples, provided Mendelssohn with the inspiration to write one of the classic works of the 19th-century symphonic repertoire - he himself stated that “all of Italy features in this work”. But although Mendelssohn began work on the symphony during his Italian journeys, it took a commission from the Royal Philharmonic Society in London for “a symphony, an overture and a vocal piece for the society, for which he be offered the sum of one hundred guineas” to provide the impetus for Mendelssohn to actually complete the work. Mendelssohn conducted the first performance of the work in London on May 13 1833, but the work was never to be published or performed in his native Germany in his own lifetime. Curiously enough, although musicians, critics and audiences have long loved the Italian Symphony, Mendelssohn himself remained dissatisfied with it, and intended to make thorough revisions to the first and last movements, a project he was unable to carry out. If the revisions he intended would have really improved the score, one can only imagine the popularity the work would have now!
The exuberant sonata-form first movement betrays none of the anguish which Mendelssohn went through during its composition, but rather seems to reflect the sunny Italian landscape which so impressed Mendelssohn. The second movement, akin to the Allegretto in Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, was probably inspired by a religious procession which Mendelssohn witnessed in Naples. The dreamy Minuet contrasts with the more rhythmically driven trio, the music of which returns in an intriguing coda. And best of all is the minor-key finale, entitled Salterello after a Roman dance, but perhaps also drawing on inspiration from the Neapolitan Tarantella - a dance so called because it was believed the cure for a tarantula bite was to keep the patient in perpetual motion! The movement is certainly a thrilling and lively close to this inspiring Symphony.
David Gibbs held organ scholarships at Oriel College, Oxford and York Minster and is a holder of the FRCO diploma. In September 2000 he was appointed Assistant Organist at Carlisle Cathedral, where his principal duties were to accompany the Cathedral Choir in the daily liturgy and to direct the Cathedral Youth Choir, with whom he toured Norway. He also conducted the Cockermouth Harmonic Society.
In 2005 he was appointed Assistant Director of Music at Kimbolton School. There he teaches music throughout the school, with particular responsibility for the Chamber Choir and the School Orchestra.
He continues to give recitals across the country both as a soloist and as a duettist with Greg. In recent years he has found himself increasingly busy as both a composer and arranger with orchestral transcriptions for organ a particular favourite pastime.
Greg Morris is Associate Organist of the Temple Church in London, a position he has held since September 2006.
Greg held organ scholarships at St George's Chapel, Windsor, Jesus College, Cambridge, and St Martin-in-the-Fields. He studied with Andrew Dean, Paul Stubbings, John Kitchen and Thomas Trotter, and won first prizes for organ playing and overall performance in the FRCO examinations.
In 2000 he was appointed Assistant Director of Music at Blackburn Cathedral, where he accompanied the Cathedral Choirs in a busy schedule of recordings, broadcasts, concerts and tours in addition to the Cathedral's regular services. Greg also directed the Cathedral Young People's Choir in a programme which included four commissions, tours to Rome and Vienna, and live broadcasts on BBC Radio 4. He was also a regular accompanist for the Radio 4 Daily Service Singers.
Greg is in demand as a recitalist, and has performed at many leading recital venues in this country and abroad. In June 2006, Greg was the soloist in the World Première of David Briggs' Organ Concerto, written in celebration of the organ of Blackburn Cathedral, and he has also made the first recording of this work. Greg's first solo CD, Sounds Inspirational, which features music by composers including Bach, Buxtehude, Duruflé and Messiaen, was released in 2003 by LAMMAS and has received widespread critical acclaim.
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!
Richard Tanner Blackburn, 2004
Produced by Richard Tanner
Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews
Cover picture “Sun through blossom trees” by Mark Bennett