French organ music played in Blackburn Cathedral by David Bednall
Le Tombeau d’Olivier Messiaen (Three Symphonic Meditations) Naji Hakim
Apparition de l’Église eternelle Oliver Messiaen
Vexilla Regis Prodeunt Naji Hakim
Total playing time 73m 42s
The composers on this recording are past and present titulaires of two major Parisian churches, and although their compositional styles are very different, they all share a love of colour and distinctive harmony. For each of these works the magnificent Blackburn organ and sumptuous acoustic seemed ideal, and thanks are due to Richard Tanner and Blackburn Cathedral for permission to record there.
Dr. Naji Hakim was born in Beirut in 1955. He was a pupil of Langlais and studied at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris winning first prizes in harmony, counterpoint, fugue, organ, improvisation, analysis and orchestration. He was titulaire of the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur from 1985 until his move to La Trinité in 1993 as successor to Olivier Messiaen. In addition to being a renowned and masterful interpreter and improviser, his prolific and distinctive works put him at the forefront of this distinguished French organist-composer tradition.
Le Tombeau d’Olivier Messiaen received its premiere on 18th October 1993 on the occasion of the inauguration of the organ of La Trinité. It is dedicated to Messiaen’s widow, Yvonne Loriod, and in it Hakim pays homage to his predecessor at this famous Parisian church. Hakim makes use of some of Messiaen’s distinctive musical language, especially melody and harmony, but the rhetoric is far more personal. As in the works of Messiaen, the writings of St Paul are an important element in each movement.
The first movement, Par ma vie, par ma mort (By my life, by my death) is prefixed by “Christ will be honoured in my body. Whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Paul, Epistle to the Philippians, Chap. I, v. 20, 21). The movement starts with powerful chords on the tutti followed by the pedals thundering out the plainsong theme Ego Dormivi from the Easter Vespers, figuring Jesus’ own answer to death. After this introduction, a very fast and joyful monody presents the Russian Folksong Ne bilo vetrou, symbolizing life. The latter theme was familiar to and beloved of Messiaen. The two themes alternate systematically and are developed throughout the movement, moving from monody to dance, then to a rhythmic chordal section recalling something of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. A fast section on an unusual registration (ideally suited to the unique timbre of the Grand-Orgue of La Trinité) leads to a presentation of the fragmented themes with undulating stops in the manuals against the high-pitched pedal. A build-up through the full foundation tone leads to the thrilling climax of the movement in a virtuosic dance.
The second movement, Je rends grâce à mon Dieu (I give thanks to my God), is based on the passage “…in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, thankful for your partnership in the gospel.” (Paul, Epistle to the Philippians, Chap. 1, v. 3, 4, 5). This meditation is founded on a popular Maronite melody which is presented initially on the pedal Clarion at high pitch while the accompanying manuals briefly quote the beginning of the Eucharist from Messiaen’s Offrandes oubliées. A more rhythmic central section in octaves varies the theme, before it returns ornamented on an exotic registration over a pulsing accompaniment of strings.
The final movement Christ avec le Saint-Esprit dans la gloire du Père (Christ with the Holy Spirit in the Glory of the Father) is inspired by the text “God the Father bestowed on us his glorious grace in his Beloved: in Him we were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” (Paul, Epistle to the Ephesians, Chap. 1, v. 6, 13). This thrilling toccata conjures up something of the feel of Messiaen’s Le vent de L’Esprit from Messe de la Pentecôte. The main theme is that of Messiaen’s Séquence du Verbe, Cantique Divin from Trois Petites Liturgies de la Présence Divine. Thematic use is also made of the theme of Tous les oiseaux des étoiles from Harawi. An exciting introduction on the tutti and a lightning fast monody lead to an exhilarating moto-perpetuo of rushing semiquavers from both hands and feet. A relentless energy pushes the music along, until a recapitulation of the opening leads to the breath-taking close.
The other work by Hakim heard here is Vexilla Regis Prodeunt which concludes this disc. This masterful Symphonic Paraphrase received its first performance on 2nd July 1995 by the commissioner, Leo Abbott, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington D.C. The work is notable for its adherence not only to the melody but also to the text.
The theme Vexilla Regis Prodeunt is a hymn to the Holy Cross (attributed to Venantius Fortunatus) and traditionally sung during the vespers of Passion Sunday and of the Triumph of the Cross. Through composed with two short interludes after the third and fifth stanza, it also makes use of the German melody Großer Gott.
The opening is highly dramatic, with rapid figures and great dynamic contrasts. This leads to a richly harmonised sounding of the theme over a pedal point. The second stanza uses dissonant quadruple-pedalling to provide rhythmic impetus alternating with very fast figures on the manuals to illustrate the torn side of Christ with its torrent of blood and water. The fragmented theme is presented under this vivid illustration on the pedals.
The third stanza illustrates the harp of David on glittering manual registration interspersed with fanfares on the chamades representing God’s triumph over the tree. A brief interlude builds tension into the chordal canon of the fourth stanza on the tutti representing Christ and the tree symbolically becoming as one.
A highly original effect created using rapid and frequent manual changes forms the brief interlude leading to a deeply beautiful middle section with the melody on the Clarinette. The widely leaping flute ostinato represents not only the “….strong arms, so widely hung” but also the balancing of the scales of judgement for the world’s ransom. An interlude developing both the Plainsong and German melodies follows for the sixth stanza, with a crescendo illustrating the statement “He loves us more than himself” in keeping with the redemptive nature of the text. The tutti then bursts onto the scene with the melody Großer Gott.
After this section reaches a climax the Trinitarian theme of the seventh stanza is depicted with three appearances of the melody – firstly as a single melodic line in octaves interspersed with chordal clusters, then in fourths as two melodic lines, and finally after a glissando and massive chords in two super-imposed fourths as three melodic lines. Following this the theme is heard fragmented over a pedal point leading to chords on the tutti. The closing pages use the opening of the melody in full parallel chords accelerating into the thrilling conclusion.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Naji Hakim for his inspirational teaching and encouragement, and for his generous help in the preparation of this recording.
Olivier Messiaen was born in Avignon in 1908, and studied in Paris under Marcel Dupré and Paul Dukas. He was one of the most important figures in Twentieth-Century music as well as one of the most distinctive and accessible. He wrote works in every milieu, including Symphonie Turangalîla, the opera St François d’Assise and the monumental La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus Christ. He also wrote many instrumental works and was a very important teacher. He was organist of La Trinité in Paris for over forty years until shortly before his death in 1992. Central amongst his oeuvre are his compositions for organ which include such cycles as La Nativité du Seigneur, Les Corps Glorieux, and the massive Méditations sur le mystère de la Saint Trinité and Livre du Saint Sacrement.
L’Apparition de L’Église eternelle is one of his few stand-alone pieces, and dates from 1932. Even in this comparatively early work the harmonic language and the very slow tempo are highly characteristic. The structure is very simple – a huge crescendo followed by a diminuendo superbly and hauntingly evoking a vision of a celestial and eternal church. The Blackburn instrument is a perfect vehicle for Messiaen’s love of distinctive organ colour and belief that an organ should “overwhelm”.
Louis Vierne was born almost blind at Poitiers in 1870. He attended the National Institute for Young Blind People and then studied at the Paris Conservatoire with César Franck and Charles-Marie Widor. He was Widor’s assistant at Saint-Sulpice before being appointed Titulaire at Notre-Dame in 1900. He was to die on the organ bench there in 1937 during a recital with his friend and pupil Maurice Duruflé.
His brilliance as a performer and improviser was internationally renowned and he undertook numerous tours around Europe and the USA. His life was beset with hardships however, including ill-health, the loss of both sons and his brother, financial difficulties, the death of many friends and professional betrayals and set-backs.
His poor sight did not prevent him composing – as well as 6 Symphonies and numerous other works for organ, he wrote music for choir, including the Messe Solennelle, a Symphony and numerous other large scale works for orchestra, songs and much chamber music. His Symphonies for organ were inspired by the classical models of Widor and the romantic ideas of Franck. To this he added his own sad experiences and sensitive nature to produce works that exceeded Widor’s in expression and depth. His other music is slowly being rediscovered, revealing an increasingly impressive individual voice.
The Messe Basse pour les défunts (Low Mass for the Departed) was Vierne’s last work and is one of his most intimate and moving. His distinctive musical language had become increasingly chromatic over the years and this work provides a “missing link” between his earlier works and the harmony of figures such as Cochereau later in the century. The dedicatees of each movement were deceased, and had been blind or been of assistance to blind causes. This hauntingly beautiful work is very tightly constructed, with a number of the movements being full developments of a single melodic fragment. Vierne’s unhappy life and longing for peace is reflected throughout this frequently anguished work.
The registration and harmonic language is suitably sombre for the purpose of providing music for the Low Requiem Mass. This in itself went against the rulings by the Sacred Congregation of Rites which had declared that the instruments were to be used purely to provide support for the singers. Despite this ruling, the composition of such works was fairly common, Vierne having written a previous Messe Basse in 1912. This later Mass was written for organ or harmonium and was his first such work since the Pièces en Style Libre of 1914. Vierne is known to have greatly preferred the organ for performances of such works, and it is a more appropriate vehicle for the provision of colour and dignity.
The opening Prèlude (A la mémoire de Maurice de la Sizeranne) sets the tone with the dark-hued Foundations and Trumpet sounding a held note which recalls the opening of Symphonie IV. A series of rising chromatic chords leads to a repeat of the opening and the introduction of the motif which will be fully developed in the central section. The opening material then returns until a coda on the Voix Humaine brings the movement to a solemn conclusion. The gently registered Introït (A la mémoire de Georges Noblemaire) is formed by inversion and development of its opening melodic fragment. The Offertoire (A la mémoire de Pierre Villey) is in ternary form. The outer sections consist of two alternating phrases which are contrasting but related, the second of which provides the idea which is developed fully in the central section.
After the darkness of these movements comes the sublime Elévation (A la mémoire de Maurice Blazy). Blazy was knocked down by a bus outside his house in 1933,and Vierne was deeply affected by the death of his close friend and former teacher. This movement is an ethereal breath of fresh air heard on the flutes and seems to hang timelessly in space, offering some hope and light amongst its melancholy surroundings. The Communion (A la mémoire d’Edgard Guilbeau) showcases Vierne’s ravishing harmonic language with its chains of 7ths and 9ths giving an almost jazz-like feel. After a recapitulation of the opening on the Voix Humaine a section on the highly unusual registration of Quintaton 16 and Flûte 4 brings the movement to an end with a chord containing all the notes of the pentatonic scale.
The work’s closing Défilé (A la mémoire de Général Balfourier) is one of Vierne’s most poignant expressions. This movement is intended to accompany the coffin as it is carried out of the church, and the military connections of its dedicatee can be heard in the dotted march-like rhythms of the outer sections. The beautiful central section is a deeply moving and achingly nostalgic lullaby with a rocking accompaniment, recalling happier times with some of the many friends and relations Vierne was to lose over the years. The opening then returns and reaches a climax, before the closing lines and final dark chords provide expression of Vierne’s written wish in a letter to Gavoty “for the ultimate repose”.
In addition to those mentioned above I would like to thank the following –
First and foremost David Briggs for his inspirational example and generous teaching, and for his kindness and constant support in all aspects of my musical career.
My teachers, especially in recent years Ian Ball and Martin Schellenberg for their dynamic and exciting guidance.
David Gibbs for his excellent producing work, and Simon Ball for his assistance at the console.
Finally my parents, for enabling and constantly encouraging my musical development.
David Bednall is a student of Dr. Naji Hakim and David Briggs, and is currently Acting Assistant Organist at Wells Cathedral.
He was born in 1979 and studied in Sherborne and then at The Queen’s College, Oxford where he was Organ Scholar. In 2000 the Chapel Choir toured Paris under his direction, singing at Notre Dame and other venues, and released a live concert CD.
In 2000 he was appointed Organ Scholar at Gloucester Cathedral under David Briggs and Ian Ball. While there he spent periods as Acting Director of Music and Acting Assistant Organist, was closely involved in the Three Choirs Festival, and was involved in two recordings – as Director on Lux Aeterna with the Cathedral Choir, and as Accompanist on the critically acclaimed Comfort and Joy with the Saint Cecilia Singers.
He was a prize-winner in Improvisation and Performance at the examination for Fellow of The Royal College of Organists in 2002, and has given recitals at L’Église de La Trinité, Paris, Westminster, Wells, Bristol, Gloucester, Hereford, Worcester, Truro, Blackburn, Coventry, Manchester and St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, as part of the Fringe Series. Additional engagements have included recitals at Westminster Abbey, St Mary’s, Redcliffe, Sherborne Abbey and performances of Vierne – Symphonies IV and V.
He has performed all the major works of Olivier Messiaen as part of the Liturgical Year, completing the cycle with Livre du Saint Sacrament. He has recently completed his debut solo CD for Lammas of Hakim, Messiaen and Vierne at Blackburn Cathedral, and a CD of liturgical improvisations with Malcolm Archer. He is Director of Cantilena choir, and is also in demand as an accompanist. In this capacity he has appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival accompanying Britten – Canticles II, III and IV, and has just made a CD of the songs of Michael Head with the tenor Richard Rowntree for Lammas. He is also increasingly interested in composition, having written a number of choral and organ works, and has just completed a commission for the Youth Choirs of Blackburn and Carlisle Cathedrals.
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!
Recorded in Blackburn Cathedral on 31st May to 2nd June 2004 by kind permission of the Dean and Chapter
Produced by David Gibbs
Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews