Some of today’s music may be a bit obscure, but it is sublime nonetheless. For details, click on Read More (below).
This morning’s organ preludes feature one of the bad boys of the French Baroque (isn’t it fun when we can say this in the context of church music?). Louis Marchand (1669-1732) was an organist and harpsichordist, a child prodigy who quickly established himself as one of the best-known but most ill-tempered French virtuosi of his time. Marchand was said to possess a violent temperament along with an arrogant personality, and he lived a scandal-filled life. Even so, his incredible talent assured him his pick of jobs, including organ positions at numerous churches in Paris. What it boils down to is this: It doesn’t take a saint to produce great art, not even great art of the church. Despite Marchand’s less than stellar personal life, his organ music easily stands on its own merits. Marchand was not all that interested in having his music published, so relatively few of his works survive. Those that do are considered gems of the organ literature and offer striking examples of the French Baroque style (of which François Couperin is probably the most famous example). These pieces are at once formal, ornate, and masterful in their use of the classical French organ’s full resources.
Our own Kathy Hancock (such a talented flutist!) has the last note-so to speak-in today’s 11:00 a.m. prelude, playing a wonderfully ornate Andante from a flute concerto by the little-known Wilhelm Bernhard Molique (1802-1869). Though his last name sounds decidedly French, Molique was a German violinist-the great Hector Berlioz was a fan of his playing-and a self-taught composer. By combining stylistic elements from his favorite composers, which included Beethoven, Mozart, and Mendelssohn, Molique found his own unique voice.
On September 11th, we heard a number of organ works by the great 20th-century French organist/composer Jean Langlais. Today’s postlude is one of Langlais’ best-known works, which comes from a set of three so-called Gregorian paraphrases written in the early 1930s. It is based on chants from the Te Deum, an early Christian hymn of praise that, after many centuries, continues to be a standard part of Morning Prayer, or Matins. Langlais’ piece is a powerful tour de force, best imagined resounding in the wonderful acoustics of a grand cathedral space. Even if you are unfamiliar with the Te Deum chant, you will no doubt hear distinct melodic themes in Langlais’ piece, and you can be sure these are all components of this ancient chant. Marcel Dupré (1886-1971), another of the great 20th-century French organists/composers, likewise based many of his works on ancient chants. In today’s 8:30 a.m. offertory, listen for the beautiful chant melody, Lucis Creator optime, as it appears in canon-between the right hand and pedal parts-in Dupré’s haunting piece.
Because Westminster’s motto is Micah 6:8, John Ness Beck’s beautiful Offertory based on the same scripture passage has always been a natural for our choir. We have sung this anthem many times over the years, though to my knowledge never with flute accompaniment (thanks, Kathy!), and each time we marvel at its simple but profound beauty. An Ohio native, Beck (1930-1987) taught harmony and theory at Ohio State for a number of years before leaving to start The University Music House, a retail music store in Columbus, Ohio (where as a grad student I spent many hours looking through the well-stocked shelves). Beck was thus able to gain insight into the business side of the music industry, and eventually formed his own publishing company, Beckenhorst Press. Beck developed quite a following as a composer and choral director and remained very active right up until his untimely death from cancer.