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David Briggs at the Organ
Tuesday 30th May 2017, 7.30pm
David Briggs at the Organ

David Briggs is an internationally renowned organist whose performances are acclaimed for their musicality, virtuosity, and ability to excite and engage audiences of all ages. With an extensive repertoire spanning five centuries, he is known across the globe for his brilliant organ transcriptions of symphonic music by composers such as Mahler, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Elgar, Bruckner, Ravel, and Bach. Fascinated by the art of Improvisation since a child, David also frequently performs improvisations to silent films such as Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Nosferatu, Jeanne d'Arc, Metropolis, as well as a variety of Charlie Chaplin films.

At the age of 17, David obtained his FRCO (Fellow of the Royal College of Organists) diploma, winning all the prizes and the Silver Medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. From 1981-84 he was the Organ Scholar at King's College, Cambridge University, during which time he studied organ with Jean Langlais in Paris. The first British winner of the Tournemire Prize at the St Albans International Improvisation Competition, he also won the first prize in the International Improvisation Competition at Paisley. Subsequently David held positions at Hereford, Truro and Gloucester Cathedrals. He is currently Artist-in-Residence at St James Cathedral, Toronto.

Programme
Fanfare - Nicholas Jacques LEMMENS (1823-81)
Choral Prelude 'Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier', BWV 731 - Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Piece d'Orgue, BWV 572 - Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Choral No. 3 in A Minor - Cesar FRANCK (1822-90)
Andante Cantabile (Symphonie Gothique) - Charles-Marie WIDOR (1844-1937)
Final (Symphonie 1) - Louis VIERNE (1870-1937)
Improvisation on two themes submitted by members of the audience

I’m truly delighted to be performing here at Hay-on-Wye, for the first time. To start, I have chosen the ebullient Fanfare in D major by Nicholas Jacques Lemmens. This brilliant piece shows you the powerful yet majestic tutti of the Hay instrument. Lemmens was a pupil of Adolf Hesse, who was, in turn, a pupil of J S Bach. He was a brilliant organist, prolific composer and also wrote an important treatise on organ playing. In March 1849 he was appointed organ teacher at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels aged 26, and he trained young French talents, including Alexandre Guilmant and Charles-Marie Widor. In 1857 he married the English soprano Helen Sherrington (1834-1906), who in the following decade emerged as a leading English concert and operatic singer.

By way of complete contrast, the following works are by J S Bach. Johann Sebastian Bach (21st March 1685 – 28th July 1750) was a prolific German composer and organist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra and solo instruments drew together the strands of the baroque genre and brought it to its ultimate maturity. He enriched the prevailing German style with a robust contrapuntal technique, a control of harmonic and motivic organization from the smallest to the largest scales, and the adaptation of rhythms and textures from abroad, particularly Italy and France. Many people consider him to be the greatest Baroque composer, and one of the greatest composers of all time. Revered for their intellectual depth, technical command and artistic beauty, J S Bach's works include the Brandenburg concertos, the keyboard suites and partitas, the Mass in B Minor, the St. Matthew Passion, The Musical Offering, The Art of Fugue and a large number of cantatas, of which about 220 survive.

The Chorale Prelude ‘Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier’ is a particularly beautiful example of the ornamented chorale – here played on the expressive Positive cornet separé. The ‘Pièce d’Orgue’, BWV 572, often known as the Fantasia in G, dates from 1706, while the young composer was organist at Arnstadt. The French nomenclature on the score (‘Très vitement’, ‘Grave’ and ‘Très lentement’) shows that Bach was truly cosmopolitan in his musical interests and influences. The first section illustrates the glittery mixtures of the Swell organ, the grandiose, 5-voice middle section the rich 16ft-based plenum, and the last section the sonorous, French-inspired, Grand Jeu.

César Franck was born in Liège, Belgium, to a father from the German-Belgian border and a German mother. His father had ambitions for him to become a concert pianist, and he studied at the conservatoire in Liège before going to the Paris Conservatoire in 1838 after private studies with Anton Reicha for a year. Upon leaving in 1842 he briefly returned to Belgium, but went back to Paris in 1844 and remained there for the rest of his life. His decision to give up a career as a virtuoso led to strained relations with his father during this time.

During his first years in Paris, Franck made his living by teaching, both privately and institutionally. He also held various posts as organist: from 1847 to 1851 he was organist at Notre Dame de Lorette, and from 1851 to 1858 he was organist at Saint Jean and St François. During this time he became familiar with the work of the famous French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, and he also worked on developing his technique as an organist and improviser.

In 1858, he became organist at the newly-consecrated Saint Clotilde Basilica, where he remained until his death. Here he began to attract attention for his skill as an improviser. His first set of organ compositions, however, was not published until 1868, when he was 46 years old, although it contains one of his finest organ pieces, the Grande Pièce Symphonique. From 1872 to his death he was professor of organ at the Paris Conservatory. His pupils included Vincent d'Indy, Ernest Chausson, Louis Vierne, and Henri Duparc. As an organist he was particularly noted for his skill in improvisation, and on the basis of merely twelve major organ works, Franck is considered by many the greatest composer of organ music after J S Bach. His works were some of the finest organ pieces to come from France in over a century, and laid the groundwork for the French symphonic organ style. In particular, his Grande Pièce Symphonique, a work of 25 minutes' duration, paved the way for the organ symphonies of Charles-Marie Widor, Louis Vierne, and Marcel Dupré.

In 1890, Franck was involved in a serious traffic accident. It was after this accident that he wrote his Trois chorals for organ. Franck died as a result of complications from the accident very shortly after finishing the chorales. He was interred in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.

In 1985 I had the great privilege of studying the Choral in A minor with my teacher Jean Langlais, Franck’s successor at St Clotilde. Playing Franck on Franck’s own instrument was an experience that remains with you for life.

Charles-Marie Widor was born in Lyon, to a family of organ builders, and initially studied music there with his father, who was an organist himself. The French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, reviver of the art of organ building, was a friend of the Widor family: he arranged for the talented young organist to study in Brussels, with Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens for organ technique and with François-Joseph Fétis, director of the Brussels Conservatoire for composition.

In 1870, with the combined lobbying of Cavaillé-Coll, Charles Gounod and Camille Saint-Saëns, the 26-year-old Widor was appointed as organist of Saint-Sulpice in Paris, the most prominent position for a French organist. The organ at St-Sulpice was Cavaillé-Coll's masterwork; the instrument's spectacular capabilities proved an inspiration to Widor. Widor remained as organist at St-Sulpice for 64 years until the end of 1933. He was succeeded in 1934 by his former student Marcel Dupré. Meanwhile, in 1890 he succeeded César Franck as organ professor at the Paris Conservatoire; he later gave up his post in organ to become composition professor in 1896.

Widor had several students in Paris who were to become famous composers and organists in their own right, most notably Louis Vierne, Charles Tournemire, Darius Milhaud (who was to later strongly influence jazz pianist Dave Brubeck), Marcel Dupré, Alexander Schreiner, and Edgar Varèse. Albert Schweitzer studied with him, especially from 1899, and master and pupil collaborated on an annotated edition of J S Bach's organ works published in 1912-14: Widor, whose own master Lemmens was an important Bach exponent, encouraged Schweitzer's theological exploration of Bach's religious music.

The second movement of the Symphonie Gothique (Op. 70, of 1895), entitled ‘Andante sostenuto’, is one of Widor's most-beloved pieces. The whole symphony was primarily inspired by the great Basilica of St Ouen, in Rouen. In this performance, the outer sections show off the beautiful cantabile quality of the Flutes and Bourdons and the middle section sounds particularly sumptuous on the rich 16ft and 8ft foundations.

Louis Vierne was born in Poitiers, France in 1870. He studied at L'Institut des Jeunes Aveugles in Paris (1880-90) and was influenced by Franck and Widor, Vierne obtained the Premier Prix d'Orgue at the Paris Conservatoire in 1884. He was appointed Organist of Notre-Dame de Paris in 1900 and toured in Europe and the USA (1920-30). Previously, he, like Gabriel Fauré, was an assistant to the organist Charles-Marie Widor at Saint-Sulpice in Paris. His output for organ includes six symphonies, 24 Fantasy Pieces (which includes his famous ‘Carillon de Westminster’), and ‘24 Pieces In Free Style’, among other works. There are also several chamber works (sonatas for violin and cello, a piano quintet and a string quartet for example), vocal and choral music, and a symphony in A minor for orchestra.

Vierne suffered a stroke while giving his 1750th organ recital at Notre-Dame de Paris on the evening of June 2, 1937.

Louis Vierne composed his First Symphony for Organ in 1898, two years before his nomination to the tribune at Notre-Dame de Paris. The final is rightly one of his most famous pieces.


Please note: This concert takes place at St. Mary's Church, Hay-on-Wye.

Tickets sold by Richard Booth's Bookshop on behalf of St. Mary's Church.
Price: £12.00