After the hymn is over, our organ postlude will offer a bit of commentary on Luther and Bach’s great chorale. Opening with a virtuosic pedal solo and concluding with a brilliant and dance-like Allegro section, the postlude is actually composed of two movements from the Partita on Ein feste burg by Andrew Clarke (b. 1942). I first played this piece 11 years ago and am just now rediscovering it. Clarke is Organist and Choirmaster at Riverside Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, FL and holds degrees from Yale University and the New England Conservatory of Music. An impressive improviser and composer, Clarke writes tuneful and rhythmically engaging pieces that provide exciting commentary on hymn tunes. Notice how he uses the hymn tune as inspiration for everything – even the pedal solo. I think it’s important to play music by living composers, as they are the ones in the “here and now” carrying on the great legacy of music.
You may notice I used the idea of music being a commentary in the previous paragraph. Lately, I’ve been reading a new book, Mystic Modern: The Music, Thought, and Legacy of Charles Tournemire, published by the Church Music Association of America. In this book, Msgr. Andrew R. Wadsworth states, “For several centuries, the tradition of organ playing – not only as an accompaniment for liturgical chant but essentially also as a commentary on the liturgical action and based on the chants and texts which accompany that action – has been highly developed [. . .].” Msgr. Wadsworth is writing specifically about the great tradition of French improvisation on Gregorian chant during the Roman Catholic Mass, but the idea of the organ as liturgical commentator holds for other traditions as well. All of our music offers reflections and commentary on the liturgy of the day, but the organ usually has the privilege of both opening and closing the service. As you hear instrumental preludes, interludes, and postludes during our services, think of how it may be reflecting and commenting on other music and themes of the day.
Finally, the offertory is a transcription for organ of a work by Robert Schumann (1810-1856) originally for pedal piano. The pedal piano was a rather experimental instrument that never really caught on. Although, there is a movement today to bring it back, and some new pedal pianos have been constructed. The pedal piano is basically a grand piano with an organ-style pedal keyboard underneath it – with its own set of bass strings. Robert Schumann is perhaps the best known composer of works for this instrument, but with the obscurity of pedal pianos, most of his works written for them are now played on the organ. On the organ, these pieces sometimes take on an orchestral character. This week, as you listen to our music, we hope that it will help you reflect on the themes of the day and draw you closer to God in prayer and sacrament.