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Sounds Idyllic

Sounds Idyllic cover picture

Peter Dyke

‘Preston’ C Hubert H Parry
‘Why does azure deck the sky’ C V Stanford
Carillon A Herbert Brewer
Slow Alan Gray
Andante soavemente e dolce Charles Macpherson
Chorale Prelude on ‘Worcester’ Ivor Atkins
Lento Frank Bridge
Andantino Harold E Darke
Andante Charles Wood
Rather slowly Walter G Alcock
Elegy George Thalben Ball
Improvisation Henry G Ley
Prelude on ‘Jesu Dulcis Memoria’ H Walford Davies
SIX SHORT PRELUDES AND POSTLUDES, Op. 101 Charles Villiers Stanford
Allegretto in F
Allegro non troppo e pesante in G minor
Allegro non troppo in E flat
Andante tranquillo in F
Andante maestoso in G
Andante con moto in E flat

Allegretto grazioso in A
Allegro comodo in B flat
Allegro marziale e ben marcato in D
Andante con moto in D flat
Andantino in F minor
Allegro ben moderato in D

Total playing time 70m 30s

Sounds Idyllic

Sounds Idyllic


Charles Hubert Hastings Parry was born in Bournemouth in 1848, and died 70 years later in Rustington, Sussex. A composer, scholar and a teacher, he combined these activities with a forceful personality and social position, and exercised a revitalising influence on English musical life at a time when standards of composition, performance, criticism and education were low.

In addition to his composition, Parry made other contributions to the English music scene. He was invited by George Grove to write for his new dictionary in 1877 and to join the staff of the Royal College of Music when it was opened in 1883. In the same year he was appointed choragus at Oxford, and in 1894 he succeeded Grove as director of the RCM. He succeeded Stainer as professor at Oxford in 1900, a position which he resigned in 1908 although he remained at the RCM until his death in 1918. He was knighted in 1898 and five years later made a baronet. His ethical and aesthetic standards influenced not only his students but the whole artistic life of his time.

The last years of Parry’s life were filled with sadness and depression. The war had demoralised him, his wife’s work for the suffragette movement caused an isolation in their relationship, and a rift had occurred at the RCM between himself and Stanford. Heart problems had harassed Parry all his life, but it is ironic that these were not the cause of his death: he died from blood poisoning after the removal of cysts, in a state of agony and delirium. Parry’s funeral took place at St Paul’s Cathedral on 16 October 1918, presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury and attended by representatives of the King, the Prince of Wales and Queen Alexandra. Stanford, Elgar, Mackenzie, Cowen, Lloyd, Bridge and Parratt were there as were representatives of all the many and varied institutions and organisations with which Parry had been associated.

During his last years, Parry’s music suffered a considerable decline, with no more than a handful of choral works remaining in the repertoire. Post-war Britain was hungry for new artistic ideals and was, for the most part, happy to ignore the paradigms of its Victorian and Edwardian forefathers. Some were disposed to accuse Parry and his contemporaries of having prevented the one central talent, Elgar, from realising success earlier than he did.

Parry seems to have been attracted to the organ late in life, and all his organ works appeared in close succession within a few years. They all illustrate his lofty, serious ideals of art, as well as his masterly contrapuntal skill.

In 1924 a small trifle by Parry was published to head a collection of organ pieces by composers who had been his friends or pupils. Some of the pieces had been played at Parry’s funeral, and the others were written later, and the thirteen were eventually assembled. Parry’s piece had been written ‘For the Little Organ Book’ and it seemed fitting to publish the volume as A Little Organ Book in memory of Hubert Parry. What Parry had in mind for his own piece is not known; his love of Bach would have prompted the title, and perhaps he intended a set of short pieces of some kind.

Parry’s opening piece is a gentle sarabande, followed by Stanford’s chorale prelude on Parry’s song, ‘Why does azure deck the sky’. Brewer’s Carillon embraces a wide range of dynamics, while Gray’s triple time air changes to duple time in its final bars, with the quotation ‘O may we soon again renew that song!’ from Blest Pair of Sirens played pianissimo on the Swell strings. Macpherson and Atkins continue with triple time signatures, the latter piece based on the tune Worcester, attributed to Thomas Tomkins. Bridge’s contribution is perhaps the most forward-thinking and enigmatic of the collection, developing from an unaccompanied opening phrase and ending as it began with a single sustained F sharp. The pieces by Darke and Wood provide the organist with an opportunity to introduce different solo stops, while Alcock writes a sincere, fluent movement. Thalben Ball’s Elegy is not his famous one, but it embraces a wide range of dynamics and colour in its four pages. Ley’s Improvisation is in slow triple time, indulging in a passage of lush harmonies before its quiet ending. Walford Davies concludes the volume with a sophisticated movement based on the plainsong Jesu dulcis memoria. The solo stop here is the Cor Anglais, a free reed added to the organ by Rolin Frères in 1909.

SIX SHORT PRELUDES AND POSTLUDES, Op. 101 Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924)

Charles V. Stanford was the only child of a distinguished Dublin lawyer. His father was a keen amateur cellist and singer, and from his earliest days Stanford was exposed to cultured musical influences and a brilliant circle of judicial, medical and ecclesiastical intellectuals who frequented his home. He had been intended for the legal profession, but in 1870 his father permitted him to follow a musical career on condition that he first receive a university education and then study music abroad. In that year he entered Queen’s College, Cambridge as a choral scholar. By 1873 he had been appointed organist of Trinity College, Cambridge, which regularly granted him leave of absence to further his studies abroad.

Stanford possessed unbounded energy and his reputation kept pace with his untiring activity in promoting his highest ideals in music; soon he was offered the leading appointments in Britain. At the opening of the Royal College of Music in 1883 he was made professor of composition and orchestral playing, and four years later he was elected professor of music at Cambridge University, a rare honour for a man of 35. He retained both posts until his death, and exercised more influence in the teaching of composition than any other musician in Britain throughout his tenure. His importance in the musical life of Britain is reflected in the fact that he is buried in Westminster Abbey next to Purcell.

His interest in the organ dates from his early years in Dublin where he studied the instrument under Robert Stewart, organist of St Patrick’s Cathedral. His organ music is a treasure trove ranging from technically demanding recital pieces to quite simple voluntaries. His most important contribution is the set of five organ sonatas, composed in one year, between May 1917 and May 1918. His two sets of pieces entitled Six Short Preludes and Postludes, are more regularly heard: the first set, recorded here, was completed in April 1907, while the second set, Op. 105, appeared a year later.

Stanford’s relationship with his publishers was often a difficult one. He had fallen out irrevocably with Novello, and looked to Boosey as the principal publisher of his large-scale works, though some chamber works had been offered to Edgar Pettman’s company, Houghton, and later Stanford was tempted to place a few of his organ works with Schirmer. With the advent in 1907 of a new publishing enterprise in Berners Street called Stainer & Bell, Stanford lent his support to that firm with alacrity. Stainer & Bell chose to issue a range of works in individual series, with an emphasis on choral works, church music, songs, part-songs, organ music and short works for the violin. In response to this policy Stanford produced several works for the organ, including the two sets of Six Short Preludes and Postludes.

The first piece is a gentle pastorale, innocuous yet pleasing, an ideal voluntary before evensong. The second is more purposeful, with two instances of toccata-like semiquaver figuration and powerful chromatic harmony. The third, Allegro non troppo, is reminiscent of Brahms, and returns to a mood of calm, the pedal part marked staccato throughout. The next piece presents another opportunity to use solo stops, and maintains the atmosphere of serenity. The final two movements are based on Irish melodies, both taken from the Petrie Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland, published in Dublin in 1855. The first is the tune Gartan, sung to the words ‘Christ be with me, Christ within me’, amongst others, while the second is the better known St Columba, the tune for ‘The King of love my Shepherd is’.

SIX ORGAN PIECES Frank Bridge (1879-1941)

Frank Bridge was born in Brighton, where his father directed a theatre orchestra. He gained early experience with the group as violinist and arranger before going to study violin at the Royal College of Music in London. In 1899 he won a scholarship to study composition with Stanford for four years, during which time the solid foundation to his immaculate compositional technique was laid. He had to earn a living, though, and it was as violinist with the Grimson Quartet that he first entered the profession fully-fledged, though later, in 1906, he stood in for the violist of the famous Joachim Quartet and had a permanent position as violist with the fine English String Quartet until 1915. During this period he also undertook many important conducting engagements, presiding over repertory rehearsals for the newly founded New Symphony Orchestra, conducting opera at the Savoy Theatre and at Covent Garden, and appearing with such major orchestras as the London Symphony Orchestra. Bridge’s musicianship made it possible for him to take on the most difficult programmes at short notice, and Henry Wood called on him for Promenade Concerts when he himself was incapacitated. In 1923 Bridge visited the USA to conduct his own music in Boston, Cleveland, Detroit and New York. He was also a remarkable teacher, though Britten was his only composition pupil.

Perhaps no other British composer of the first half of the 20th century reveals such a stylistic journey in his music. His early works follow in the late-Romantic tradition bearing a kinship with Fauré; subsequently Bridge comes close to the orbit of Delius. After the First World War, however, his music became intense and chromatic, rubbing shoulders with the early works of the Second Viennese School. Finding little favour with the public or critics, his late work languished, and despite Britten’s advocacy, it was not until the 1970s that Bridge’s remarkable legacy received the attention it deserved.

The Six Organ Pieces are a combination of two books. The first three pieces were published in 1919, and the last three in 1914, and were previously entitled First Book and Second Book of Organ Pieces; however, the first three pieces were composed as early as autumn 1905, the year of the publication of the Three Pieces which include the well-known Adagio in E. In addition, Bridge’s oeuvre for organ includes the short piece in the Little Organ Book in memory of Hubert Parry and three later pieces composed in 1939.

The pieces recorded here demonstrate signs of an increasing fluency of thought and contrapuntal skill and they show Bridge to have been a master of purely musical discourse at a time when the preoccupations of many of his British contemporaries were mystical and poetically atmospheric. The gentle Allegretto grazioso, in 6/8 time, is full of confident modulations before the return of the soaring solo theme. The second piece is gentle and diatonic, over an ostinato in the left hand and a static pedal part. In contrast, the Allegro marziale e ben marcato is marked ‘full organ’ in a style typical of the Edwardian era, although the central section contains solos that are more restrained, while retaining the rhythmic vigour heard at the outset.

The last three pieces are all notable for the contrast between their tranquil openings and their turbulent central sections. The fourth begins and ends with the solo strings, the fifth with the Orchestral Oboe. The final Allegro ben moderato in particular displays incredible contrapuntal ingenuity. The initial melody appears as a solo in the left hand in the ninth bar, a twelfth lower than the original. Eight bars later, the left hand plays the theme at yet another pitch as the pedal enters with the theme in augmentation. Even the great J S Bach would have been quite proud of that!

Hugh Thomas, Llandovery, 2003

Peter Dyke

Peter Dyke, a former organ scholar of Robinson College, Cambridge, held organist’s posts in Wheathampstead, Newport and St Albans before being appointed assistant organist at Hereford Cathedral in March 1998. Much in demand as a teacher and as a recitalist, he has given concerts across Britain, Europe and North America, and in 1993 was awarded second prize in the Interpretation Competition of the St Albans International Organ Festival.

At the cathedral, he is responsible for playing for all the accompanied services sung by the cathedral choir (up to eight per week) as well as assisting in the training of the choristers and accompanying at the Hereford Three Choirs Festival every three years. In spring 2000 he founded the Hereford Cathedral Voluntary Choir, which has quickly gained a strong reputation following its singing at services, concerts and a radio broadcast. He has a keen interest in teaching and was closely involved with the founding of the highly-successful Diocese of Hereford Organists’ Training Scheme.

In recent years he has become more interested in composing; his arrangement of the National Anthem (in eighteenth century style) was performed at the Opening Service of the 2000 Three Choirs Festival by the Orchestra of St John’s, Smith Square, with the Festival Chorus, conducted by Dr Roy Massey.

The Organ of Hereford Cathedral

Although there is evidence of the existence of an organ in Hereford Cathedral as far back as the fourteenth century, the earliest instrument of note was built in 1686 by Renatus Harris; some of the pipes from this survive to the present day. By the end of the eighteenth century, a short-compass swell division had been added to the original two manuals, and in 1806 Thomas Elliot added a pedal department.

Shortly after Samuel Sebastian Wesley was appointed cathedral organist in 1832, major improvements were made to the organ by J C Bishop, enabling Wesley’s composition The Wilderness with its virtuoso pedal part to be performed in November of that year.

The organ was moved to its present position on the south side of the choir during the restoration by Gray and Davison in 1863, and the Gilbert Scott case dates from this time. Henry Willis’s first involvement at Hereford dates from the 1870s when the improvements included the addition of the solo manual. However, it was Willis’s extensive rebuild of 1892 which gave the organ its present-day distinctive quality and tonal character, celebrated in this disc.

In 1933, the organ underwent further rebuilding by Henry Willis III, when the console was moved to its present position, facing the pipes, on the north side of the choir, thus allowing the organist to hear the instrument and choir more adequately. Harrison and Harrison restored the organ in 1978, when a new four-rank mixture was added to the Great chorus and the choir pipes moved to the position of the former console at the base of the case.

The present recording is the last disc made before the organ’s most recent restoration in 2004; although some action noise and wind leakage may be audible at times, the tonal quality and colour are gloriously rich and unique to Hereford.

Peter Dyke would like to thank Lance Andrews, Geraint Bowen, Martyn Lane, Roy Massey, John and Meriel Oliver, Harriet Pawsey, Beth Randell, John Robinson, Edward Seymour, Hugh Thomas and Shaun Ward for their help with this recording.

Recorded in Hereford Cathedral on 4th, 5th and 6th September 2002 by kind permission of the Dean and Chapter

Produced by Martyn Lane
Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews
Photograph by Shaun Ward