Skip to content

Sounds of Celebration

Sounds of Celebration cover picture

Kevin Bowyer plays the organ works of Paul Fisher at Blackburn Cathedral

Flute: Claudia Lashmore

Three Fancies for Pedal and Left Hand
Your feet’s too big
A Yorkshire Christmas

The Shadow of the Sun

For Helen

Wild Spirits

Noel Nouvelet

The Colours of Spirit

Total playing time 72m 23s

Sounds of Celebration

Sounds of Celebration


A Fantasia with Fugue for organ
Composed to celebrate the Centenary of the building of the organ in Bradford Cathedral in 1904

This piece was first performed by the composer at a lunchtime organ recital in the Cathedral. It combines contrapuntal with chorale-style sections. The “BRADFORD” theme (B-B-A-D-F-G-Bb-D) is played on Great and then Swell, and forms the basis for all subsequent material. The theme is treated contrapuntally before a hushed episode which leads into a broad Chorale. An Allegretto, sprightly but with darker episodes, moves into a second shorter appearance of the Chorale. This gives way to a Fugue (con moto) which builds to a massive densely-textured climax over double-pedalling. A quick decrescendo leads into a second statement of the ‘hushed’ episode. The piece ends with the Chorale, stated in full, and a Coda marked “Massive” and then “Cataclysmic” as solo trumpets have the last word.

Three Fancies For Organ Pedal And Left Hand

I. Your Feet’s Too Big
II. Misty
III. Yorkshire Christmas

These three light-hearted pieces can be played just for fun, to improve technique (especially for trio playing) and as concert items. They are each written in A-B-A form.

Your Feet’s Too Big is inspired by Fats Waller’s humorous, slightly cruel jazz song, and you will hear some of the footsteps and rhythms of the original in this tribute, which is headed “with apologies to the late Fats Waller”.

Misty revisits the well-known song, whose dreamy theme appears both on an 8-foot pedal and on the manuals, to a rocking accompaniment.

Yorkshire Christmas is so called because its “On Ilkley Moor” theme was originally used for the carol “While Shepherds Watched”. Here it is transposed into 3/4 time, with a brief “In Dulci Jubilo” episode half-way through. It ends in dark disturbance (the shadow of the Cross over Christmas?).

Ideally the right hand should not be used at all in these pieces, not even for registration!

The Shadow Of The Sun

A Fantasia for organ and flute on a Highland song also known as ‘Amazing Grace’

This improvisatory piece is in the form of a continuous set of variations in which the theme, on the whole, remains essentially unaltered. It opens in a hushed manner on the organ, suggestive of the bagpipes. The flute then plays the first part of the theme leading into the variations. The introduction of the closed ‘full Swell’ halfway through signals the start of a big crescendo which culminates in a massive statement of the melody on full organ with double pedalling. The piece then slowly dies away, ending on a pedal “drone’ and the briefest of references on the flute to ‘Auld Lang Syne’, a melody with echoes of the main theme.

For Helen

A piece for organ and flute
In memory of Helen Fletcher who loved the hills

Also an improvisatory piece, this was composed for the 10th anniversary memorial service of Helen Fletcher, a friend who died at the age of 11 in a riding accident in North Wales. At the outset, the flute followed by the organ states a plainchant setting of Psalm 121 “I will lift up my eyes to the hills”. The name ‘Helen” then appears in its musical form (BEDEF). Both these melodies recur throughout the piece. Shortly afterwards we hear a brief plainchant theme from the ‘Office for the Dead’. One more theme is then heard in the tenor over a deep pedal, a musical spelling of “Y Wyddfa’, the Welsh for Snowdon. This too recurs especially during the “poco agitato’ middle section which depicts the rising intensity of a climb up Snowdon, a mountain Helen loved. The final section is a quiet and gentle reflection on the Psalm 121 plainchant.

Wild Spirits

A Celebration of Creatures For Organ

This is an extended piece celebrating the wildlife of creation (although it includes the not-so-wild domestic cat!). The animals featured are Cat and Bird, Cat at Night, Serpents, the Fishes of the Sea, Vietnamese PotBellied Pig, and Whale.

The piece opens with a flourish, celebratory but also with a hint of darkness and tragedy, which depicts “wild things”. This flourish returns briefly before Fishes of the Sea and Whale. The “vast space” theme then follows ppp, followed by an extract from the hymn tune “All things bright and beautiful”: both these appear in various forms throughout the piece, within and between the sections.

Cat and Bird is a playful “start-stop” portrait. Cat at Night is quiet and mysterious. Serpents is slightly sinister (whole-tone scale). Fishes of the Sea is a watery toccata, bright but with some ominous episodes hinting at dark depths - “here be dragons”. Vietnamese Pot-Bellied Pig is gentle and amorous, with the occasional soft grunt on the pedals. Whale is a surging song of passion, rising to a great climax on trumpets with full organ, and gradually dying away to bring the piece to a hushed close -the peace of eternity, stretching into infinity, but tinged with an infinite sadness.

Noel Nouvelet

Five variations for organ on a French Noel

This is the familiar ‘Noel’ for which Marcel Dupré wrote his set of more extended variations. The theme is first stated over a somewhat ambiguous chromatic harmony in the home key of D minor. There follows a short Canon in the dominant and then a variation for the Pedals in F minor. The next variation, no 3, descends a semi-tone into a subdued, quite static E minor, fragments of the melody being scored for Flute solo over Swell Celestes. A more angular mildly dissonant variation in D (the home key) leads via a gradual crescendo into the final Variation 5, a humorous, perhaps slightly subversive “non-finale’ Waltz in D major.

The Colours of Spirit

The Colours of Spirit is sub-titled by the composer A Suite of short pieces for trying out a new organ, based on Veni Creator Spiritus. The ten short variations, each of which is designed to highlight a specific organ colour, are linked by ‘bridge passages’. Although set out for a three-manual organ, it may be easily adapted to one of two.

Variation 1: Flourish on full organ, slowly reducing to 2: "Moorish" variation on clarabella & strings 3: Plainsong melody on quiet foundations 4: Soft 8 and 4 foot stops 5: Chorale-like variation on the diapasons 6: Hushed variation for flute accompanied by celestes 7: Mixtures 8: Slow crescendo through the diapason chorus 9: A soft reed variation in 5/4 10: Trumpet fanfares against full Swell leading to a final statement on full organ of the plainsong theme.

Paul Fisher
Langcliffe 2004

Kevin Bowyer

Kevin Bowyer was born in Southend-on-Sea in January 1961 and studied with Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, David Sanger, Virginia Black and Paul Steinitz. He has won first prizes in five international organ competitions (St. Albans, Dublin, Paisley, Odense and Calgary) and has gained a reputation for playing unusual and new music and for taking on “impossible” projects. In 1987 he gave the world premiere of Kaikhosru Sorabji’s two hour solo Symphony for Organ, considered “impossible” ever since its publication in 1925. Other UK premieres have included works by Brian Ferneyhough (Sieben Sterne), Charles Wuorinen (Natural Fantasy) and Iannis Xenakis (Gmeeoorh).

At home Kevin has played solo and concerto concerts in most of the major venues and festivals including the Royal Festival Hall, Royal Albert Hall as part of the Proms, St. Paul’s Cathedral as part of the City of London Festival, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and at the Aldeburgh, Canterbury Cathedral, Hexham Abbey, St. Albans and St. Magnus, Orkney Island festivals. Trips and tours abroad have taken him throughout Europe, North America, Australia and Japan. In summer 2003 he played the complete solo organ Symphonies of Widor and Vierne and the complete organ works of Olivier Messiaen in three concerts in the same week, 16 hours of music, at St. Giles, Cripplegate.

Kevin is a popular teacher, working in the St. Giles International Organ School and at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. He has lectured and given masterclasses in many countries and appears regularly on the staff of the Oundle Summer School for Young Organists.

As a writer Kevin has produced numerous articles over the years and regularly contributes a humorous column to Organists’ Review. His article, “Twentieth Century European Organ Music – A Toast”, cast as a play set in a Cotswolds pub, in the Incorporated Association of Organists’ Millennium Book was described by one reviewer as “quite simply the best piece of writing on organ music that I have ever seen.”

Kevin’s other interests include twentieth century literature (in particular Joyce, Beckett and the Powys family), real ale and malt whiskies. His favourite pastime is sleeping, although he doesn’t get much chance these days.

Paul Fisher

Paul Fisher is a native of North Worcestershire and was born in 1943. The composer worked for 30 years as an ordained minister in the Church of England before taking early 'retirement' to live in the Yorkshire Dales and concentrate on music, art, climbing and hill-walking. A piano diploma holder from the (then) Birmingham School of Music and Royal College of Music, Paul began serious organ studies and composition about 8 years ago, studying performance with Stephen Layton, Anne Marsden Thomas, Gerard Brooks and currently with Kevin Bowyer. Paul composes mainly for the organ, but has also written some other instrumental works and choral music. His music is inspired by encounters with people, and by events and celebrations, the natural world and spirituality. Humour and passion in music is very important to him.

Paul is married to Sue. They have a son Michael, a daughter Helen and two cats

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!

Richard Tanner
Blackburn, 2004

Recorded in Blackburn Cathedral on 2nd and 3rd November 2004 by kind permission of the Dean and Chapter

Produced by Richard Tanner
Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews
Cover from a picture “B is for Banquet” by Revd Dr R S Murrin