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About this Piece

Weddings, Transcriptions, and Premières
By Gregg Wager

Recitals on pipe organs certainly provide grandiose musical experiences, but the functionality of the instrument, both traditionally for churches and pedagogically for transcribing orchestral works, brings its true character full circle. Ever the versatile musician, Anthony Newman reminds us of all the ways the pipe organ lends itself to these ongoing roles, including as a still rich medium for composers to explore.

His program here is in three distinct parts, commencing with a selection of melodies mostly written for harpsichord during the early Baroque era. The bulk of these will probably be easy to recognize as wedding music that for some reason lives on as catchy and distinctive tunes when played on a trumpet. The second part of the program represents the fruit of Newman’s extended study of works by Igor Stravinsky in forms that are partly transcriptions but arranged selectively into fantasies.

The remainder of the program includes mainstay works by Bach and Mozart, but also a world première by Newman. In this way, the three parts converge to demonstrate all things the pipe organ is used for, but also the extremely versatile career of Newman himself.

Two specifically themed and commercially available recordings by Newman utilize almost identical early Baroque music: a collection of popular wedding music; and an album mostly featuring trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Something about this music transcends its narrow historical period and has popularly evolved to emblemize high English culture of any era.

Although Jeremiah Clarke’s (c1674-1707) “Trumpet Voluntary” (“Prince of Denmark’s March”) is often still falsely attributed to Henry Purcell (1659-1695), the televised wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diane in 1981 popularized it for the modern era as a proper and stylish wedding processional. Likewise, English television has made Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s (1643-1704) Prelude from his Te Deum, H. 146, familiar as a signature jingle for the European Broadcasting Union, while the Rondeau (“Fanfare”) from the first Suite de Symphonies by Jean-Joseph Mouret (1682-1738) is familiar as the opening music to the television show Masterpiece Theatre.

Newman may take some pride in his own contribution to the fame of some of this music, since he has performed it for decades and also published sheet music for these melodies (T.D. Ellis Publishing). His freely arranged selection here promises to include a few of the many rondeaus composed by Jean-François Dandrieu (c. 1681-1738), which he remembers transcribing himself in Paris during the 1950s. Along with these, he has arranged two of the most famous of Purcell’s trumpet tunes from the stage works Abdelazar and The Indian Queen. Also in his wedding music repertory is a familiar Trumpet Voluntary by John Stanley (1712-1786), which he may also include. 

Many keyboardists from the 20th and 21st centuries have found ways to study and learn the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) on their instruments, even though so many of his important works are not for keyboard. Newman has especially pointed out Stravinsky’s aversion to the pipe organ, because it is an instrument that, unlike orchestral instruments, does not “breathe.”

Whether performed as an oratorio or a fully staged opera, Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex from 1926 always challenges the listener with its thick orchestral textures and stylized drama. Newman has selected approximately ten minutes of the work arranged into what he is calling a Fantasia.

In 1955, Stravinsky composed the five-movement Canticum Sacrum, which explored a rigid arch form as a tribute to the architecture of St. Mark’s in Venice, including an exact retrograde relationship between the first and fifth movements. Newman’s transcription of this modern choral masterwork, which is presented here as a world première, divides into two parts: another Fantasia created out of the transcribed orchestral passages surrounding Stravinsky’s original organ solo included in the work; and a Fanfare. 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) wrote a total of 17 so-called “Church Sonatas” (in Italian, “sonata da chiesa”) during his life, all for various ensembles made up of orchestral instruments with a continuo. These short works of one movement usually introduced the reading of the Gospel with an allegro tempo and a major key. 

By transcribing for organ two of those in C major (K. 263 and 278) and placing them as outer movements around the only example of a Church Sonata in a slow tempo (Andantino, K. 67) as a middle movement in E-flat major, Newman has constructed a serviceable three-movement work for organ.

Two works by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) represent the only works on the program that have not been transcribed or arranged for organ by Newman. The Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C major, BWV 564, commences with a start-and-stop idea: often scalar-motion flourishes in otherwise perpetually moving single-voiced passages occasionally stopped abruptly by silence. Following this opening is a 19-bar solo for pedal. The Toccata then ends with a joyous homophonic texture often sequencing a pattern from right hand to left hand to pedals (and occasionally reversed). An Adagio movement in A minor presents a meditative melody in the right hand over a steady eighth-note pedal ostinato pulsating continuously, outlining an octave. The Fugue reintroduces the start-and-stop idea, using silences as part of the fugue subject in a lively 6/8 triple meter.        

The Fugue in G major nicknamed the “Gigue” Fugue, BWV 577, is often played in encore. Bach’s remarkable feat of using the otherwise rigid and academic fugue form as a sort of dance in triple meter strikes a remarkable balance between the intellectual and visceral affects of music.  

Newman also promises a new work for organ with the title Adagio, Toccata, and Fugue in D and describes it as “a brilliant work with a fugue subject that is introduced in the pedals.” Although the title and especially the fugue may suggest a reworking of a neo-Bach idiom, his fluid, tonal style of composition could draw from any style of music heard on this program, as Newman’s other published compositions demonstrate. 

Gregg Wager is a composer and critic. He is author of Symbolism as a Compositional Method in the Works of Karlheinz Stockhausen and High and Low Culture Since 1975. He has a PhD in musicology from the Free University Berlin and a JD from McGeorge School of Law.