PROGRAMME NOTES

Organ Concerto

2(pic)2.1+bcl.2(cbn)/4220/timp.4perc/cel/str (1971)

The Organ Concerto is dedicated to Simon Preston and was commissioned by the Three Choirs Festival with funds from South West Arts. The first performance was given in Gloucester Cathedral on 22 August 1971 with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Louis Frémaux. The second performance was with the same forces but with Christopher Robinson as soloist in Birmingham Town Hall on 2 December 1971. The first BBC broadcast was with Simon Preston and the BBC Symphony Orchestra under David Atherton from St Albans Abbey on 8 July 1977. Jennifer Bate made the recording at the Royal Festival Hall on 31 January 1986.

The Organ Concerto is based on a single source – a blues setting I made of Byron’s lyric ‘So we’ll go no more a-roving’ (recorded with Meriel Dickinson on Rags, Blues and Parodies, Albany TROY 369). The song uses the harmony of bars 53-61 of the first of Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales considerably slowed down. The sections of the concerto’s single movement are:

  1. Grave– three loud chords, a motto for the work, separated by the strings playing phrases from the song. The last chord is C major, slowly distorted into a tone cluster. 

  2. Allegro – a continuous woodwind and percussion texture creates a background to increasing organ interruptions. 

  3. Adagio - sustained canons in the strings; organ 2-foot stop in duet with celesta; a mini-cadenza drops several octaves. 

  4. Adagio - a duet for two timpani over the organ’s motto chords. 

  5. Allegro molto - rapid exchanges between organ pedals and brass over a regular beat. 

  6. Adagio - a flute solo over sustained chords on the organ and a soft reminiscence of the timpani duet. 

  7. Allegro molto - a return of the fast music leads to the organ’s motto chords. This time the last chord starts as a cluster and thins to C major: then four percussionists obliterate the sound of the full organ at the climax of the whole work. 

  8. Adagio (with cadenza) – the blues song appears complete as solos for clarinet and cor anglais with the organ developing its cadenza independently. This process ends with a pedal solo, finally played as fast as possible. 

  9. Grave – the opening is recalled with the organ and strings roles reversed; the celesta freely superimposes a reminiscence of the organ’s earlier cadenza; and after a final crescendo the organ’s motto chords return for the last time, now as a cluster with the celesta wandering into the distance on its own.

© 2008-17 Peter Dickinson

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