11 January 2014

About the Three Short Pieces for organ, Op.34

[ these notes are a slight modification of this blog post of five years ago ]

These are pieces I originally wrote for the late Bill Goodwin, organist, music director, and sound engineer at the First Congregational Church in Woburn, Mass.  Dr Paul Cienniwa, who has played the set numerous times, did me the honor of using them for the Prelude of the Funeral Service for former Senator Claiborne Pell in Newport, Rhode Island.

The first, Canzona semplice, began as a sketch for children's chorus while I was in Tallinn, Estonia. I was in Tallinn teaching English at the Kopli Kunstikeskkool, through a volunteer program; and the music teacher at the school, Priit Poom, suggested that I write something for the school's chorus. My sketches never came to much while I was still in Tallinn (for only one thing, I was writing a tune and harmonizing it, but there was no text in sight, so what would anyone have sung?). A few years later, and now in Boston, I was leafing through my files, and found the sketch. I had composed the melody, and then harmonized it two different ways, in three and four parts respectively. There was no great need to fashion a choral piece out of it, so I arranged it as a simple organ piece.

The middle piece of the Opus 34 set I drew up as a freehand harmonic game, O Beauteous Heavenly Light. Spare harmonies casting sonic shadows into the space. In writing it, I was thinking less in terms of "an organ piece," and more of reminiscence of walking into a quiet basilica, and as I accustom myself to the feeling of the place, realizing that the quiet is not a silence, and there is, not so much organ music, as a hint of organ music.

The third piece emerged from my leafing through a hymnal, where I found an arrangement of a tune from the Scottish Psalter, a fine modal tune with a certain Celtic sturdiness. I puttered with it, drew up a harmonization or two of my own; and the result was both this organ piece, and (in part) a contrasting middle section for a string orchestra piece, Canticle of St Nicholas.

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