Speaking Franckly…   Leave a comment

Recital: Our Lady of the Angels, Downtown LA
Wednesday, November 16, 2011 – 12:45 pm

César Franck’s wonderful Grande Pièce Symphonique was the first French romantic organ symphony, and the model for the later ones of Widor (you’ve heard the Toccata from his), Vierne, and other French composers.

It’s a complicated piece for a complicated instrument, and I’m very much looking forward to playing it on November 16, especially on a celebrated and versatile organ – just about my favorite in LA. In that spacious and resonant acoustic, this pièce truly will sound grande!

The Grande Pièce is cyclical—patterned after Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. That means that the principal, menacing theme of the first movement—more accurately, parts of this theme—recur through much of the piece, including the transition to the last movement which uses bits of all the themes so far (like Beethoven does to introduce the finale of his Ninth).

Here’s a quick Theory 101 review of symphony structure, in case you were absent that day: 1. Fast, but with slow intro—main theme shows up here. 2. Slow. 3. Minuet-Trio-Minuet. 4. Fast, as befits a finale.

Since this piece’s acronym is “GPS,” it’s only appropriate to give you a “roadmap” to how Franck used the symphonic structure:

  1. Andantino serioso. He starts out with a slow, serious introduction, then introduces the faster – and more dramatic – main theme in the pedals alone. It’s nice that the organ console at OLA not only turns around, but that the organist’s feet are visible!
  2. Andante. Staying with the textbook—slow, soft, and sweet…
  3. Allegro. …leading into a short, fast, and restless third movement, which ends with a recapitulation of the slow, soft theme.
  4. a. Transition. The minor key of the main theme here is transformed into a major key for…
    b. Beaucoup plus largement. …the final, triumphant movement.

The “Grand Choeur” part (that means full organ – along with crashing chords! flying feet!) is followed by a small fugue, ending with a new and final joyful theme based on the first four notes of the fugue.

Don’t worry—you’ll know when the piece is over!

Although there’s no proof, it’s possible, given Franck’s deep religiosity, to read into this piece a poetic struggle between good and evil, with good triumphing at the end.

There we have it – an organ symphony, and one not heard all that much these days, which is a shame.

My program will start at about 12:45, right after the noon Mass. See you there!

More on the Cathedral (including directions) and its organ at http://www.olacathedral.org/

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Posted November 4, 2011 by Ray Urwin in Uncategorized

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