Jeffrey Cooper Organ Recital Program Notes

Jeffrey Cooper, MSM 2013, will play music of Byrd, Bach, Böhm, Messiaen, and  Frescobaldi in a Master of Sacred Music degree recital in collaboration with Anna Cooper, soprano and WIlliam George, countertenor.

Jeff gives us a preview of the upcoming recital by allowing us to publish his program notes below. His recital will take place this Saturday, December 1st, at the Reyes Organ and Choral Hall in the Debartolo Performing Arts Center. The concert is free, but ticketed. For more information click here.

The Salutation

These little limbs,
These eyes and hands which here I find,
This panting heart wherewith my life begins,
Where have ye been? Behind
What curtain were ye from me hid so long?
Where was, in what abyss, my new-made tongue?

When silent I
So many thousand thousand years
Beneath the dust did in a chaos lie,
How could I smiles or tears
Or lips or hands, or eyes or ears perceive?
Welcome, ye treasures which I now receive.

From dust I rise,
And out of nothing now awake;
These brighter regions which salute mine eyes
A gift from God I take.
The earth, the seas, the light, the lofty skies,
The sun and stars are mine, if these I prize.

A stranger here
Strange things doth meet, strange glories see;
Strange treasures lodged in this fair world appear,
Strange all and new to me;
But that they mine should be, who nothing was—
That strangest is of all, yet brought to pass.

Thomas Traherne was a poet and theologian of the seventeenth century, most of whose work was unknown until some of his manuscripts were rediscovered in a London bookstall near the end of the nineteenth century. The stanzas above are selected from a poem whose speaker is a newborn child. The poet-child exclaims at the beauty of creation and expresses his own humble wonder at being called out of non-entity to experience (and ultimately to inherit) all things in heaven and earth. Of course this wonder at the miracle of being is directed not only toward things but toward persons, both oneself and others. The joy of being a child in so wide a house, among so many friends, held dear together with them by so great a Father, and to have the means of giving thanks for all—this was the main inspiration for Traherne’s poetic endeavors. This recital of mostly sacred organ music is loosely fashioned around a few of the facets of this theme: childhood and the experience of the beauty of the world and its inhabitants—which is by no means restricted to actual childhood, but nevertheless seems to make us continually aware of our persistent childlikeness.

The first two pieces on this program are based on rudiments of music: the Frescobaldi Capriccio on the hexachord, or six-note scale, which comprised the most basic theoretical alphabet in European music from the 11th to the 18th century; and the Byrd Fancy (i.e. “fantasy”), which is based on a C-major scale such as has now become more familiar than the hexachord. The capriccio is a model of the genre which Frescobaldi was one of the first to cultivate at the keyboard. It is difficult to define precisely, but a capriccio typically has many sudden shifts in tempo and starkly contrasting successive sections. In Frescobaldi, we often find them based on a whimsical or otherwise unusual theme: another capriccio from the same book is based on the call of the cuckoo. Despite the sharp contrasts from section to section, one can always hear the same steadily ascending tones of the hexachord in the background of the interplay of various subjects played against it and one another.

The Fancy, whose title places it among those pieces that have no pre-determined form but are more-or-less freely composed, is like the capriccio made up of several sections, but without the dramatic contrasts in tempo and figuration. Instead, the piece moves steadily toward a synthesis and elaboration of the ideas presented in the first two sections. The first short section is preludial both in the sense of being preparatory and being like an improvisation. It is built around the simple flourish of an ascending C-major scale. After a cadence marked with a fermata, there begins a dance in the form of an almain, breathing the sober, sophisticated elegance of the Tudor courts. After ten bars of this, the scalar material from the first section is introduced and developed in conjunction with the rhythm of the almain. After a six-bar return to what might be the second strain of the dance, fast sixteenth-note scales suddenly begin to appear, and these with their elaborations dominate most of the rest of the piece, effecting a kind of transfiguration of the solemn gravity of the almain.

The first movement of Bach’s Trio Sonata in E minor is transcribed from the opening sinfonia of the second part of the cantata The Heavens Declare the Glory of God, BWV 76, scored for oboe d’amore (a lower pitched member of the oboe family), viola da gamba, and continuo. To obtain a balance and timbre reminiscent of the original instrumentation, the erstwhile oboe part is played by the 8′ Quintadena stop reinforced with a 4′ flute, while the gamba part is played by the 8′ Viola da gamba stop together with an 8′ Principal. This basic sound is retained throughout all three movements.

The chorale tune Freu dich sehr, O meine Seele was adapted to Psalm 42 by Louis Bourgeois around 1551, probably from a secular tune. Among English-speakers it is most commonly used for the hymn “Comfort, comfort ye my people.” Georg Böhm’s partita on this chorale uses a wide variety of lively figurations, often capriciously shifting from one motif to another in the middle of a partita. After eleven variations comes a trio, in which the chorale tune is given out plainly in one voice against the running violin-figures of the right hand and the continuo punctuation of the pedal-bass.

One of the arias from the previously mentioned Bach cantata uses the same instrumentation as the sinfonia to accompany an alto soloist. To better balance with the singer, the gamba part is played in the pedals on a 4′ principal stop, while the right hand plays the oboe d’amore part on the 8′ Quintadena, and the left hand plays continuo on the 16′ Principal with the 8′ Viola da gamba stop. The text translates as follows:
Love, you Christians, in your deeds!
Jesus died for the brethren,
And they die for one another
Since he has bound them together.
Love, you Christians, in your deeds!

The program concludes with two further excerpts from longer works. Les Enfants de Dieu (“The Children of God”) is the central piece in Olivier Messiaen’s suite La Nativitie du Seigneur, having as its epigraph a quotation from the Gospel according to St. John combined with a quotation from St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians: “To as many as received him, to them he gave power to become the children of God. And God has sent forth the spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Father! Father!” The piece is divided into two halves: the first being a long crescendo in toccata style over a fairly consistent dominant F# in the pedal, and the second being a soft and slow passage over the tonic B in the pedal.

The British composer Gerald Finzi set “The Salutation” (see above) as an aria to conclude Dies natalis, his 1939 cantata for solo voice and string orchestra with lyrics by Traherne. In writing for voice Finzi adhered closely to a one-note per syllable principle of setting text to music. Finzi’s method works particularly well with seventeenth-century English poetry in that the music does not obscure the subtle complexities of the poetry itself but indeed puts the sense of the poem into relief and gives it great immediacy with the respect to the listener. The aria is in a kind of ritornello form, the ritornello itself recognizable by its staccato walking bass. Its original string orchestration can be quite easily and effectively adapted to the organ (far more so than to the piano); moreover, the 17th century text clearly resonates with this organ, whose design was inspired by organs of that same period.

One thought on “Jeffrey Cooper Organ Recital Program Notes

  1. I hope you are going to do this again. It will be a great concert. Even the tickets are selling for $10 per piece, I would not mind paying for them. Let’s pray and make this happen.

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