|March 24, 2021|
Roger Sayer Organ
Saint Saëns, Prelude and Fugue in E flat (no. 3)
Saint Saëns (1835-1921) was a French organist and composer, best known for his second Piano Concerto, the Danse Macabre, his opera Samson and Delilah, the Third Violin Concerto, the Third ‘Organ’ Symphony, and The Carnival of the Animals. He made his concert debut at the age of ten and, after studying at the Paris Conservatoire, began working as a church organist first at Saint-Merri, and then from 1858 at La Madeleine, the official church of the French Empire. After leaving the post in 1878, he worked as a freelance pianist and composer, in demand in Europe and the Americas.
Whilst his contemporaries Debussy, Ravel and Messiaen forged ahead with new compositional styles, Saint Saëns remained rather conservative.He admired the music of Schumann, Liszt and Wagner, and maintained a conventional classicism in his own works.
This Prelude and Fugue is the third of his 1894 Trois Préludes et Fugues. (Another three preludes and fugues were written in 1898.) The Prelude features scalic cascades in the manuals (like ‘The Aquarium’ from Carnival of the Animals) over a steadily moving pedal line. The Fugue is quite academic with a fairly basic theme, but the composer shows great skill in developing the material and creating excitement through faster passagework and complex counterpoint.
Reubke, Sonata on the 94th Psalm
It is well documented that Julius Reubke’s Sonata on the 94th Psalm is considered to be one of the most majestic and fantastic pieces of 19th Century organ writing. Given that the composer died at the age of 24, this is not only an incredible achievement, but also a massive loss to music. One can only imagine Liszt, his teacher, thinking about the future of such a genius. After Reubke’s death from tuberculosis in the summer of 1858, Liszt wrote to his father: ‘Truly no one could feel more deeply the loss which Art has suffered in your Julius, than the one who has followed with admiring sympathy his noble, constant, and successful strivings in these latter years’.
The Sonata is a ‘symphonic poem’, a form of through-composed music which illustrates a poem, novel, painting or, in this case, a Psalm. The theme heard at the outset imparts a constant energy and inspiration to this 20 minute work. It follows selected verses of Psalm 94 programmatically. The underlying anguish is never far away: it boils up in a frenzy and subsides to more tranquil recollections.
This is a brutal and brilliant work, well deserving of its place in music history.
The 94th Psalm
(Grave – Larghetto)
1 O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth, shew thyself.
2 Arise, thou Judge of the world: and reward the proud after their deserving.
(Allegro con fuoco)
3 Lord, how long shall the ungodly triumph?
6 They murder the widow, and the stranger: and put the fatherless to death.
7 And yet they say the Lord shall not see: neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.
17 If the Lord had not helped me: it had not failed but my soul had been put to silence.
19 In the multitude of sorrows that I had in my heart: thy comforts have refreshed my soul.
22 But the Lord is my refuge: and my God is the strength of confidence.
23 He shall recompense them their wickedness, and destroy them in their own malice.
Roger Sayer is at the forefront of British choral and organ music. He joined Temple Church in 2013 and has since created an impressive portfolio of concert, recordings and broadcasts. In addition to conducting, he is in demand both as a recitalist and accompanist at home and internationally and his work has also extended into the film world, with his most recent performance as organ soloist for Hans Zimmer’s Oscar nominated score for the motion picture Interstellar.
This recital will be live-streamed on the Church’s YouTube Channel.