Lunchtime Organ Recital (On-line)

March 10, 2021
1:15 pm
Roger Sayer - 10 MarchThird Symphonie in F sharp minor Louis Vierne , Op. 28
I. Allegro maestoso
II. Cantilène
III. Intermezzo
IV. Adagio
V. Final
Vierne began writing the third symphony in the spring of 1911, and completed it in the summer while on holiday with Marcel Dupré and his family. The work is dedicated to Dupré, who gave the premiere performance in March 1912. It is made up of five movements:The first movement Allegro Maestoso is in sonata form – again demonstrating Vierne’s move away from the ‘suite’ style symphony, to an orchestral equivalent – and opens with a stark but spirited theme. This will become instantly recognisable throughout, due to its distinct augmented second. By contrast, the second theme is noble and sincere, although its accompaniment is highly chromatic, disorienting any feeling of a home key. In the development section Vierne combines both themes amid intensely chromatic harmony, before transitioning seamlessly into the strident fortissimo recapitulation.

The second movement begins with a gentle introduction, before the solo hautbois is introduced. The melody is lingering and searching, full of interval leaps and subtle syncopation, above a slow-moving chromatic accompaniment. A largely homophonic middle section follows, which builds in both dynamic and urgency, until the solo melody returns, this time on the trompette, and the movement ends softly on the strings.

The third movement Intermezzo is an exuberant scherzo in three time, which follows the form: ABA-ABA. The A section is characterised by light, playful staccato, with triplet figurations and a leaping pedal line; the B section in F sharp major is more sustained, although the pedal retains a light ‘pizzicato’ feel.

The movement which follows is a soothing Adagio, which Vierne described as a ‘song without words’. It begins with what sounds like a canon between the pedal and the soprano voice of the right hand, but the bass line soon settles onto a tonic pedal point, which anchors the piece in B minor. Moments of imitation are scattered throughout this movement: melodic ideas established in the opening bars are developed and repeated, and woven seamlessly into new material. A contrasting flute solo begins about halfway through, which Vierne indicated should be performed slightly faster than the opening, giving the music direction and urgency as it builds towards its highest point and suddenly drops back to a mellow alto tessitura. A transitional passage brings the music to a brief recapitulation of the first melody, followed by a gentle flute solo. The last few shimmering bars use the melodic contour of the theme to bring the Adagio to a peaceful close. As he had done previously with movements from Symphony 1 and 2, Vierne arranged this movement for orchestra, and used it as the middle movement of his Pièce Symphonique. (The first movement was the Scherzo from Symphony 2, and the last movement was the Final of Symphony 1.)

The fifth movement Final is a dark and vigorous toccata, full of rapid semiquaver movement in the manuals, punchy chords, pedal melodies and, unusually for a toccata, counterpoint. It is in sonata form and takes its first theme from the fiery melody of the Allegro Maestoso, but reshapes and softens it with a gentler melodic contour.

The second, quieter theme in B flat major rings out over a trill-like ostinato in the left hand, which keeps up the energy established at the beginning. At the peak of the development section, the first theme returns, rhythmically augmented, in the pedal and transitions into the recapitulation. Like the Final of Symphony 2, Vierne only establishes the tonic major towards the very end in a fantastic coda which combines the main theme with virtuosic writing for pedal.

Programme notes. Rosie Vinter

This recital will be live-streamed on the Church’s YouTube Channel