A few weeks ago I asked my friend, who recently asked me some stumping questions, if he would like me to burn him a CD or two that somewhat “surveys” my collection and share some of my favorite music with him? He was interested. That was the easy part. Now… the hard part. Distilling over 450 years of organ music across 400+* discs, down into just a disc or two!
This is not the first time I’ve done something like this. The first was when I was in college (back when my collection was a tiny fraction of what it is now). A fellow organ student asked for some specific pieces and I just included a bit of bonus content! The second time was for the nephew of a my former boss who was showing some interest in the pipe organ. But even then, I think my collection was half of what it is today!
So where do I begin? Well, I know what I’m NOT including:
- Bach’s (attributed) Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565
- Widor’s Toccata (the final movement of his Symphony No. 5 for organ, Op 42/1)
Sorry to my friend. These two pieces are the two pieces that even many non-organ-music-listeners are usually familiar with–Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in particular. Truth is you will often find one and/or both pieces included on a concert album of organ music. I would maybe make an exception for the Widor Toccata if I choose to include his entire 5th Symphony, of which the Toccata is the final movement. Though, even in organ recordings, his 5th symphony is incredibly popular and recorded often.
I do have an idea of a few things I would like to include. I don’t want the music to all be from France and from the French Romantic School! I’d prefer to present a slightly more broad range of things, but even there, my collection is somewhat limited. I have virtually no recordings of English or Italian composers, very few Dutch or Belgium composers, few American or Canadian composers… For better or for worse, my collection leans heavily on the French Romantics. Not to say that I don’t have some other interesting things to share! I do!
An therein lies the problem. I have many pieces across many regions and time. I have recordings of pieces that are meant to be taken lightly, and some downright funny. Other pieces of music are quite grand and “serious.” Much is often times deeply religious. It’s hard to make a decision when I think about it that way.
Things become further complicated when you start talking about recordings with organ plus… As in: Organ and Brass. Organ and Orchestra. Organ and Flute. Organ and Piano. Organ, Orchestra, and Choir, etc… One extremly unique and fun piece that comes to mind is Pebble Beach Sojourn by Ron Nelson.
Over the years of collecting, I’ve also found much delight in some of the lesser known composers for the mighty pipe organ. Composers like Fauchard, Marty, Merkel, (Camillo) Schumann, Chauvet, Guiridi, and Urtega are just a small sampling of delightful musical discoveries I’ve made over the years.
My collection has also recently seen a small growth in organ works composed by women. While there are many women out there who have recorded albums, it is a bit of a rare thing in the organ world, and particularly on recordings, to include works composed by women. Thankfully, my recent “discovery” of the music of Rachel Laurin, Pamela Decker, Nadia Boulanger, to name a few, has added to the richness of my collection.
Yet another approach is to start thinking about what particular instruments do I enjoy listening too. I can name a fair few instruments here in the United States that are superb (Fisk, Pasi, Dobson, Skinner, etc.). I certainly have some favorites in Europe as well (Silbermann, Cavaillé-Coll, Kuhn, Klais, Cliquot, etc.)
One way I think I’m going to approach this fun little project is to lean on variety, but also just step back and ask myself which albums do I really enjoy for sheer auditory delight?!? I think THAT is probably the best starting point. Already some albums/collections come to mind. For instance, the magnificent collection of all of Bach’s organ works played on old Silberman organs in the Alsace region, recordings done by renowned recording engineer Christoph Frommen. (In fact, ALL of the recordings he’s been involved in are a clear first choice! His recordings are that phenomenal!)
Well… this is quite the puzzle that I have to piece together! And I’m sure I will thoroughly enjoy it.
*402, to be exact. More about that coming in a post I haven’t finished yet!