The Canadian Musical Heritage: Organ Music I/Musique d'Orgue I

By Clarke, F. R. C. | Canadian University Music Review, January 1, 1986 | Go to article overview

The Canadian Musical Heritage: Organ Music I/Musique d'Orgue I


Clarke, F. R. C., Canadian University Music Review


POIRIER, LUCIEN, ed. The Canadian Musical Heritage: Organ Music I/ Musique d'Orgue I, Vol. 4, Ottawa: The Canadian Musical Heritage Society, 1985.

Organ Music I contains 33 works (considering collections of very small pieces, such as Pelletier's 10 Petits Morceaux, as a single item) written between ca. 1807 and 1918 and selected from a list of some 150 Canadian organ compositions belonging to that period. The Table of Contents identifies 24 of the 33 as "for worship and concert use" (though it would be difficult to imagine Burnett's "British African Gavotte" as being suitable for worship), five as "instructional music", two as "light music" and two as "arrangements."

In his excellent "Introduction", the editor, Lucien Poirier, gives an account of the sources of the music, pointing out that little Canadian organ music was actually published in Canada and that composers had to turn to England, France, Germany, and the U.S.A. for publication. Then Poirier traces the development of the organ and organ music in Canada during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He observes that in the nineteenth century the church was often the cultural centre of the community and that organ music was frequently performed outside the actual services of worship. Many people first heard the classics of musical literature through organ transcriptions. Initially there was less of a cleavage between sacred and secular organ music than later; indeed "any soundly constructed piece of music, with the exception of dance pieces, might be performed in church whether it bears a secular title or not." By the turn of the century, the gap between sacred and secular organ music had widened, a major factor being "the rise of the American theatre organ phenomenon."

The "Introduction" is followed by ten pages of critical notes. The thoroughness of Poirier's scholarship is much evident here, with many small details of differences in various sources meticulously presented. Indeed one wonders sometimes if the rather slight musical value of some of the selections really merits such loving musicological care.

Dominating the collection are the two towering organ masterpieces by Healey Willan, the "Prelude and Fugue in C minor" (1908) and the "Introduction, Passacaglia, and Fugue" (1916). Though many organists are already familiar with one or both of these works, the music's appearance here is of added interest because Poirier has included variants from various sources and also indications concerning registration, fingering, articulation, tempi, etc., made by Willan himself on his own performance copies. Another interesting addition is the publication for the first time of Willan's "Pedal Study" (B.

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