American Organ Music from across the Atlantic: A Profile of Bernard Sanders

By Rieder, Mary Joy | The American Organist, October 2008 | Go to article overview

American Organ Music from across the Atlantic: A Profile of Bernard Sanders


Rieder, Mary Joy, The American Organist


Bernard Wayne Sanders of Muhlheim, Germany, is the first-prize winner of the AGO International Year of the Organ Composition Competition for his "Ornament of Grace" for C instrument and organ. The work was premiered at this year's Twin Cities AGO National Covention in Minnesota. It is recommended repertoire for the AGO's Organ Spectacular event on October 19.

THE EUROPEAN Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, chartered in 1979, offers evidence in its quarterly newsletter that it is both very active on the Continent and equally engaged with organ matters here at home.1 The chapter numbers many American-trained organists among its global membership of 60, including its secretary, Bernard Wayne Sanders. With more than 50 published compositions and numerous commissions and prizes in the U.S., Canada, and Germany, he is a composer garnering serious attention. His music has been broadcast on Bavarian Radio, Wisconsin Public Radio, and Pipedreams. This survey of his organ and chamber music compositions introduces a repertory of pieces that are variously challenging and accessible, while always refreshingly versatile for recital or service playing.

A native of DePere, Wisconsin, Sanders earned degrees at St. Norbert College (1979), Wichita State University (1983), and the Hochschule fur Musik2 in Hamburg, Germany (1989). Since 1994, Sanders has served as music director for the churches of St. GaIlus and Maria Königin3 in the south German city of Tuttlingen (Baden-Wurttemberg), where he directs choirs, composes, and arranges service music for instrumental groups, manages a concert series, and is responsible for playing Sunday and daily services. He also serves as a liaison for the Rottenburg-Stuttgart diocese, offering educational programs for local church musicians, and is an official organ consultant for area churches. An aficionado of swing music, he also directs the "Prime Time Big Band," featured in Tuttlingen's "2007 Honberg Summer Music Festival."

Sanders's compositional style is characterized by clean contrapuntal writing, a traditional palette of tertian and quartal harmonies disposed to a certain chromatic piquancy, a sense of simple but satisfying melodic color, and sturdy rhythms that are occasionally given to subtle turns of a metric phrase or surprise syncopation. He applies classic forms to his work, sampling traditional genres in works such as his "Passacaglia" or the two "Chaconnes and Fugues," one emulating Pachelbel's famous chaconne, the other based on the "Salve Regina" chant.

His hymn and chorale prelude settings, in six collections, include a "Triptychon on Psalm 116," various German chorales, Advent and Christmas carols, and an ornamented chorale setting of "Rendez à Dieu," which was performed at the 1997 AGO Region I Convention. Among familiar American hymn tunes, "Beach Spring" is set as a trio, the tenor tune staking out a counterpoint against the pedal bass, each embellished by a soprano countermelody of gently meandering triplets. "Restoration" is presented first as a prelude, where each hymntune phrase, given an oblique harmonicrhythmic treatment, is set apart by a more florid ritornello, followed in conclusion by a lean four-part fugue. The "Rhapsody on Two Southern Harmonies" puts the tunes, "Morning Trumpet" and "Portsmouth," through a number of compositional paces, evoking by turns the unabashedly confident claims and tender vearnings of the revivalist message.

Those familiar with Erik Routley's hymn tune to the text, "What does the Lord require," might find a satisfying corollary in the "Voluntary on 'Sharpthorne,'" one of three finalist selections in the 1994 AGO Dallas Voluntary Writing Contest. Alternating motifs occur in a somberly reflective chorale, in plain and ornamented unisons highlighting various colors and registers, in toccatalike brilliant figuration and sweeping arpeggios, with the tune asserting its strength through an intricate contrapuntal texture.

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