Partita Espressiva Op22
With thanks to Adrian Corleonis, I include some information to
set the context.
In 1889 the publisher Énoch commissioned César
Franck to compose 100 pieces for harmonium, an instrument patented
in Paris in 1842 by Debain. Air, pumped by the player’s
feet, causes the free reeds to sound. The pitch of these brass
stays fairly constant despite increase or decrease of pressure,
whereas the volume can be varied, giving the harmonium
its ‘expressive’ character.
Thrifty French publishers, hedging their bets, frequently advertised
their offerings as being "for organ or harmonium," as
the case of Franck’s collection. However, this expressive
music, with its open textures and absence of pedal parts, is plainly
for harmonium, much of it transferring far more naturally to piano
rather than to organ.
Between August 16 and September 20, 1890, Franck completed 63
pieces, of which 59 were published posthumously in the
autumn of 1891 with the misleading title L'Organiste. Thus, they
are contemporary with the Trois Chorals for organ and,
though on a smaller scale, share their unflagging invention.
As Franck left it, the collection is divided into eight suites,
each of seven pieces (with an incomplete ninth suite outstanding)
following a plan of three numbers in the major, three in the minor,
an Amen, and a rhapsodic concluding movement which
weaves together the themes of the preceding. Sometimes Franck
gives titles to the pieces, suggesting that he intended them
primarily for liturgical use (hence the Amens, Sorties, Offertoires),
and he occasionally incorporates folk song --
"Chant Béarnais," "Chant de la Creuse,"
"Noël Angevin," and the like.
My own love for the harmonium was kindled by Anne Page’s
inspiring performances. This led me to acquire harmoniums
and to memorise all 63 pieces of the inappropriately named ‘L’Organiste’.
Franck’s intention of providing a Suite in all
twelve keys was tragically curtailed by his untimely death on
November 8 1890. My ‘Partita espressiva’ picks up
Franck left off: in the key of A. It is both a salute to the master,
while also being a personal expression in my own idiom,
perhaps bearing witness to my serious health crisis in early 2016.
(It is no exaggeration to state that playing the harmonium
has been of great therapeutic benefit to me.) Many of Franck’s
typical features are incorporated here, but in a different ‘dialect’,
as it were. Light and dark aspects of a theme are explored, and
two Armenian melodies are revisited, having appeared in my
‘Sharounag’ Op.20. Even the role of the Amen is significant
in this musical sequence, looking equally towards concert or
‘Partita espressiva’ calls for an instrument with
the four standard ranks, ideally plus either Voix céleste
or Trémolo. In the 6th piece,
the performer will need a small pencil to wedge down a held note.
The score deliberately includes only vague, general indications
of speed, dynamic, articulation etc., in order to encourage individuality
Duration: about 12'30"
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