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COLM CAREY reflects on the fortunes of the organ


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The experience in mainland Europe three hundred years ago could not have been more different - the average person would only ever have heard music in church, apart from the odd drinking song! (Chamber music on the whole would have been for aristocrats and the well-to-do). Encountering the organ in this context must have been awe inspiring. Before you even heard a note, the sight of a large baroque organ was a feast for the eyes. When you heard the instrument played, you were witnessing the use of the most complicated mechanical device known to man before the industrial revolution. It would have created one of the loudest sounds you were ever likely to hear - the experience must have been incredible. The colours, timbre and texture would have disarmed one of all prejudice, and the range and variety of sweet to resplendent voicing created a very special sound-world, giving an extra dimension to the music.

It is interesting to note that many great composers have flirted with the organ, some more successfully than others - Haydn, Beethoven, Liszt, Brahms, and Bruckner all wrote for the instrument; all were somewhat defeated, though one does not have to look too closely at some of Bruckner¹s symphonies to see the influence of the organ: gigantic homophonic paragraphs, characterised by a delicate palette for colour. Yet two of the most influential composers ever, Bach and Messiaen, used the organ as an important vehicle on which to peddle their art. However, the inspiration for much of their music was religious, and here again we return to the original problem: the secularisation of society.

On many occasions I have invited friends to recitals, and know that more often than not they come out of loyalty rather than to really enjoy a concert. But I never cease to be amazed at how many do enjoy themselves when they experience the kaleidoscopic range of colour, and the sheer power, both physically and emotionally, of the organ.

So next time you are near a large church or cathedral and hear the organ been played, have courage and go to listen; take stock of what this instrument is about, and enjoy it.


Copyright © 13 June 2000 Colm Carey, UK


Colm Carey plays a programme entitled
Wondrous Machine!
at St. John's, Smith Square, London, UK
on Wednesday, September 13 at 7.30pm -
the concert is a celebration of six centuries
of kaleidoscopic repertoire for the organ.

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