ORGAN & HARPSICHORD AT 31ST MBZ
7:30 PM The Church of Immaculate Heart of Mary
Giacinto Scelsi: In nomine lucis
Thomas Lacôte: Phteggomai
Vito Žuraj: Best of Five**
Davorin Kempf: Sanctificetur nomen Tuum**
Pavao Mašić, organ
foto: Miro Cvjetko
Organist and harpsichordist Pavao Mašić (1980) graduated in music theory from the Music Academy in Zagreb, as well as harpsichord in the class of Višnja Mažuran and organ in the class of Mario Penzar. He earned his master’s degree in organ from the Haute École de Musique in Lausanne, and did postgraduate studies in harpsichord at the College of Music in Freiburg. He is the principal organist at the Church of St. Mark in Zagreb, and frequently performs in the country and abroad. We talked with Pavao Mašić about the Biennale program, the organ and the inevitable Olivier Messiaen at the Music Academy in Zagreb, where he teaches harpsichord and basso continuo..
Sanctificetur nomen tuum
Could you tell us more about the program you will be performing? You have planned two first performances, one of which will close the concert – the composition Sanctificetur nomen tuum by Davorin Kempf. Is this a new composition or is it an older piece not yet performed?
In recent years, Davorin Kempf wrote many compositions for organ, both solo and with an orchestra, including the important so-called War Fantasia from 1991. He had previously composed music for organ and electronics or organ and orchestra, but not for organ solo. He is my former professor, so I have been asking him for a few years to write something, but due to other obligations and plans, it was only in 2019 that he complied with my wish and composed the extensive Sanctificetur nomen tuum.
Professor Kempf is also a regular visitor of the St Mark’s Organ International Concert Festival, which often features prominent foreign organists, and is thus, I would say, among the best-informed composers when it comes to organ, the possibilities of its sound and, in general, the contemporary trends in the organ music. So far, I had the opportunity to perform several of his pieces, including the composition Chorale and Hallelujah for organ and wind orchestra in which the organ appears only in the final, exceptionally virtuoso cadence, and the Zagreb Concerto No. 5 (modeled after the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5) with its extensive and virtuoso solos for harpsichord. It is clear that the virtuosity of the soloist – a dominant playing gesture in these pieces – is the composer’s signature of a sort and is also expectedly present in this new piece, Sanctificetur nomen tuum, a kind of organ fantasia that concludes the recital precisely because of its lavish sonority and playing gestures.
The composition begins with a pedal solo, an important element of the organist’s virtuosity, but also the driving force of the entire piece. Kempf uses in the composition some of the Baroque quotes, as well as universally known, archetypal motifs related to the organ syllable, treated here using various composing techniques of translation, transposition and superposition, thus creating a rich kaleidoscope of sound, so that those same motifs we thought were defined, unchanging and monolithic gestures, we now experience completely differently – fluidly and in a very different light, somewhat chameleon-like. The three-part form is clearly visible, so the linearity and lyricism of the more calmly shaped middle part contrasts with the sound-rich prelude and finale, frequently shaped polyphonically but also toccata-like. In the final bars in particular, which culminate in the resplendent chord of C major (as Charles Gounod once said, “God could be found in C major”) one feels the echo of Stjepan Šulek’s tradition (in whose composition class Kempf graduated), while in the score we discover Kempf’s rich fantasia both auditory and visually.
Namely, playing from the composer’s manuscript (which is almost a rarity today!), you connect to that music in a completely different, more personal way, and Kempf’s manuscript is especially imposing graphically; I remember that as a student I was at the exhibition of his autographs at the National and University Library, where, if I am not mistaken, academician Tonko Maroević prepared them as works of art. To conclude, Kempf’s music is just as pleasing to the eye as is to the ear, and his rich opus for organ solo and organ with orchestra – along with opuses of Franjo Dugan and Anđelko Klobučar – is certainly one of the most important oeuvres in the Croatian organ music!
Another first performance at the concert will be a collection of five organ études by Slovenian composer Vito Žuraj titled Best-of-Five from 2011. Étude is, first and foremost, distinguished by its vehemence, so each of the five études is a sort of a moto perpetuo. It is certainly interesting to see and hear what the origin of that vehemence is: in Étude No. 3 and Étude No. 5 the chromatic shift is the one that brings additional turmoil to the line that has already been motorically shaped, while in the Étude No. 2 the origin of the motion is the repetition of a single tone in different manuals, so an organist gets to practice rapid changes of manuals as a study exercise, and a listener benefits from these rapid changes of sound sources as the pipes of individual manuals are arranged in separate places in a space. No. 1, extremely linearly shaped étude that turns into two-voice only towards the end, is contrasted with Étude No. 4 of extreme polyphonic and rhythmic complexity. Still, all share the common unstoppable motion that ends with a sudden gesture in the final étude, while the task of the listener is to judge for themselves – following the composer’s suggestion from the title of the composition – which of the five offered études is their best!
The composition Phteggomai by Thomas Lacôte was written in 2018 for the International Organ Competition at the Cathedral in Chartres. The composer was impressed with an idea of the cathedral as a space; when you play a tone, you hear both that tone and the space itself, you hear how that tone bounces and dissipates in space, and that imposing cathedral space creating a completely different sound. Lacôte plays with registration and aliquot tones, imitating in simple registers (flutes) the sound of complex registers (cornet and mixtura). He is also interested in pauses, there is often silence, but silence filled with sound. The idea of a space that contributes to the formation of sound is part of the French tradition; Olivier Messiaen included in his organ scores pauses that make no sense if you play them in a “dry” space as their purpose is for a listener to revel in the echo. The comparison with Messiaen was not accidental, as Lacôte is the organist at the Church of Holy Trinity where Messiaen worked for sixty years, and he also succeeded him as the head of the Department of Music Analysis at the Conservatory in Paris. I met him at the lecture on Messiaen’s organ music and his comprehensive Treatise on Rhythm that Lacôte held on the organ in the Church of Holy Trinity in Paris.
In nomine Lucis
The composition In nomine Lucis by Giacinto Scelsi will open the concert. The sound is again at the center, but differently than with Lacôte, who puts sound manipulation and its mobility at the forefront; he often uses the sound of the flute which is very mobile and we can also hear the sound of the organ which is not, as often described, monolithic and monumental. Scelsi’s composition, on the other hand, is very poetic, almost lyrical, begins with long notes to which the composer adds layers, so that the listeners begin to feel vibrations; when I performed it in a church, the stained-glass window began to resonate because of the very deep and very high frequencies. There is no motif work here, these are mostly held tones, however, I was drawn to this composition precisely because of its poeticism as opposed to other contemporary pieces that are often dehumanized, and whose scores remind of a computer calculation. One of the most famous contemporary compositions for organ, Volumina by György Ligeti, functions in a similar way, by agglomerating tones that are in the organ’s nature and that create interferences and eruptions of sound. Scelsi is interested in the same things, but uses a far more poetic approach, avoiding the monumentality of the organ sound.
The Monster That Never Breathes
In contemporary music, other instruments often change – they are padded, amplified, drilled – in order to achieve a different sound. The organ itself has almost endless possibilities, is there something done to it as well?
It seems to me that the changes on the organ occur more in regard to concept and construction of these instruments, and less in regard to ad hoc adjustments such as padding or amplification. Although generally viewed as a conservative instrument, the organ has been a laboratory of innovation throughout history! The first was the separation of the playing console from the body of the instrument so that an organist could finally be seen and moved, and that principle has been taken even further today with the development of the concept of the so-called modular organ, which is not monolithic, but consists of several pipe modules that could be distributed and moved differently in a space. Igor Stravinsky once called the organ “the monster that never breathes” because of the seeming inflexibility of the organ tone. However, this sound is clearly an advantage in contemporary music as by using the organ tone of unlimited duration we can break with the traditional sound which is primarily defined by the duration of the human breadth. There are many new things in the organ building today: the air, which is traditionally always under equal and constant pressure, is used to produce the sound on the organ, whereas today’s builders try to vary this pressure by introducing mechanisms allowing the player to control changes in air pressure. I was in Paris for the presentation of the new organ in the Auditorium of the French Radio in 2016, which contains many innovations, including the mechanisms for changing air pressure (due to which the pipes begin to sound differently) and the sostenuto function that can arbitrarily hold tones on the keyboards, without holding them physically (as was once done using the axle). In addition, with the help of a computer, the organist can create on this organ different combinations of aliquot tones assigned to each key of the keyboard. I saw similar experiments on the organ at the College of Music in Würzburg, on which it is possible to program the keyboard so that the keys do not sound realistic but in inversion (as in a mirror, with tone d' acting as the center of reflection), which is very interesting for improvisers who are, in my opinion, the main driving force in imagining and realizing new ideas in the organ building and the concept of their sound.
When preparing for the performance of a new piece, do you have a particular organ in mind when choosing a registration? How different are the organs from each other?
Throughout history, there were huge differences in the European organ building between, for example, French, English or German traditions, but modern builders have achieved a common, compromise standard that uses elements from all these traditions. It is interesting to observe composers who have a clearly defined sound ideal in their scores, but then, as performers of their pieces on different organs, solve the problem of sound differently (since each organ is intoned differently and has a different specification of registers). Especially interesting here is Olivier Messiaen, who took a new, fresh score for each of his performances and added to it precise notes on the registration on the organ on which he performed; from those notes it is clear how differently he registered when playing in France or England or Spain, and how he, as an interpreter, approached the sound ideal he set as a composer. No two instruments are the same nor are the spaces in which one plays the same, and one must always keep this in mind. The organist’s mission is to always find the optimal solutions. This is also why the organist’s job is both challenging and interesting.
Museum of Contemporary Art
8 PM Gallery
György Ligeti: Continuum
Frano Đurović: Mala suita
Alain Louvier: XVIII Étude Pour Agresseurs – Hommage à Machaut
Davor Bobić: Čarobna škrinjica (vremeplov)
Ivana Kiš: Jedan/One*
Tomislav Fačini: Crime and Punishment
Franjo Bilić (1994) studied harpsichord at the Music Academy in Zagreb in the class of Professor Pavao Mašić, and also at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam. In addition to developing a career as a harpsichordist, he studied conducting at the Music Academy in Zagreb and at the University of Music in Bern, and is currently a conducting student at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. We talked to Franjo Bilić in February amid the preparations for the Biennale performance.
Let’s talk about the program you will perform. In addition to compositions by Tomislav Fačini and Davor Bobić, written specifically for you, and the pieces by Frano Đurović, Alain Louvier and György Ligeti, the only first performance on the program is a new composition by Ivana Kiš. Can you tell us something about that piece?
The composer asked me many questions, e.g. whether it was possible to put a speaker in a harpsichord, could a speaker reproduce the sound of another harpsichord that would sound as if I was playing it, that is – if I played – could it sound so that the audience would not notice that there was a speaker in the harpsichord.
Is that possible?
I have tried, but the problem is that there are several types of harpsichord: French, Italian, Flemish, English and German, which is actually a combination of the French and Italian harpsichord. Each of these types of instruments has its own characteristics, its own sound image: some are louder, some are quieter or softer – which is, quite interestingly, closely related to the mentality of the people. The harpsichord on which I will give the recital is an instrument by the builder Johann Christoph Neupert, acquired for the Zagreb Soloists by Višnja Mažuran, the founder of the harpsichord school in Croatia, with whom I took my first harpsichord lessons. That harpsichord is, we can say, of the French type, although in the past century Neupert did not build exact replicas, as is common with other builders, but simply took measures and built something he considered the ideal sound image that corresponded with the aesthetics of his time. The Music Academy possesses two such harpsichords, so we have instruments that are not quite true to the original. In order for Ivana Kiš’s composition to work, it would have to be recorded on that harpsichord and it would have to be a very good recording, with an outstanding sound engineer and a top-notch speaker. We will see how it sounds, but the idea itself is very good.
To what extent is the instrument itself changing through different interventions in contemporary harpsichord music?
Extended playing techniques are achieved by inserting objects into the instrument – felt, towels, various fabrics, paper, similar to preparing the piano. As the harpsichord has a percussive and aggressive beginning of the tone, the audience finds it very striking when some metal is placed on the strings as the sound then reminds of the distortion of an electric guitar. Margareta Ferek-Petrić used such effects in the composition Ištaratu that won her the second prize and the audience award at the Prix Annelie De Man Competition in the Netherland. Other techniques such as tapping, shouting in the harpsichord etc. have also been used. Harpsichord is not built like a piano. Due to the high tension of the strings, the piano must contain a lot of metal that does not allow the sound to vibrate freely inside the wooden frame. Harpsichord does not have such limitations as it is made entirely of wood and, if you shout into a harpsichord, the audience can also hear an echo. There is also a pizzicato technique where you pluck the strings of an instrument. At the recital, I will perform a composition by Alain Louvier, who wrote a series of twenty etudes titled Etudes for Aggressors (Étude Pour Agresseurs). The aggressors are parts of body that commit aggression on the keys: ten fingers, two fists and two forearms. He, thus, gets a very compelling hum of sounds, in which a melody in the fourths and the fifths that reminds of a Gregorian chorale is performed in the upper manual, while the lower part of the harpsichordist’s fist is free to simultaneously perform clusters in the lower manual, which gives the piece a contemporary character. The sound is dampened differently on the harpsichord than on the piano. It has no pedal, and the string dampeners are not bulky and heavy as on a piano. The sound resonates longer than the sound of the piano, which does not mean that it lasts longer, only that the physical resonance of the string is more easily transmitted to all others. That is why, when a harpsichordist strikes the lower manual, the tone is richer in aliquots that change the sound image of the melody, the effect that Louvier noticed and used.
In Baroque, the harpsichord, together with the organ, was the most popular keyboard instrument, only to be completely forgotten during Classicism and Romanticism in favor of the fortepiano and, later, the piano. A new interest in the harpsichord arose only in the 20th century.
There is a century-old historical gap not only in harpsichord music but also in instrument construction. Pioneers in instrument construction had to understand the principles of building from scratch, and they did this by analyzing historic instruments. However, perhaps the most important was the gap in the tradition of teaching how to play this instrument. There are, of course, early piano schools such as Czerny’s School or the one by Daniel Gottlob Türk, there are also Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven – all of them mention a technique that is closer to the early piano, hammerklavier, fortepiano, than the technique of playing harpsichord. There are a lot of historical records that mention holding tones to make the harpsichord sound better. Girolamo Frescobaldi believed that one should play as many notes as possible so that the sound does not disappear, in particular on Italian harpsichords that have a very strong and intense sound, although their tone is short. To play a cantilena, you must add tones, but in order for these repetitions not to sound trite, trills have been invented. The trills help us to achieve a sound continuum that György Ligeti, whose Continuum I will play at the recital, has ingeniously used. While it comes from the aesthetics of a mechanical piano, he has transformed a trill as a sound extension into one big trill. In my opinion, this is the most successful contemporary composition for harpsichord. The short duration of tone is, in the contemporary sense, harpsichord’s greatest disadvantage, and Ligeti used it in the best possible way, with a rapid repetition that reminds of a mechanical piano in which the roles perform very fast tempos that the human hand cannot play.
Continuum is performed often. It is performed by 99% of harpsichordists who are not otherwise interested in contemporary literature as it is a representative piece. Only Naama by Iannis Xenakis can stand alongside Continuum. It is “probably the most complex piece for harpsichord in the literature of the 20th and 21st centuries, which takes months of work to master, and requires so much concentration and effort that it is almost impossible to perform it in a recital; it is mostly performed as the only item on the program.”
Have you already performed in the Museum of Contemporary Art? Are you familiar with the acoustics of that space?
No, we should find an ideal place. Since the harpsichord has no pedal, it does not tolerate ‘dry’ spaces. It would be preferable to place it in some corner so that it resonates as much as possible. Many composers love to play with a short duration of tone, which is the case with the pieces by Tomislav Fačini and Frano Đurović that I will perform, in which the two of them listen to the silence. And if this silence is a total absence of noise, the effect will not be heard as well as when the sound resounds in a space.