Organ concert 10/10/01 - Bradley Lehman

Noon, Asbury United Methodist Church, 205 S Main St, Harrisonburg VA

ToccataGiovanni Picchi (fl. 1600-25)
Fantasia on a fugue of SweelinckJohn Bull (1562-1628)
O vos omnesTomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611)
Prelude and fugue in f-sharp minorJohann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt waltenGeorg Böhm (1671-1733)
Fantasia "Ut re mi fa sol la"Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-67)
Variations ("The Harmonious Blacksmith")Georg Friedrich Handel (1685-1759)

Program notes

Little is known of Giovanni Picchi except that he flourished near the beginning of the 17th century. This toccata, an especially wild and startling piece, is preserved in the collection of keyboard music that Francis Tregian assembled during his 24 years in prison. This collection later became known as the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book as it is housed in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England.

John Bull's fantasia is a tribute to the Dutch composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, who died in 1621. Bull's composition is dated December 15, 1621. He uses a chromatic fugal subject from a piece by Sweelinck which is now lost. The subject appears at several different speeds, and sometimes sneaks in very subtly.

Victoria's "O vos omnes" is a choral piece from his 1585 set of Tenebrae responses: liturgical music for Holy Week. The Latin text is about Christ's death on the cross: "O all ye that pass by the way, attend and see if there be any sorrow like my sorrow. Watch, all ye people, and see my sorrow." The arrangement of choral pieces for keyboard, harp, or lute was a common practice for Victoria's contemporaries in Spain and later in Italy. I have arranged this for keyboard borrowing that style.

The theme of sorrow continues with a quietly intense prelude and fugue by Bach. This is from the second book of the "Well-Tempered Clavier." The prelude and fugue are each in three voices, and rhythmically very complex. The prelude reminds me of flute solos from the St Matthew Passion. The fugue has three different subjects which are of course combined as the piece progresses. Its second half is taken over by quietly running notes; I hear this as the point where the sorrow is gradually lifted and life goes on.

Young J S Bach learned some of his craft from the works of an organist from North Germany, Georg Böhm. Böhm has arranged the chorale tune "Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten" (If you but trust in God to guide you) as a set of seven variations. He uses the Stylus phantasticus, the fantastic style: plenty of drama and surprises.

Johann Jakob Froberger's Fantasia on "Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La" is a brilliant puzzle piece. In how many ways can one use the first six notes of the major scale, a simple but boring theme? Keyboard composers had already been playing with this idea for over fifty years; how could a young composer of the 1640's make it sound new and exciting? Froberger was working as a keyboard player for the court at Vienna, and gave it a try. It made him famous: this fantasia made it into a composition textbook as a supreme example of counterpoint, and Froberger was only 34 at the time. Publication of any sort was rare in those days, and it was quite an honor for Froberger to make this splash.

And Froberger imposed a further rule on himself: the fantasia would be strictly in four parts, all playable on one keyboard, and of course have enough variation to be interesting. (He learned this game of writing music inside strict rules from his teacher, Frescobaldi: the imposed restrictions help to focus the mind.) How did he solve the puzzle? He created a vast structure of seven sections. In each one the theme goes at a different speed, enlivened by quirky ideas in the other voices. There is plenty of syncopation so there is always something unexpected happening somewhere in the texture. There are surprising stops and starts. The theme starts to overlap itself, more and more closely. He throws in a blatant but fake statement of the theme just to keep the listener off guard. Then, having exhausted the normal major scale, he starts filling in all the chromatic notes, letting the theme ooze upward. Enough, yes? No! The chromatic theme turns around and runs backward, accompanied by the original six notes in all the other voices, almost too fast and too closely overlapped to hear. And the piece suddenly ends in a key the listener doesn't expect.

This concert comes to a light conclusion with Handel's five variations on a tune that he allegedly heard a blacksmith whistling. I like to imagine the blacksmith concentrating so hard on his task that he is not even aware of his own whistling. This is such casual music!


Bradley Lehman earned his doctorate in harpsichord at the University of Michigan, studying with Edward Parmentier. He now lives near Dayton, Virginia. His career as a soloist and continuo player includes harpsichord and organ performances in Europe, Central America, the United States, and Canada.

His solo clavichord CD's are available here after today's program: they include music from the 13th to 20th centuries. The clavichord is a marvelously expressive instrument that is unfortunately too quiet to play in anything but a very small room. The musical repertoire for the CD's was chosen by one simple criterion: is it fun to play at home, just for the joy of it?