2007 BACHANALIA for organ


… mit Tränen …

Bachanalia (with one ‘c’!) was written at the request of the Zaterdag Matinee, a concert series at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam under the artistic direction of the Dutch Radio Broadcasting organisation NPS. The brief of the commission was to write a work of roughly 12 minutes for the Maarschalkerweerd organ at the Concertgebouw and to include an association with Bach for the work to be incorporated in a Bach revival context. As it turns out – just after completion of the score – Bachanalia is programmed as the prelude to Bach’s Magnificat (on 28 February 2009).

As I was not content with just any allusion to JS Bach, whose music has been of such importance in my musical development, both as a performer and a composer, I set about trying to create a veritable celebration of it. This is easier said than done, given that a considerable amount of water has gone under the bridge between his time and mine. To incorporate Bach’s music, style or language into my own idiom (or vice versa) and make sure the result not only sounds a convincing blend but shows consistency of purpose, proved much more challenging than I anticipated. What I achieved in the end may be described as ‘stretching’ Bach’s language by dragging my various references across their natural boundaries into outskirts of my own territory.

All references are from Bach’s best known works for easy recognition, not least his organ music. The theme of the Kunst der Fuge however plays a central role from start to finish, where it reappears in straight and inverse counterpoint with the famous bass line of the Passacaglia. Other references are more hidden in the maelstrom of kaleidoscopic wanderings the music undertakes. Spotting these references may be one course of scrutiny listeners may want to subject my music to. But the music’s overall aim is to be in conversation with Bach and remind ourselves how much we still rely on his legacy. Although perhaps best known for his religious output, it should not be forgotten that his prime instinct was to surprise, excite and generate pleasure if not euphoria in an audience. And that all cerebral and academic craftsmanship that supports his creations is part and parcel of the music’s primary object: to engage and enlighten. How Beethoven managed to push himself between Bach and me, uninvited, was entirely beyond my control…

As for the organ itself, the Maarschalkerweerd organ in the Concertgebouw was my next and by no means least of a worry. Contrary to Bach, whose music can be played on almost any organ, my interest goes out explicitly to the particulars of a given instrument and I find it impossible to ignore its characteristics and specifications, however much they stand in the way of future performances on other organs. In Jets d’Orgue (1984-91), my pièce de résistance for organ solo, I wrestled with the same problem and contrived a solution which proved workable in practice.

As the organ is also equipped with a sequencer (to program the registration) and a crescendo pedal, I wanted to make full use of both. I made an effort to insert the sequencer actions where a hand or a foot is free momentarily, so that the organist can operate it him- or herself (the Maarschalkerweerd is equipped with four alternatives – three for the hands, one for the feet). Another characteristic is its French, almost orchestral make-up, good for creating string choruses and exploiting solo reeds.

As a consequence, all registration markings are specific to the Concertgebouw organ. And the list of all sequencer steps accompanying the score pertains explicitly to that instrument. However another list is made available which specifies the registration at each step for use as a guideline to prepare performances on other instruments.

Duration of the work is approximately 12 minutes.

The work’s subtitle refers to its closing bars which settle into (the closing bars of) “ Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder ” (Matthew Passion).

Bachanalia is dedicated to Jan Hage in whose capable hands and feet the first performance is entrusted.