With minimal choir available for Christmas, this is what we did. It was glorious.

UPDATE: A number of people on the PIPORG-L have asked me if I could post, as one of them put it, “even a verisimilitude” of what the instrument sounds like in the room. So today between liturgies I quickly played through a little music to give some idea. It’s recorded simply via the internal microphone of a MacBook Pro and from the organ loft very near the console (as you can tell when I sneeze), so it doesn’t get the full effect of the space. But you get the idea, I believe, that it’s a pretty grand sound in there. These are off-the-cuff performances with flaws, but you’re interested in the sound, not in the artistry. Organists will hear an occasional pipe not speaking in time, and for the “Greensleeves,” I had to alter the registration on account of dead notes and even rearrange a few of the notes to accommodate the fact that the combination action is, well, out of action. But, again, I think you get an idea. It is very much to be hoped that this 89-year-old instrument, unaltered except by much wear and tear, will soon be brought back to its pristine state.

The samples are these. Click on each to hear:

Noël Suisse (Daquin)
Prelude on “Greensleeves” (Purvis)
And a couple of examples of hymn-accompanying plena

Merrily On High

December 20, 2012


If you’re one of the many millions who avidly follow the famous Lessons and Carols from King’s College, you may enjoy this chat with Stephen Cleobury, and this fine run-through of a carol, straight-forwardly sung.

The Catalans: They Deserve It

December 18, 2012


As an American, I have long been deeply interested in the struggle of the Catalan people to recover their great tradition of liberty and self-determination in a country that had elective parliaments before any other nation. My ancestors in this country participated in their own victory over a power, Great Britain, that was then the most democratic in the world but from which they wanted to be independent. The Spanish state, with a constitution forced through by survivors of the Franco regime just after a cruel dictator’s death, is nowhere near that level of democracy; nor is it even competent, as its current economic haplessness symbolizes. It borders on being what is called a “failed state.”

Today, the governing conservative party of Catalonia (CiU) and the left-republican party (ERC) put out this proclamation, upon which they have agreed, even while retaining their very different political principles on almost every other issue. Already voices in Madrid are calling for the army to intervene; this is the way they respond to any signs of progressive movement — an instinct left over from the dictatorships that they have so often found congenial. The idea that people might want to determine their own future is against everything they believe, and, to be sure, any such referendum is against the Spanish constitution that voters ratified under threat of armed restoration of dictatorship.

While the American Declaration of Independence gave far more space to detailing grievances against the British Crown, I find it impossible not to hear echoes of our Declaration in this modern, more streamlined document that came out today.

By the way, the 2014 deadline is significant emotionally. It was in 1714 that the Bourbon Philip V subjugated the Catalans, declared all the Catalan laws, traditions, and liberties null and void, outlawed the public use of the Catalan language, and imposed the Castilian autocracy and subjugation by the army. And still the Catalan people survive, with the culture as vibrant as ever. It seems clear that it’s high time they had their reward, for the first time in 300 years being allowed to speak freely as a people about their own future.

Here’s an English translation of the statement, with a link to the Catalan original.

Xavier Montsalvatge, at the age of 10, writes a letter to his mother

Xavier Montsalvatge, at the age of 10, writes a letter to his mother

14 Novembre del 2012

Als meus amics catalans del Centenari Montsalvatge,

Aquesta tarda vaig visitar per última vegada a l’exposició meravellosa en honor de Montsalvatge a l’Institut Cervantes de Nova York. Va ser un moment molt emotiu quan vaig deixar el lloc, perquè vaig sentir, d’alguna manera, una fi acostant a la relació especial que jo presumia de sentir amb Xavier Montsalvatge durant la preparació de la seva biografia i, sobretot, durant aquest any de la celebració del seu centenari.

A més del gran valor que poso sobre aquest sentiment especial, també hi ha el tresor de la major intimitat spiritual m’ha fet sentir amb el seu cercle musical, incloent Alícia de Larrocha, Victòria dels Àngels, Frederic Mompou, Eduard Toldrà i altres. Però el mestre m’ha donat també l’accés d’una altra manera impossible als grans figures d’altres arts i literatura catalanes.

No és el benefici més petit que tinc el privilegi d’haver format amistats amb molts familiars i amics de Montsalvatge, que espero no perdre mai. La meva gratitud a tots vosaltres és massa poderosa d’expressar. Sempre sereu benvinguts a casa meva, i espero de seguir en contacte amb vosaltres en el futur.

Moltes abraçades,

Bach’s Signature

December 3, 2012


There was no end to the ingenuity of Johann Sebastian Bach. If you read this single note with all the clefs and key signatures that he provides, B A C and H all emerge from the puzzle.

(Tip of the hat to Mary Ann Hart)

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