MUSIC AT MIDDAY VIRTUAL CONCERT
National City Christian Church
Friday, June 5, 2020
Mitchell Miller, Organist
Music at Midday is proud to be presenting twice-weekly virtual concerts, today featuring organist Mitchell Miller in a program he has entitled Rhythm. We are deeply grateful to Mitch and all the wonderful musicians who have contributed recordings of their performances to make possible these virtual concerts.
Instructions: Make sure that the volume on your computer is turned on, then click on the title of each piece below to hear it.
Andrew Bass, French Horn
Rhythm. We all have it our lives, and we often don’t even notice until it is disrupted, as is the case for all of us at the moment. We are now noticing the discomfort that comes (of course, among other things at the moment) from the lack of a regular daily pattern. Rhythm in music, like in life, has an immediate emotional effect on the listener, and this program revolves around that effect.
The program begins with the Triptyque for Horn and Organ of Gaston Litaize, one of the members of the famous school of blind French organist/composers in the early 20th century. The piece is divided into three movements with three quite different rhythmical styles. The first juxtaposes an energetic jumping eighth note figure in the organ and fanfare-like horn motifs with clusters in the organ against slower held tones in the horn where the energy from before seems to stop. This struggle between the two ends as the first movement melts into the second, a rocking vocal “song without words” in triple meter (with a deviously hard horn part!). The third movement is a lively tango to round out the set.
The Lullaby of Calvin Hampton is the second movement of his Second Suite for organ. A simple strophic treatment of a theme that is heard very plainly at the outset of the piece shows how rhythm can be flexible. The accompaniment of the theme in each successive variation becomes faster, progressing from eighth notes to triplets to sixteenth notes, which in the first movement of the Litaize Triptyque provided exciting fanfares, but now provide a warm flowing accompaniment to the singing theme.
The program finishes with the last movement of the first organ symphony of Jean Langlais, also a member of the blind French organist/composer school of which Litaize was a member. In this case the rhythm of the piece was directly inspired by events surrounding the composer at the time of the piece’s composition. Written during World War II between 1941 and 1942, Langlais was surrounded by the Nazi occupation of Paris and was coping with the disappointment of not being appointed titulaire (head organist) of the Basilica of Ste. Clotilde. Charles Tournamire, the previous titulaire who passed away in 1939, was close to Langlais and had wished for Langlais to be his successor; however, the competition for the post was cancelled and later given without competition to Ermend Bonnal, who was sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Langlais’ crushing disappointment surrounding Ste. Clotilde coupled with the war and Nazi occupation inspired a work of unusual dissonant and aggressive harmony, coupled with a driving rhythm that is only interrupted briefly in the middle of the piece. Langlais commented about the symphony:
“I wrote in a complicated language and style because I felt that I myself was in a complicated, tormented world. Assaulted on all sides by war, injustice, my only way to fight back was to write a work that represented the sum of everything I knew musically.”
The tormented nature of the piece is only countered by the brilliance of the sound of the full organ and it’s explosive ending in D major, which were likened by Olivier Messiaen to “a fan of sun in cold water”, and can maybe be seen as the hope of a happier life after the war’s end a few years later.
Mitchell Miller currently lives in Stuttgart, Germany, where he began his studies with Ludger Lohmann after receiving the prestigious J. William Fulbright Grant in Spring 2017. Before pursuing graduate study, Mitchell attended the Oberlin College and Conservatory, where he received a Bachelor of Music degree in organ performance and a Bachelor of Arts degree in German. His teachers were James David Christie for organ, Jonathan Moyer for piano, and Webb Wiggins for harpsichord. Originally from Cincinnati, Mitchell studied organ with David Mulbury and Kim Heindel before coming to Oberlin. Mitchell received first prize in the 2018 Pierre du Manchicourt International Organ Competition in St. Omer, France, as well as first prizes in the 2017 Tuesday Musical Scholarship Competition and the 2017 Cleveland Chapter level of the American Guild of Organists’ Regional Competition for Young Organists.