Who are the Best Organists, Dead or Alive?
  • Geremia
    Posts: 130
    On the "Best or Rarer Fugues?" thread, someone posted a video of the young organist Jean-Baptiste Robin, who has a good taste in his repertoire. (His Deux siecles d'orgue CD is a good collection of French organ works of Louis XIV, including fugues.)

    Who are other good organists, and what are their best recordings?

    thanks
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,051
    You mean Jean-Baptiste Robin.

    Thanked by 1Geremia
  • Thread 10820 has a few organists listed.
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  • On the other hand, they come cheap and are very easy to get along with.
  • donr
    Posts: 940
    I don't know they seem a little stiff to me
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,068
    Bach was the best at composing, now he is decomposing.
  • As Toscanini (or somebody) is reputed to have said when asked who the three greatest conductors were:
    'Well, there is me.... and, um.... er, ah... oh! dear! I just can't think of the other two'.
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,068
    Walcha
  • There can be no 'greatest' organists. Only great scholarly interpreters of a given period's music and its composers. Some would lionise an authority of romanticism, or of the baroque or renaissance, but few, if any, could be said to have definitively mastered every epoch. Even within epochal specialty, the magisterial interpretations of, say, the fifties, will seem pitifully dated and not up to current scholarship's snuff.
    Thanked by 3Gavin CHGiffen CharlesW
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    The greatest organist ever was Johann Sebastian Bach.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,721
    At least with organists closer to our own time we have recordings. The greatness of pre-recording organists is speculative. They were great compared to what?
  • Even within epochal specialty, the magisterial interpretations of, say, the fifties, will seem pitifully dated and not up to current scholarship's snuff.


    So, basically, what we think today about how things should be played is superior to what they thought about how it should be played, even though they were generations closer to the people that composed the music and generations closer to the teachers over the years that carried that information forward.

    Makes perfect sense to me and this means we should all stop listening to current performers since, years in the future, it will be proved that they also failed to come closer to how the music really should be played, based upon the stellar efforts of Buck Rogers, who will be reincarnated and then, recognizing the pressing need above all other things, enters his time machine and flies back in time to find out who is right...

    It's way too easy to talk crap about people in the past without understanding what and why they did it. If it were not for those organists of the mid-1900's many of us would never had heard of Bach or had any interest in playing his music. But many did, even though the buildings and organs were not conducive - but their love of the music moved them to play it anyhow.
    .
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,721
    Only in music could someone propose a theory, most musicians jump on it and proclaim it gospel, and in 50 years someone else proclaim it crazy and that anyone who accepted it is an unlearned fool.

    Is it possible Bach would have hated the instruments current builders and performers think are best for playing his music? How do we determine Bach was a better organist than Buxtehude and either was better than Couperin? It is possible those performers closer in time to the source and relying on techniques and interpretations passed on to them by teachers who actually studied with the composers, were more accurate than the assumptions of modern scholars.
  • Except that merely living contemporaneously to a great musical figure, say, Franck, does not necessarily translate into authoritative interpretations of such a figure. Humble little me can trace my tutorial lineage back to said Franck, as can, probably, quite a few of my colleagues on this forum, which makes any of us a greater interpreter of his music than a player who just happened to live at a time nearer his own. There is some of that peculiarly American disrespect (if not outright scorn) for scholarship in evidence here, the which would not be shared by more enlightened societies and folk.
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  • So, basically, we are stupid and you are not...I can agree with that. In fact, "the which would" is showing.

  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,721
    There is scholarship, then there is scholarship. Of course, who wouldn't have wanted to actually hear Franck or any other composer play? His contemporaries indicated that he never played anything the same way twice - a composer privilege that is hard to argue with. Someone who studied with him knew how he played his works. Most teachers convey what they have learned to their students who then pass that knowledge along through succeeding generations of students.

    Back to scholarship. There are scholars who agitate on minor points, propose performance practices that are in left field, and publish papers to draw attention to themselves. The "buzz" they create allows them to climb from teaching positions at West Mediocre College to positions in major schools. I don't have a lot of respect for this kind of "scholar." What they produce is often little more than their own preferences in interpretation not supported by composer contemporaries. I trust contemporary accounts more than some tin-eared wannabe 100 years after the fact, who is doing little more than promoting his own likes and dislikes. Not all scholarship is scholarly.

    Then there are scholars like Beverly Jerold, a significant scholar who actually knows that of which she speaks and writes. She also calls down some of the supposed scholars who go off on speculative flights of fancy. I saw one letter from her in TAO responding to one of those flights of fancy where she indicated that her research did not support what that writer had proposed as authentic. She is the kind of scholar that keeps the organ profession honest. I respect her.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,721
    ,,,which would not be shared by more enlightened societies and folk.


    Jackson, where did you encounter enlightened folk? Have you been hanging out at Starbucks again? LOL
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  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,282
    This is very difficult: even within, say, period performance circles, there are many differing theories, and hence, styles: Some people love Richter's Bach, others, Koopman, and blood is shed (look at YouTube comments) with people debated who is the 'Greatest' interpreter of Bach. (Oddly, I never see anyone say that Bach was the greatest interpreter of Bach.)

    Whose Beethoven is better? Klemperer, Eliot Gardiner, Marriner, van Karajan, Ozawa? Much of this is subjective based on one's taste. I love period instruments - especially woodwinds (to me, there is nothing more beautiful than an 18th cent. Clarinet in A); other can't stand them.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen CharlesW
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,721
    I suspect that C.P.E. Bach was more enlightened and knowledgeable about his father's playing than anyone alive today. If I were looking for info on how to play J.S. Bach I would start with what C.P.E. had to say. But you are correct, Salieri. There will never be agreement in period performance circles. Some days I think a plague on all their houses would be a good thing. LOL.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Except that merely living contemporaneously to a great musical figure, say, Franck, does not necessarily translate into authoritative interpretations of such a figure. Humble little me can trace my tutorial lineage back to said Franck, [...] which makes any of us a greater interpreter of his music.


    Although I agree with the thrust of MJO's point, this portion of it is easily demonstrated as patently ridiculous. Just consider our tutelage back to Bach. Widor and Lemmens, probably closer to Bach than any of us are to Franck, said that the Bach technique was absolute legato - a truly laughable assertion! On the other hand, those contemporaneous with Franck, likely in the same schools, with the same teachers, and with audiences having in mind a particular style, would likely have approximated his technique.

    Tutelage means nothing without scholarship, as I'm sure Jackson will agree. Look at all the sources available, and interpret them intelligently. And eschew the intellectual sloppiness of those who think playing in the 50's was good enough.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,068
    His contemporaries indicated that he never played anything the same way twice - a composer privilege that is hard to argue with.

    Bravo. Scholarship is not scorned here. It is simply taken for what it is... an educated guess.
  • mrcoppermrcopper
    Posts: 640
    It's interesting that no specific people are nominated in all of these comments. Were one to ask about violinists, you'd get a good list; about flutists, likewise; about oboe players, yes; about 'cellists, yes; about pianists, yes. None of the above composers, unless you go to Paganini, maybe.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,282
    David J. Hughes.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,068
    mrcopper:

    I nominated one organist. Actually Leonhardt is another.
  • mrcoppermrcopper
    Posts: 640
    Francis, sorry, i thought "walcha" was a humorous commentary. My ignorance.
    Thanked by 1francis
  • To reply to the original poster, a few ideas:

    Olivier Latry and Marie Claire-Alain are hard to beat as all-around interpreters of many genres. If I had to pick all-around performers it would be those two. I've heard both in concert on several occasions, and many recordings. I have never gone wrong with their recordings. That said, both are most truly experts and masters of the French symphonic and 20th century repertoire. Particularly Jehan Alain (of course) for Marie Claire, and particularly Messiaen for Latry.

    For more of a pointed Bach and/or pre-Bach focus, I recommend Wolfgang Zerer and Harald Vogel and, closer to home, Craig Cramer (prof at Notre Dame). I love the way people like Latry play Bach as well, but just be aware of national differences. The Germans tend to play Bach very straightforward, with emphasis on clarity of execution of just what's on the page. The French tend to think about more nuanced phrasing and interpretation - easing in and out of phrases, etc. At times the German approach can seem cold, and at times the French approach can seem overwrought or overthought. But I think the very best players from both sides combine sensitive musicality with clarity for the "best" Bach playing.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Geremia
  • Peter van Dijk is another very impressive player, especially of the pre-Bach generations (Sweelinck, Scheidemann, Bohm, etc.).
    Thanked by 1Geremia
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    This is just like Major League Baseball's decision decades ago to let the fans vote the starters for each division for the All-Star game. (And then once each division team had its nine starters, the opposing managers choose the rest of the team insuring "quality control."
    And then one might ask, how important in the scheme of things is the selection of the nine starters for posterity's sake?
  • I have heard Joseph Ripka in recital on several occasions and have been very impressed by his musicality and virtuosity. I think he is one of the "best" of the younger generation.
    He plays all the repertoire, from Sweelinck and Buxtehude to Messiaen and Escaich, and
    his Dupre and Vierne on YouTube are excellent.
  • Only in music could someone propose a theory, most musicians jump on it and proclaim it gospel, and in 50 years someone else proclaim it crazy and that anyone who accepted it is an unlearned fool.


    But in what other field would most musicians do this? I can't really see most musicians doing this for psychology, biology, physics, history, or most any other field of endeavor.
  • Only in music could someone....

    Does this possess even a shred of veracity?
    It's just a wild-eyed boast.
    What, pray, is being referenced?

    (It seems to me that it happens all the time in 'science', and.....)
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,721
    In reality, it happens in other fields, as well. I lived through the organ reform movement and heard more unsubstantiated BS than could be believed. You are going back to posts from July 2014. A little bored today, are we? LOL.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,282
    Who are the Best Organists, Dead or Alive?


    Dead.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,721
    Is this like, "The only good singer is a dead singer?" LOL
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  • Dead.

    A charming notion, Adam.

    True, there never was, nor never will be the likes of what Bach is said to have been.

    Perhaps ditto the average talented organist of the renaissance and baroque who could sit down and improvise toccatas, fugues, chorale fantasies, ricercars, passacaglias, and more, that would take many of us months to learn. Such was the musical culture of those eras.

    Having said that, it is, I think, a certainty that the technique and virtuosity, not to mention the historic scholarship and pure musicianship of the great modern organists far surpasses that of any past age. And, it only promises to get better. A student at Rice's Shepherd School of Music, for instance, is expected to memorise something like an impressive Bach piece or some such every week and perform it flawlessly! Not too many generations ago a PhD in a major church or institution (if, indeed, he even had the PhD which is now de rigeur) couldn't begin to do that, let alone play with the scholarship evidenced by modern students and professors.

    On the other hand, there are times when I'm listening even to the likes of Olivier Latry (and others!) improvise it seems like just so much blather, little real mastery of contrapuntal technique is evident, not so much formal interest, not so much real music. The great works of Bach and Buxtehude (not to mention Frescobaldi or Couperin, et al.), on the other hand, were lessons in what and how to improvise - and their students could do it.


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  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,025
    I can't really see most musicians doing this for psychology, biology, physics, history, or most any other field of endeavor.

    In science, dare I mention Global Warming?
    Thanked by 2CharlesW francis
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,068
    best is relative and fleeting. better is the one that moves a soul toward eternal life by providing authentic worship through music whether it be chant, polyphony or an organ piece that moves deeply.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,721
    Who in their right mind would refuse having the skill of a Virgil Fox, Biggs, Guilmant, Widor, Vierne, or many other of the greats? We should all play so well, although I don't have to worry about that. LOL.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,068
    Charles

    We should all play OUR best, not aspire to be THE best. Vanity.
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  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,051
    The new co-titulaire of NDdeP, Vincent Dubois, is a very fine player and by all accounts a very fine sevice player at NDdeP. His improvisations are much more tonal than Latry, who I am frankly worn out of in terms of his improvisation. Mssr. Dubois is making a tour of the US and will be in my part of the world in April (South Florida). He is young and represents the next generation of French players.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,721

    We should all play OUR best, not aspire to be THE best. Vanity.


    Vanity? You say that like it's a bad thing. ;-) Why not have both?
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,613
    Too bad Florence Foster Jenkins didn't play the organ.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW CHGiffen
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,721
    Too bad Florence Foster Jenkins didn't play the organ.


    I think she does! I am sure I heard her or her close relative at a Baptist church.
  • After much thought and refection on this subject I must disagree with Adam. I thing an organist who is alive would be much better at playing than someone who is dead. Unless, of course, you believe in organ playing vampires who have spent centuries perfecting their craft.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • Mr Cordova makes what would seem to be an unassailable observation!
    What say you, Adam?


    ___________________________


    The curious thing about the organ world, particularly with regard to the sorts of serious musicians and entertainers who inhabit it, is that it is an amalgam such as which I don't think exists in any other serious musical sphere. One finds in the gamut such impeccable scholars and artists as Hans Davidsson who make genuine contributions to our music and culture, to such gaudy entertainers as Cameron Carpenter; it treasures its Cliquots and Silbermanns, but doesn't even so much as squirm at the presence of theatre organs and their enthusiasts in its midst; the AGO and the entire organ community seem at home with both. This is existential oxymoronicity. I think nothing like this is to be found in any other serious music community, whether it be artists of the piano, violin, oboe, symphony orchestra, or so forth. Not only does the organ world save seats for its entertainers, it even teaches entertainment music in many of its hallowed universities. One of the university professors (who is one of our nations premier organists) here in Houston recently played a rededication recital (on an historic Holtkamp that reuter had tonally destroyed) which consisted mostly (about 7 out of 9 selections) of things like the Ride of the Valkyries. Such junk is actually being taught at his studio. Their recital programs are littered with it. This doesn't happen in the serious piano world, or any other world of serious music. Nor would the likes of the horrid scholarship of someone like Virgil Fox receive more than a raised eyebrow in any musical world other than that of the organ. Equally astonishing is the organ world's embrace of instrumental simulacra, whose apologists include otherwise highly qualified organists. These fakes, sophisticated and expensive synthesisers that they are, are often convincing to those who don't hear very well (or just aren't listening closely to what they're hearing), may be found, not just as practice instruments at home, but in important churches. In the piano world or any other serious musical world this would be unthinkable. There is something seriously amiss in the organ world. It defies understanding.

    (There are, of course, pianists who are entertainers, but one won't find them being entertained by serious musicians, real pianists. These are two separate worlds.)

    (And, of course, we and the world do need entertainers. But we shouldn't mistake them for, or equate them with, artists and scholars.)
    Thanked by 2francis CHGiffen
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,721
    Give Fox his due. His Bach scholarship was suspect. However, he came into his own with Romantic literature where his scholarship and performance practices were right on. Organs and organ literature did not cease development during the Baroque era, but continued to develop. Organ music and organs have unfortunately become museum pieces with scanty attendance at many recitals and programs. One hundred years ago, those recitals would have been full. I am glad to see programs branch out beyond Bach and contemporaries. Otherwise, I think the base supporting the instrument will continue to shrink. The trouble with exclusive "enlightened" little societies wed to one time period is that the people stay home and more churches move away from the organ. It is, I'm afraid, a case of adapt or die.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,068
    In some ways, Fox was the renegade that could not resist the temptation to cross the line to entertain. Was it ego? Desire for fame and fortune or a desire to expose the world to the great eds of Bach?

    Then again, Bach himself, was nurtured in a "religious music performance" environment. This is why the Catholic Church struggles with the clarity needed to discern between worship and performance, sacred and secular, authentic and fabrication.

    The blur creates all kinds of confusion on philosophical, theological and artistic levels that is truly and ultimately rooted in the sin of division. Bach was probably the greatest musical genius of all time. His unfortunate spiritual situation gave rise to the odd blend of sacred and secular, the Cantata and Oratorio, which puts one foot in performance and another in meditation, not even pure worship. He always believed his music glorified God as he often wrote that familiar inscription on his works, but if we lived in a perfect world, Bach WOULD have been a Catholic, and we probably would have had many Masses and liturgical works from his quill. We don't, however, and our world (I included) revere our next to best Bach.

    The wild and wooly world of organ performance truly does border on idolatry. OK... now I hear you all screaming "Puritan." But, consider what MJO is saying. This phenomenon exists in no other art - the phenomenon of confusion, the schizophrenic mentality that dominates the thinking of our own colleagues is both maddening and at the same time perplexing... and yet we carry on, bringing the likes of Wagner and Mozart into our sanctuaries, not quite convinced ourselves whether it is good or bad, right or wrong, or we just plain chalk it up to the excuse that this is an imperfect world, and then we carry that ultimatum right into Gods perfect Church, where it does not belong.

    And then, the Hiroshima of Christendom occurs in VII, and all hell breaks loose (literally), and no holds are barred, nothing is forboden, and Konfuzion is made King. Aspiring artists (organists, performers and composers) wander into the sanctuary only to realize 'anything goes', and it is THERE that all of our anything goes.

    MJO says let us not confuse entertainers with artists or scholars. I do not agree. We are All entertainers of God's pleasure, whether we are employed in the concert hall or the sanctuary... the crux of the matter is that we do not discriminate about WHAT belongs (artistically, theologically, philosophically) in one or the other. We have lost the sense of what is sacred (holy) to that which is not. We do not know how to burn the fire that creates smoke pleasing to God. We think the blaze of Cain is just as 'Abel'.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,721

    The wild and wooly world of organ performance truly does border on idolatry.


    So, you haven't yet experienced the wild and wooly world of violinists? LOL.


    In some ways, Fox was the renegade that could not resist the temptation to cross the line to entertain. Was it ego? Desire for fame and fortune or a desire to expose the world to the great eds of Bach?


    All of the above?

    I suspect that one of our problems as organists is that we are trying to deal with 500 years of literature. Frankly, much of it is no longer applicable to current rites, while some of it never fit within the mass, to begin with.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,068
    Frankly, much of it is no longer applicable to current rites, while some of it never fit within the mass, to begin with.
    zackly!