How ‘wild’ can one go with organ improvisation??
  • RJames2000RJames2000
    Posts: 1
    I recently came across this video of the legendary Martin Baker improvising a recessional on Easter Sunday in Westminster Cathedral:
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mE-dZuiSxWc
    Is it acceptable to improvise in this style in a parish church or is it a privilege that comes with the size and surrounding acoustic of a cathedral? Or perhaps it just comes with being a renounced organist whom people daren’t criticise for fear of sounding uncultured? Do YOU think this is appropriate at any level?

    I would love to try something like this on Sunday but I’m scared that it will not be received well.... thoughts?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,332
    Maybe it is just personal preference, but I dislike this type of improvisation. Clashing, dissonant chords that are barely listenable. No wonder so many hate the organ. I get the impression there isn't a Vierne among us, so maybe playing Vierne might sound better than such improvisations. Perhaps in some parishes the congregation actually stays to listen, but in mine, they are out the door so fast that any pieces of length leave me playing to an empty building. If your intent is to drive them into the weather, this could work. ;-)

    YMMV and your place may be different.
    Thanked by 1JacobFlaherty
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 954
    Of course it would not sound like that in the middle of the nave. The microphone does not pick up the confusion of noise down there! I can barely hear the choir organ at the beginning, supporting the congregational singing (and the celebrant) [This Mass would, if normal, have just a cantor and the choir organ]
    "out the door so fast" the building is too big for that, but the traditional joke holds at Westminster as well "What do you call a musician who's audience gets up and walks out while they are playing? ... "
    I see there was an organ recital scheduled for before that Mass.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 918
    I find myself agreeing with Charles here. That is unlistenable.

    Perhaps someone could do a transcription and analysis and discover what a work of genius it is, but I think it's just bad.

    As Charles said, "No wonder so many hate the organ."
    Thanked by 1JacobFlaherty
  • Hmmm. I'm not a fan of that particular improvisation. Seems excessively concerned with theatrical dissonance. One can play a "wild" and exciting improvisation without sounding, for lack of a better word, ridiculous.

    I am a definite proponent of the French school of organ improvisation, which while sometimes employing strong dissonance, is so clearly based on Gregorian Chant that it definitely combines the brilliance of the great organists with the beautiful patrimony of Catholic music. I strive in my own limited abilities and ways to improvise in a similar fashion to the French School. But the improv linked by the OP is just way out there, not pleasing to my ear at all, seems to have no discernible structure, doesn't really develop and build... it's just a bunch of notes, and they all sound wrong. Irishtenor may be right: maybe if it was transcribed, we could find some stroke of brilliance in it. Or maybe my ear and music theory knowledge are inadequate? But as someone who loves grand organ improvs, and who enjoys Messiaen et. al., this particular improvisation was not at all pleasant to my ear, and I'd personally consider it to have crossed the line, as it were, into the realm of "not really appropriate for the liturgy." The dry acoustic from a close recording doesn't help, to be sure. But even in a nice 4 second reverb, I don't think that would sound decent. But what do I know? He's the Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral, and he's won awards for his improvisation, so I suspect he knows a bit more than I do. But that doesn't change my opinion on the matter!

    Here are some recordings that I think exemplify good "wild" improvisation, all fitting for the Easter season:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ye9zYe3ci48
    https://youtu.be/2EBCAk2IFwU?t=1m38s
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbK-7QPjRVI
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gB53YDLS8Aw

    Now for non-liturgical improvisations, I have to say that this remains my all-time favorite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jM5wp82ghuw
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen eft94530
  • I think there must be a school of improvisation which teaches this sort of thing.

    It usually doesn't rise to the level of interesting.

    Now -- if he were improvising a fugue.......
    Thanked by 1francis
  • If it helps, here is an example of what I'll do in an improv in a parish church setting. It's nothing like the greats of improv (imo: Daniel Roth, Olivier Latry, Cochereau, Tournemire, et. al.)... this was just practice, playing around with ideas, so forgive the couple of obvious moments of uncertainty. But at least it's a real and practical example of a pseudo French school improv, played in a parish church setting. I played an improv based on some of these ideas on Easter Sunday as an interlude between the Last Gospel and Exposition/Benediction (which we do every first Sunday). It was well-received. But they're accustomed to my improvisations by this point, I suspect.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2C6qD5ObyQ
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 7,892
    trash... total show, no content. What is the point or the purpose?
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 6,130
    This can hardly be called 'improvisation'. There is no music. To echo Francis, there is no content, no musical form or didactic. It is pure noise-making devoid of any motivic, colouristic, or formal interest. I've heard similar from others, including some of the prominent French, Latry, for instance. The unfortunate thing about the organ is that, for many, all one has to do is make a lot of noise and the astonishingly unwitting and undiscerning masses are impressed greatly. (Indeed, did you notice the applause after this inane exercise was ended?) No wonder real music, say a trio sonata, goes right over their heads. Theirs is a circus music mentality, and the 'musicians' who cater to them are not worthy to be called musicians of any kind, let alone organists. The hands and fingers aren't even musical to watch, their movements are animalistic, tight, clenched, and grasping, all without purpose. An utter bankruptcy of musical thought.
  • NihilNominis
    Posts: 292
    It is, as some say, possible that there is order, structure, thought behind this. But an improvisor should make this plain to the listener, and the ordinary listener at that. If there was ever not a time or place for Augenmusik, it is in the improvisor's art.
  • @M. Jackson Osborn
    I've heard similar from others, including some of the prominent French, Latry, for instance. The unfortunate thing about the organ is that, for many, all one has to do is make a lot of noise and the astonishingly unwitting and undiscerning masses are impressed greatly. (Indeed, did you notice the applause after this inane exercise was ended?). No wonder real music, say a trio sonata, goes right over their heads. Theirs is a circus music mentality, and the 'musicians' who cater to them are not worthy to be called musicians of any kind, let alone organists.


    I certainly agree with your assessment of the improvisation in question. It may not even be fit for the circus.

    But with due deference to the legitimacy of varied aesthetic preference, I think it unfair and inaccurate to paint with so broad a brush the French school organists like Latry. And forgive me if I've misunderstood what you're saying.

    It's a different school of thought, yes. But circus music? I don't think so. The French school remained more faithful to Catholic music over the years than any other school, in my opinion. The French school of improvisation has built on the legacy of the great French Romantic and subsequent composers (like Franck, Widor, Vierne, Tournemire, et. al.), tailored, of course, to the wondrous resources of the Romantic organs like Cavaille-Coll's instruments. Gregorian Chant is its primary melodic inspiration. If you listen to the really talented improvisers of the French school, there's no lack of content and musical form. The French school may not employ the same consistent logic of counterpoint and strict forms like fugues or trio sonatas. But in my opinion, that is precisely its strength. It is more free to paint with a much broader palette. That's also its weakness, since it can obviously get out of hand. But applied well, the French improvisation style can be remarkably effective at expressing sacred ideas through music, and lifting the heart and mind to contemplation of the various splendors of God.

    Consider this improvisation by Daniel Roth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxJuwWP_s6Y

    Or this by Latry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxMkmOEkcBA - This one's a bit more "French" than the Roth improv above, but I find it quite prayerful, and a fascinating development on a simple theme. But for something more traditional, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTAh56P7Wd4

    With all of that said, let me back up a moment. I do agree entirely that noisemaking is nonsense, and all too many organists conflate improvisation with loud noisemaking. That's unfortunate. And the OP's link... that's definitely nothing more than noise in my opinion, and I'd be fine with labeling it circus music. A big acoustic and a full organ and a lot of notes can get applause, but it's not music on account of those characteristics. However, I don't think the way that Latry, Roth, et. al. improvise is like that at all.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,332
    If it helps, here is an example of what I'll do in an improv in a parish church setting...


    Actually, 32ContraBombarde, that one is not bad. It is musical, stays true to the chant, and is listenable.

    I have to admit, I don't improvise much. My teachers emphasized playing compositions, not improvising, in the days (dark ages) when I studied. French Baroque works well for me. I love that music and enjoy playing it.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,308
    Well, at least the subject of the improvisation is clear enough ("Deo gratias, alleluia...").
    Thanked by 1NihilNominis
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,527
    The "subject" or "topic"?

    EDIT: Okay .. subject .. it finally appears recogniseable at timestamp 3:26
  • NihilNominis
    Posts: 292
    Yaknow...liked it much better second time round.

    Here is another of his at a distance recording. https://youtu.be/o9WhBwKJKCw
  • Cantus67Cantus67
    Posts: 160
  • JL
    Posts: 149
    It's not my favorite specimen of the improvisation genre, sure, although I can attribute some of that to the crummy speakers on my phone. But "trash"? Trash, folks, is the National Enquirer, the paintings (and the biopic) of Thomas Kinkade, and the novels of Danielle Steele. The only offensive sound I heard was the applause at the end.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 7,892
    Theory on this improv is chaos

    16th notes are a ruse
  • Blaise
    Posts: 411
    This is coming from an "uncultured" non-organist, but do I really have to listen to this? Use this for your organist competitions. Not after divine worship.

    If we want to critique the OCP sacro-pop, all fine and well, but we have to be fair and let the sword cut both ways.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,293
    Not based on a plainchant melody, but still much fun:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-4fsT65u44
  • Gracious!
    I couldn't do that.
    Just think what he could do with Puer natus est!
    Or Jubilate Deo.
    Or Confirma hoc.
    Or Terra tremuit!!!

    Bovet played a recital at one of my churches once upon a time.
    He has a well-earned reputation for having a highly idiosyncratic approach to improvisation.

    A very congenial fellow. At drinks afterward he described a friend of his who happened to have buck teeth as having 'teeth en chamade'.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 7,892
    Hymn Tune: Laudes Domine

    Only had two Hammond B3s for this one. Sorry.

    (Is this wild enough?))
  • MarkS
    Posts: 222
    (Is this wild enough?))

    Heh! Not particularly wild, but that was a fun start to my Saturday.

  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,332
    Don't let that one get out Francis. It will appear in the next edition of "Gather" with words added to it in the communion hymns section.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 7,892
    I could do the entire 1940 this way, and it would STILL rival anything out of OCP.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 918
    Francis, that was terrific! Not appropriate for the August Sacrifice, but terrific nonetheless!
    Thanked by 1francis
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 7,892
    gotta love garageband...
    Thanked by 2irishtenor eft94530
  • Francis,

    it would STILL rival anything out of OCP.


    I'm tempted to ask in which category this would rival OCP.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 7,892
    I'm tempted to ask in which category this would rival OCP.

    musical, artistic, true beauty (not liturgical, which OCP is already NOT)
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 973
    One word: Messiaen.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 7,892
    OK... this is half composed and half improvised in multitrack format

    http://myopus.com/preview/koerberPrelude2.mp3