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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Mailbag: “The sweet sound of nostalgia…”

January 29, 2013

Dear Michael,

I might have written sooner since I found some years ago that my Sunday evenings were not complete without hearing at least a portion of Pipedreams. But tonight my lethargy turned to action with the first notes of that Spanish organ. I immediately remembered that snarly sound, from E. Power Biggs' sampling in his recording (can it be 50 years ago already??) of Spanish organs, and the happy dizziness I used to experience listening to some of those incredible reeds, "more than a thousand reeds, growing up like weeds" to quote out of context! To my ears, this was certainly one of your finest programs, one that may "hook" a new generation of young and not so young people who suddenly find that they have misconstrued the organ all these years!

Now another Biggs question. I got out today another organ treasure of mine: Columbia stereo MS 6856: "E. Power Biggs Plays Mozart: the Music for Solo Organ." I picked this recording up used (barely) a few years ago, but after one playing I put it away. That was a mistake. After a few more hearings tday I find I love the Fantasias in F Minor K 608 and K 594. I'm less fond of the Prelude on the Ave Verum, but I suspect that may be due to (dare I say it) Biggs' choice of registration. I'm not a purist! Biggs' arrangement and performance of the Adagio, Allegro; Allegro works very well on the organ, especially one as grand as the "Mozart" organ at Haarlem. In any event what a story about about how these few organ pieces among the hundreds or thousands Mozart must have performed in his lifetime all over Europe came to be preserved!

I do have a question. My recording is undated. I assume it has been about 50 years since its release. Have there been other discoveries of (mostly) genuine Mozart organ solo pieces? You may well have featured this topic on Pipedreams, but if not others might find it interesting as I have.


Gene Davis

Dear Gene,

Thanks for your correspondence. Ah, yes, those 'days of youthful discovery' when a surprise sound could change your world. Fun!

As for the Mozart/Bavo/Biggs album, the K. 546 Adagio and Fugue (fugue, in particular) is the real stunner, a piece that I wish more organists today would play.

You can get a CD transfer of that album here (and the Spanish one, too).

Mozart himself made 4-hand piano arrangements of most of the music that he also created for the 'mechanical organ', so their 'preservation' has not been, perhaps, quite so amazing. That he composed so little for the organ is disappointing, of course, because (1) he could improvised anything needed for those times when he was engaged in Salzburg as cathedral organist and (2) later, when he was a free-lance composer, there was no market for published organ music…certainly not up to the standards of K. 608, so he wrote none! His love of the pipe organ, though, is well documented, and one can only imagine how different things would have been had he lived to take the job at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. Biggs recorded quite a bit of Mozart (monophonically) in the mid 1950s, and recorded Mozart at the Bavo Church in Haarlem for release in April 1966.

You can find quite a bit of Mozart 'organ music' listed in these programs:
A Mozart Organist's Legacy – #0604
Midsummer Mozart – #0431
Mozart and More – #9736

Some of his keyboard pieces (an Overture in C, for instance) are now thought to have been intended for organ performance (even though there is no third pedal line.





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