French Masters of the Organ

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Murray,, M. (1998). French masters of the organ. London: Yale University Press. Murray

Murray, himself an organist, undertakes to write a comprehensive survey of the French French masters of the organ, beginning with Camille Saint-Saëns and tracing the connections through to Olivier Messiaen !hese artists could be classi"ed as part of a #$arisian School% of organists encompassing the &'th Century and the opening of the ()th century  century Murray sought *in a single volume a biographical account of these the se composers, together with a description of their idiom and of the instrument for which they wrote, to help guide the student who wishes to play their music as it was conceived+ . !he book is ingeniously laid out /nstead of being strictly chronological, Murray opens with a chapter not of an organist but the master organ builder 0ristide Cavaill1-Coll whose creations with their innovations, astounding grasp of acoustic design, and uni2ue timbres in3uenced the players !he remaining chapters, each dedicated to an individual organist, but incorporating the in3uences and contributions of others when necessary, follow based on a hybrid chronology of birth, style, compositions, and teacher4student relationships 5is chapters are as follows6 0ristide Cavaill1-Coll, Camille Saint-Saëns, C1sar Franck, Charles-Marie 7idor, 8ouis 9ierne, Marcel :upr1, ;ean 8anglais, and Olivier Messiaen  !he early chapters are particularly particularly well-done in regards regards to stylistic stylistic practises, and teacher values <y the end of the work Olivier Messiaen%s chapter. information is sparser, and less useful !here is less emphasis on their playing habits, and more e=tramusical sidelines /t is incredibly useful starting with an organ builder as opposed to an organ player player !he chapter on Cavaill1-Coll introduces background information crucial to understanding the playing methods of the master organists For instance, describing the timbres Cavaill1-Coll installed and the acoustic

 

properties of the churches helps the reader%s comprehension of later comments on staccato4legato articulation which varies according to tone, and acoustics of a room  Murray does a thorough >ob in giving background information and detailed notes on interpretation 5e never presumes to lecture from a "nite viewpoint, or states that any one given interpretation is correct 5e presents a guide to interpretation, and strives to maintain a balanced view, whether through unbiased statements, or incredibly persuasive writing, he manages to convey his "ndings superbly 5e 2uestions why should *a composer%s intention [email protected] more important superbly than an interpreter%sA+ B. !here is artistic merit in one%s own interpretation, however it should *be thoughtful, not arbitraryit must mu st have a well-de"ned something to prefer toonly when convinced that we have come as close as we can to fullness of understanding ?the [email protected] can we in good conscience conclude that the composer could have better transmitted meaning by doing thus-and-so D and reasonably make a change+ E. /nnovations in mechanics and instrumentation should not go unused because they were unavailable at the time of a composition, thus cannot be historically historically accurate to the composer%s inte intentions ntions Murray seeks to give the reader a sense of the in3uences that impacted the French masters, and how they in3uenced others in turn so that we might un understand derstand the developments the organ and organ music. has been sub>ect to, and how it is still changing 5e is careful to avoid generaliations that could limit the understanding of the students using his book 5e warns that *in using biography we sometimes forget that traits distinctive in a creator are not necessarily manifest in a work, and vice versawe tend to aG= to works or their makers labels that re3ect one characteristic only onlyif if we keep that warning in mind, the generality that Saint-Saëns leaned more toward

 

decorum than toward abandon, in both his temperament and art, will not greatly distort truth+ . One very helpful h elpful section of the book is, surprisingly, the bibliography bibliography /t is not merely a list of resources used, but divided by chapter, written in narrative style Murray never strays from his goal of providing a comprehensive book for organ students , likewise in his bibliography he points the students to further study with *%Saint-Saëns%s pedalling is described inHigout on Saint-Saëns%s tempos is to be found inthe description of of Saint-Saëns%s duties at the Madeleine+ (&(. (&(. Murray has the advantage of having had personal interviews, listening to and being taught by organist4composer Marcel Marcel :upr1 and ;ean ;ean 8anglais, bringing a uni2ue, wellinformed viewpoint to his book 7hile the narrative style may allow Murray to reach a larger audience, and makes the French French masters of the organ accessible to many students, - is it worth sacri"cing relevant informationA !o !o create a 3uid story the author will detour from relevant facts with sidelines on less relevant stories and anecdotes 0t times his information is a vague outline which tantalies the readerI unfortunately Murray does not always delve deep enough, and merely hints at items which would prove very useful if described in more detail / think overall, he made the right choice in his writing style 5e may skim over some speci"cs, and get sidetracked on occasion, however he has managed to make the life and skills of these French masters an incredibly interesting read /t does not feel like a non-"ction biography, he gives life into dry dates and facts, like no other author / have read

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