In my review of 2021 I suggested I might write more specific posts about some aspects of my musical life this year, so I’d like to start with Langlais, a central figure in my musical development over the last 35 years.
I think I first encountered the name and soundworld of Langlais in a recording of his “Fete” played by Jennifer Bate at the Royal Albert Hall Organ which I borrowed from the public library in Camberley, Surrey. After that I heard the “Suite Breve” (which was one of the first big pieces I learnt) in a recording by his pupil Colin Walsh, and then two profoundly influential LPs recorded at Paisley Abbey by Marjorie Bruce, one of which contained his staggering wartime “Premiere Symphonie”, the other a suitably varied collection of his compositions from 1930s -1970s. Shortly thereafter I obtained some Continental LPs of Langlais himself playing and improvising at St Clothilde and in West Germany – most of these are more easily available now than they were in those Cold War, pre-EU days when I had to order them using thick paper catalogues in Whitwam’s in Winchester. (I also bought one L.P. of his colleague Gaston Litaize who also died in 1991).
Upstairs, Whitwam’s also stocked sheet music including the aforementioned “Suite Breve” and many of the pieces Langlais issued through various publishers in the remarkable Indian Summer he enjoyed in the 1980s, and a few of which I was able to afford, such as “B.A.C.H” written for the eponymous tercentenary in 1985 or the “Sept Etudes de Concert pour Pedales Seules” which has proved useful in this year of hand injury.
Speaking of which, an earlier injury to the same hand meant I wasn’t playing the organ at all in 1991 when Langlais died during what was for Britain the unbelievably bleak and strangely forgotten ERM recession. I returned to serious organ playing in 1994, progressively finding in Langlais’ huge output of 250+ compositions a rich store of music for all occasions (liturgical and concert) and varieties of organs – and so it has remained ever since. (most of Messiaen, by contrast, cannot be played adequately on many instruments).
I continue to work on pieces by Langlais, and hope to write more specifically about them next year and beyond.