Monthly Archives: August 2013

Over the past few years the work of the Arbroath-born composer Morris Pert has been at the centre of my musical activity. It was a particular privilege to perform, along with soprano Chloe Foston, a short memorial concert of his compositions at St Vigean’s Church on the day his ashes were laid to rest in his parents’ grave (there’s a film of part of this on YouTube at morrischurchtrack2.wmv) . Subsequently, Chloe and I performed his music at the Fringe.

 Hearing about this, the composer Marc Yeats suggested that I should approach other composers to write pieces that could be performed alongside Morris’ music. One of these composers, Edinburgh based Iain Matheson, suggested I choose a theme from Pert’s music as a unifying factor, to which end I chose the “Drosten” theme from the first of the “Stones” suite for piano. It is a musical encryption of the only surviving Pictish verbal inscription: DROSTEN IPE VORET ETT FORCUS, and is to be found on the side of the 8th century Drosten Stone in St.Vigean’s. The musical pitches are: D,F#,C#,G#,A,E,A;C,D,E;B,C#,F#,E,A;E,A,A;F,C#,F#,C,B,G#.

 The first two pieces to be completed were “The Little Cloud” by Geoff Hannan and “Drosten” by Iain Matheson, and both were played in a recital of Morris’ piano music in Dundee in early 2012.  

 Next was a piece by Marc Yeats himself. I had asked him for a 5 minute left hand piece(I will write of my interest in left hand pianism elsewhere); what emerged was a 40 minute sequence of 8 movements under the title “The Magical Control of Rain”. I am hoping to premiere the first two movements in London in November: the whole is being prepared for performance and recording by the pianist Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont.

 Recently another piece “Green Odyssey” has been written by the organist/composer and long term Pert aficionado Michael Bonaventure. This will also be premiered in November.

To be continued……


It's always a pleasure to play the organ in Dundee University chaplaincy, where I relaunched my organ recital career in 2010. Though a small instrument (7 speaking stops,3 couplers,tremulant), every component pulls its weight with very satisfying musical potential: in fact, I find the limitations a stimulus to creativity and have satisfyingly played music from every century from the middle ages to the present day. It is the first opus of the St Albans builder Peter Collins to be built in Scotland (the next being the 3 manual in Greyfriars,Edinburgh) and was inaugurated by Peter Hurford back in the late 70s. I'm glad to have added it's voice to SoundCloud, even if my playthroughs are more accurate than the recordings!

Yesterday (Sat 17th) I gave a short recital of pieces by Ronald Stevenson in the Episcopal Cathedral in Aberdeen. In this his 85th year, I had wanted to arrange for a pianist from London to perform his Passacaglia on DSCH in Dundee and Aberdeen: unfortunately this plan ran into the sand. However, a few weeks ago Ed Jones, who organises the lunchtime concerts at the cathedral, asked if anyone could cover for this date: I volunteered this Stevenson programme. My aim was to reflect as much of Stevenson's achievement as possible in the very short time alloted; I decided on pieces which showed the two principal compositional influences- Busoni and Grainger, aswell as some examples of Ronald's art as a transcriber. In the Busoni sphere, the Recitative and Aria on DSCH ( in memoriam my ambition to bring the Passacaglia) and the Britten memorial Sonatina Serenissima were played; the Grainger side being represented by a setting of John Anderson, my jo and some tunes from Sounding Strings, including Ben Dorain and the Manx tune, The Sheep in the Snow- topical this year. The transcriptions were particularly Stevensonian: Charpentier's Romance from "Louise"(famously sung by Aberdonian Mary Garden), F.G.Scott's Milkwort and Bog Cotton and to conclude Grieg's Den Bergtekne. This was all warmly received, and as is not uncommon with Stevenson performances, someone in the audience had a special connection: this time there was a cellist who had played in Stevenson's orchestral "Young Scotland" back in the 70s. Stevenson will also feature in my next appearance at the cathedral, on 30th November, when I intend to play his organ Fugue on a theme from Tristan in between Lemare's transcrptions of the preludes to acts 1 & 3 of Parsifal.

The console of the organ in St Andrew's And St George's West Church, George St, Edinburgh, where I played a recital this afternoon. Open on the desk are the scores of Shostakovich's Passacaglia, Tierkreis (open at Leo),and Iain Matheson's Pipedream at the back. The shadows at the top of the desk are due to the fact the the upper console lamp was not working: one of those "challenges that make life more interesting". (I should also refer to the fact that I was only informed of changes to the organ spec a week before my recital, AND the serious disruptions to my inadequate rehearsal time-among other trials). The central piece in the programme was Tierkreis, a seminal work in Stockhausen's oeuvre, and one which happily worked well at this instrument. I chose to give a pretty straight reading of the work, variety and characterisation coming mostly from variety in the registration which changed for each of the 42 movements(the melody of each sign being played 3 or 4 times)and covered the complete dynamic range of the instrument from tutti to ppp swell salicional. For this performance, I decided to start and finish with Leo, the composer's own sign, as well as that of the month (and the city?): perhaps this most regal of signs also be fitted a performance on the king of instruments. In any case, it's very satisfying to have commemorated Stockhausen in a city he visited only a couple of years before his death in this his 85th anniversary year; and pleasing to have reconnected with a composer whom I heard and saw performing his Hymnen in the early 1990s in London (he supposedly found the RFH so disagreeable that he vowed never to return to Britain). These 12 melodies, while simple and naive on one level, show a profound musical intelligence. I look forward to future performances. Iain Matheson informs me the performance lasted about 23 minutes, a few less than I had anticipated. In light of the fact that Tierkreis was originally conceived for music boxes, I decided to anticipate it with some flotenhuhr pieces by Haydn and Beethoven, both of whom had an Edinburgh publisher, Thomson. Other featured composers were anniversarians Ronald Stevenson,Per Norgard and Britten; organists with a strong Edinburgh connection, Marcel Dupre and Jean Langlais; and Edinburgh resident Iain Matheson, whose Pipedream received another outing, clothed in yet another registration.

It's perhaps worth mentioning that though written in 1975, Stockhausen repeatedly returned to Tierkreis for the rest of his life, even to the point of completing 5 exquisite orchestrations from the piece on the last evening of his life more than 30 years later. He was not the only modern German artist to find inspiration in astrology: Hindemith's last opera, Die Harmonie Der Welt has a strongly astrological aspect, while in Thomas Mann's novel Joseph and his Brothers, the 12 tribes of Israel are each identified with an astrological sign.

The Willis organ in Old and St Andrew's Church in Montrose, Angus(Scotland). I've been glad to be reacquainted with this instrument this year, where I've done some useful work preparing Stockhausen's Tierkreis and other items on my Fringe programme. It's a small 3-manual instrument of 20-odd speaking stops (with space for more on the console), and like the Willis in Glasgow Cathedral, it's pitched about a quarter tone higher than concert pitch, a fact which has led to such bizarre behaviour as the hiring of a digital organ for a single performance by the Montrose Choral in this venue! Montrose is also fortunate in possessing another 3-manual organ,in the Episcopal church : a pioneering design by local man Maurice Forsyth-Grant, who was influenced by continental organs he saw during WW II. In addition to a fine array of mixtures and mutations, and a strong pedal division, there is a Great to Choir coupler whose use mitigates the problems caused by the eccentric Anglican custom of placing the Great between the two other manuals.Sadly this instrument is lapsing into disrepair. These two organs represent a remarkable and undercelebrated aspect of this burgh's already rich cultural inheritance.