Connecting Beyond the Walls

 Today’s word of hope comes to us from our own Jake Hill, Music Associate / Organist

Toccata! It’s the titular-style of piece we have come accustomed to associating with celebratory organ music. While a number of pieces involve the word “Toccata” in their titles, the term really defines the style of the piece- not the title! Not unfamiliar to any of you, I’m sure, is the widely applauded deployment of the famous Toccata from Widor’s Fifth Organ Symphony (often referred to as “the Widor Toccata”) as a celebration of festive liturgical days, Easter included! No doubt, the fast, rhythmically punctuated and boisterous (most of the time) organ composition is thrilling and elaborates the joy of the Easter that we celebrate.

It is common practice to find the use of “text painting” in vocal music- text painting is a compositional tool used to make the music we hear fit the words/text being sung. For example, minor keys are used to steepen the meaning of dramatic texts whereas major keys are used for lighter, happier moments. This compositional phenomenon doesn’t stop with just vocal music, however. Instrumental pieces employee text painting as well. In his piece “Tu es petra”, Mulet makes use of the dramatic toccata style to depict the battle between good and evil- life and death. The fast, rhythmic passage work in the manuals (keyboards on an organ console) battle against an upwardly rising pedal line. The manuals depicting the “good” and the pedals representing “evil/hell/death”. Translated, the “Tu es petra” text from the Bible more specifically states “Thou art the rock and the gates of hell shall not prevail against thee”. What better story to tell through a dramatic organ piece than that of God defeating death as we celebrate this Eastertide?!

While Widor and his famous Toccata are to be loved and celebrated, open now your minds and your ears to this Toccata by French composer, Henri Mulet. Spoiler alert- by the end of this rapturous piece, God, indeed, defeats death as the piece heroically lands in a gloriously major key after meandering, almost exclusively, through minor modes in the other four minutes of the piece!

This recording, while older, is from legendary organist Diane Bish on the Grand Organ of Calvary church, here in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the organ’s dedication in 1990! Calvary’s organ is amongst the top 25 largest instruments in the world! Let this piece excite you with the joy of Easter, rejoicing in the resurrection of our Lord!

Soli deo Gloria!

Henri Mulet
Esquisses Byzantines
X. Tu es petra et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversus te

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