Trio of organ talent shapes Massey mini-concert

Emma Morehart | Staff Writer

Nearly a century before the Massey Memorial Organ’s birth, César Franck, Franz Liszt and Aristide Cavaillé-Coll formed a trinity of organ talent perfect for the Chautauqua Amphitheater’s prized possession.

Although they did not know it at the time, Franck’s romanticism, Liszt’s flash and Cavaillé-Coll’s organ architecture can be combined perfectly for this week’s Massey mini-concert, said Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music.

At 12:15 p.m. today in the Amphitheater, Jacobsen will contrast the romantic and rebellious musical styles on an instrument that organ builder Cavaillé-Coll himself would be proud of, Jacobsen said.

“This 19th-century music was inspired by these extraordinary people,” Jacobsen said. “You have an organ builder … and then you have an organist who is hired at this church to play (Cavaillé-Coll’s) instrument … and then you have, looking over the shoulder the whole time, a global musician in Franz Liszt for whom there were no limits to making music. So these all worked hand in hand in Europe.”

This season’s mini-concert theme is the celebration of Liszt’s 200th birthday and a dedication to his music and the composers who influenced him. Franck, only 10 years younger than Liszt, was vastly different in music and lifestyle.

Franck was Liszt’s antithesis. Where Liszt’s music was flashy, Franck’s was romantic. While Liszt was performing outrageous concerts to frantic crowds, Franck was being the consummate teacher, trained in France and performing in Parisian churches.

Liszt and Franck were well acquainted, though. At one point, Liszt heard Franck’s music, liked it and encouraged others to listen to it as well. Because of Liszt’s popularity, Franck’s music became trusted.

Cavaillé-Coll transformed the popular organ style from a “Bach” organ to a symphonic organ. The Bach organ was a tower of sound, with a low base of sound, a high splash and a pillar of sound in between. The symphonic organ was a pyramid, with a wide base of sound leading up to a point of high sound. Symphonic organs, like the Massey, allowed for pieces to better reflect the sounds of an orchestra.

“(Cavaillé-Coll) changed the sound of the organ … The glory of the French organ is both this huge carpet of sound at the bottom of the organ and the blazing trumpets at the top,” Jacobsen said. “Coincidentally, that’s exactly what we have in the Massey organ,” Jacobsen said.

In 1972, approximately 70 years after the Massey Organ was built, it was renovated from a symphonic organ to a Bach organ as the popular style of organ sound changed. But it did not seem to fit the Massey, Jacobsen said.

“The bottom line was that that particular version of the Massey organ was not a happy one,” he said. “It itself was not a happy instrument, and it kept trying to be something it was not.”

He added that by 1992, the organ was rebuilt to the form it takes now.

“So it’s happier playing Franck now,” he said.

Jacobsen will perform Liszt’s “Orpheus,” a symphonic poem that tells the story of the ancient Greek prophet and musician, sandwiched between one of Franck’s early compositions and his last one.

The first song, Franck’s “Piéce Héroïque,” is symphonic and romantic and seems to bring out the voices of all the instruments in a symphony. Because of the variety of tones, pieces like this were perfect for the symphonic organ, and therefore the Massey.

Although much of Liszt’s style was flashy, “Orpheus” introduced a new way of writing music to tell a story and present a theme. Jacobsen will combine two versions of the piece to create one that he thinks is best suited for the Massey Organ, he said.

Finally, “Chorale in A Minor” is known to be Franck’s last will and testament, because he is said to have been revising it even in his last hours of life. This chorale is Jacobsen’s favorite because of its sassiness.

“It sounds exactly, at the beginning, like you’re ripping a telephone book in half, because he uses this blaze of sound on the organ. It’s just an amazing piece of music,” Jacobsen said. “Then (toward the end), the organ really starts to take off, and you add more layers of the pyramid … and then finally at the end, when the tune comes in the last time, it just is hair-raising because it’s the full glory of the organ roaring away.”