Tallman, Massey concerts to feature ‘musical oddities’

When Chautauqua Institution organist Jared Jacobsen was planning this week’s Tallman Tracker Organ and Massey Memorial Organ concerts, he filled them with musical oddities — and make-ups.

The Tallman Tracker Organ concert, titled “The Tallman from A to H” will be held at 12:15 p.m. today in the Hall of Christ. A Massey mini-concert, “The Virtuoso Organist: Chautauqua” will take place at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday in the Amphitheater.

Jacobsen said the theme for the Tallman concert comes from an unusual key signature notation in German music.

“H is a peculiarity of the music world,” Jacobsen said. “In the world of key signatures, you have A, B, C, D, E, F, G. But in German, B is always B flat and H is B natural … So I decided I wanted to play pieces that were in each of these keys, A, B, C, D, E, F, G and then H.”

Bach was particularly fond of using this additional key signature to create “musical anagrams” of his name, Jacobsen said. In honor of that, Jacobsen plans to play a Bach piece to represent the key of H.

In addition to performing in each key signature, Jacobsen plans to demonstrate the peculiar tuning of the Tallman organ.

“We take for granted most of the time that the keyboard instruments that we play are all tuned in a well-tempered scale, which means that the intervals are tweaked a little bit so it sounds natural to us,” Jacobsen said. “But in the early days, and even up until the time that the Tallman organ was built, that wasn’t always the case.”

Jacobsen said that, although the Tallman organ is tuned to a well-tempered scale, its tuning is relative to the A-435 pitch standard, nearly a half-step lower than the A-440 pitch standard that is used on modern instruments. This unusual tuning means that modern instruments cannot play in harmony with the Tallman, as they cannot be safely tuned to such a low pitch standard.

“It’s my way of getting into people’s heads that we take all of this for granted, that we sit down and we play a major scale and it makes sense to us,” Jacobsen said. “Keys are a little kinkier than we think.”

This week’s Massey Mini-Concert will do double duty, Jacobsen said.

Due to the failure of the Massey Organ’s power supply during the first mini-concert on July 1, titled “The Virtuoso Organist,” Jacobsen plans to add pieces from that concert to Wednesday’s set list.

“I’d been hassling in my head with these two titles [because of their similarity],” Jacobsen said. “So I realized that I can play almost everything I was planning to play in the first concert on the second concert, and I can still talk about my original idea.”

This combined concert will demonstrate Jacobsen’s understanding of “virtuosity,” with slow, quiet pieces like Cyril Jenkins’ “Night” and “Dawn” complimenting louder, showier compositions like Dick Leibert’s “Mariette’s Song.”

Jacobsen said his rendition of “Night” was influenced by a recent late-night walk with his dog on the Institution grounds.

“I sweat bullets over that piece to get just the right sound to make it reflect night at Chautauqua,” Jacobsen said. “It was just still, and it was the first really balmy night that we’ve had in a long time here, and there were a few clouds, but a half moon was breaking through. It was just a magical time. … That’s the virtuosity on that piece. I could just use soft stuff on the organ and it would be just fine, but I wanted it to be perfect.”