Sunday, March 27, 2016

What Might Be an Unexpected Theme...

...on which to improvise at Eastertide!

Some people often play prepared postludes at the end of Mass.  Others improvise.  Either way is fine as long as they sound good, of course.  I am one of those guys who (most of the time) prefer to improvise.

I for one would never say that playing a prepared postlude from an actual piece of sheet music is a bad thing.  In fact, it's a great thing.  I have longed for the longest time to get the courage to spend some time in front of the Finale of the "Widor V" (that is, the Fifth Symphony of Charles Marie Widor) and try to tackle it.  I confess that it has not happened yet.  However, I have heard it played by some of the world's greatest organists, on local, national, and worldwide levels (OK, the latter two via YouTube and TV).  There are some postludes I have played of a much lesser difficulty, of course.

As of late, I've been really inspired to work on my improvisational skills, and again, by listening to some of the greatest organists existing today.  On a local level, Providence's own Phil Faraone, who is the organist at our local Cathedral (SS. Peter and Paul, Providence, where the late great Alexander Peloquin served from 1950-1990).  On a more distant galaxy far, far away, one can hear the great musical wizardry of Olivier Latry, titular organist at the famed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.  You can listen to Monsieur Latry in "beast mode" here.

I once heard a young organist in a small Catholic church where I attended as a teen do an improvisation on a theme that I was one of few to recognize, and while I wouldn't dare to try such a thing, again, I was intrigued at 14.  The theme: Nights in White Satin by the Moody Blues.  I'm sure not many picked up on it, but I did.

So, of course, a few YouTube videos later and I find myself learning some new tricks!  What can I say?  If it's something that intrigues me and I really want to learn it, I'm a sponge!  (And no, I don't mean in a Spongebob Squarepants sort of way!  That guy is just freakin' creepy!)


I find the most fun in improvising on Gregorian themes.  During Lent, I did improvs for preludes and postludes based on basic Lenten chants such as the Mode I Parce, Domine and the Mode V Attende, Domine.  I've even improvised on Mass XVII (the Mass setting actually intended for the Sundays of Advent and Lent).  On other days, I've toyed with sections of the Mode I Ave Maria, and even Paul Cross' Mary, the Dawn, which is based on Psalm Tone 4 (the latter appears in the Pius X Hymnal and the 1984 People's Mass Book).

Today I toyed around with a few different Paschal themes.  For prelude, I improvised on O Filii et Filiae (O sons and daughters), a Mode II processional from Paris that dates back to the 15th century.  For Communion at the 7:30 AM Mass, I managed to come up with a theme around the "Amen, alleluia" ending of the Mode I Paschal Sequence, Victimae Paschali Laudes (Praise to the Paschal Victim).  I also used the sequence as a whole as an additional prelude for the 11:15 AM Mass.

But what one might not expect to hear an improv on this day in age is this:

which translates in modern notation to this:

If you don't read music in either notation, you can listen here.

In my younger days, this was the ONLY Alleluia played before the Gospel in many parishes --- year round (except during Lent, of course)!  That's because many parishes had Monthly Missalette in the pews at that time, and of the six alleluias given in the Order of Mass section of the missalette, this was the first.

In addition, a little known factoid for those who have never perused a Liber Usualis or a Graduale Romanum: the alleluia shown above (Mode VI) is the traditional antiphon to the proper Communion for the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday.  This appears in the Graduale, even today, in the Ordinary Form of the Mass, as the proper Communion.

So, there you have it!  My postlude was based on the once-popular Mode VI triple Alleluia.  I say "once popular" because, over the last couple of decades, as many parishes seem to have dumped Monthly Missalette for OCP's Breaking Bread or Muzak Issue, many seem to have subsequently dumped this beloved Alleluia for the so-called Celtic Alleluia, a setting that makes me want to grab a mug, or perhaps a stein!

Going back about three paragraphs, almost (but not quite) as a post-scriptum from the Scriptorium, I did mention that there were six alleluias given in the Order of Mass section of Monthly Missalette in my youth.  These were placed just before the readings of the month, and were as follows:

1. The above pictured Mode VI Alleluia
2. The alleluia from O Filii et Filiae, Mode II
3. An adaptation of a ditty called Sing Alleluia, by James Gerrish (The alleluia part of it isn't all that bad, and for the Alleluia before the Gospel, the word "Sing" was dropped, thankfully!)
4 and 5. Two alleluias by the late Robert Twynham, longtime music director at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore.
6. The alleluia from Wonderful and Great, by Lucien Deiss.

In my regular rotation of Alleluias to this day, I still use #'s 1, 2, 5, and 6, though #'s 3 and 4 are not so bad either.  Beats the hell out of Celtic Alleluia.

Hope you all had a wonderful blessed Easter!

Quod scripsi, scripsi!  (My new closing: What I have written, I have written!)

PS (yes, an ACTUAL post-scriptum): Rest in peace, Mother Angelica, the Poor Clare nun who founded the Catholic network EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network).  She died today, Easter Sunday, at the age of 92!  This nun did great work in bringing good solid Catholic programming to viewers around the world, and being rewarded by the Lord calling her home on the day of His Resurrection!

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