Bradley Hunter Welch | Gould Family Organ Recital Series

abril 7, 2024


SCHMIDT “Hallelujah” Prelude and Fugue in D Major
BACH Prelude and Fuge in A Minor
PRICE Adoration
GUILMANT Sonata No.1 in D Minor, Op. 42

“In the right hands — and feet — the impact [of the Lay Family Concert Organ] is nothing if not impressive,” says the Dallas Morning News.

Join us for an impressive organ recital featuring Bradley Hunter Welch, DSO’s Resident Organist Lay Family Chair, hailed as “a world-class virtuoso” and “an expert at defining darks, lights, shadows and colors.”

Notas del programa

Lay Family Concert Organ Specifications

Serie de Recitales de Órgano de la Familia Gould

Bradley Hunter Welch, organista residente, presidente de la familia Lay, sinfonía de Dallas.

Bradley Hunter Welch

Organista residente

Silla familiar laica

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Notas del programa

por René Spencer Saller

The Austro-Hungarian composer, cellist and pianist Franz Schmidt was born in Bratislava, Slovakia, to music-loving Catholic parents, who arranged for him to learn organ at the local Franciscan abbey. When he was 13, his family moved to Vienna so that he could take more advanced piano lessons. Later, as a conservatory student, he studied composition with Anton Bruckner, theory with Robert Fuchs and cello with Ferdinand Hellmesberger.

Once he had finished his training, Schmidt played cello in the orchestra of the Vienna Court Opera. He had a stormy relationship with the conductor, a certain Gustav Mahler, whose symphonies Schmidt once dismissed as “cheap novels.” He also taught cello, piano, counterpoint and composition at various Viennese conservatories and eventually took on administrative duties, serving as director of the Vienna Staatsakademie between 1925 and 1927 and then as director of the Hochschule für Musik until 1931.
Before succumbing to cancer at age 64, Schmidt completed two operas, four symphonies, a piano concerto, several chamber works, two piano sonatas and a substantial body of organ music. Although relatively unknown outside of Austria and Germany, his music has enjoyed a modest resurgence in recent years. His style—too traditional for the modernists and too avant-garde for the conservatives—combines the contrapuntal complexity of the Baroque masters with the heady opulence of the late Romantics. It might hold more appeal for 21st-century listeners, accustomed to the postmodern mash-ups of John Adams and like-minded musical magpies.

Consistent with his expressive, colorful style and his imaginative harmonic language, the “Hallelujah” Prelude and Fugue in D Major deploys regal chords and intricate passagework in a distinctive showpiece that does more than dazzle: it stirs the spirit. Schmidt composed and published the single-movement organ work exactly one century ago this year. Its copyright is in the public domain.

Although establishing definitive dates is often impossible, Bach seems to have composed most of his major organ works in Weimar between 1708 and 1717, when he served as court organist for the Dukes Wilhelm Ernst and Ernst August. He had gained considerable experience in the preceding five years, when he worked as an organist in Arnstadt and Mühlhausen. Even though he was still in his early 20s when he arrived at Weimar, his absolute mastery was beyond dispute. In the nine or so years that he spent there, he produced the Orgelbuchlein (“The Little Organ Book”), working drafts of the “Great 18” chorales and most of his finest preludes and fugues.

In BWV 543, one of his most popular organ compositions, the Prelude and Fugue are closely related, with the former (in 4/4 time) leading directly into the latter (in 6/8 time). The Fugue ends with a virtuosic cadenza.

The American church and concert organist, choral conductor and composer Frederick Swann had a long and prolific musical career, also serving as president of the American Guild of Organists. A native of Lewisberg, West Virginia, he began piano lessons at age five and took up the organ once his legs were long enough to reach the pedals, about five years later, in the church in Winchester, Virginia, where his father was pastor. After graduating from Northwestern University with a degree in music, he studied at the School of Sacred Music of Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He was later appointed director of music and organist at the Riverside Church in New York and Organist Emeritus of the Crystal Cathedral and the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, which is often touted as the largest church organ in the world (as distinct from concert organs, at least a couple of which are even more humongous). As a concert organist, Swann headlined more than 3,000 recitals in all 50 states and a dozen other countries.

Swann’s artistry on the Crystal Cathedral organ was enjoyed by some 20 million viewers in 165 countries on the popular weekly Hour of Power television program. A typical episode might range from Mendelssohn’s Elijah to an eccentric but not disrespectful rendition of the national anthem in 4/4 time. He made several fine recordings of his performances on this iconic instrument, some widely available on streaming sites. Until his death in 2022, Swann lived in Palm Desert, California, and served as artist in residence at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, a post he had held since 2001.

A prolific composer, Swann published more than 30 choral anthems and countless original compositions, improvisations and transcriptions for organ. Among his most frequently programmed original works are his Hymns of Praise and Power, which use standard hymns as a springboard for further improvisation. His arrangements of hymns reveal new facets of tunes that many of us could (and perhaps occasionally do) sing in our sleep. “Amazing Grace,” arguably his most canonical arrangement, conjures up bagpipes, giving the old church singalong a haunted and craggy feel, like something you might hear echoing off a desolate cliff at a hermit’s funeral, miles away from any church.

Make no mistake: Florence Price may not be a household name, but she was always extraordinary. Born Florence Beatrice Smith, in Little Rock, Arkansas, to a dentist father and a mother who taught piano, she gave her first piano recital at age four and had her first composition published just seven years later. She graduated from her segregated Catholic high school at age 14, as the class valedictorian. She studied piano and organ at the New England Conservatory in Boston—one of the few music schools that admitted Black students—and graduated with honors in 1906, earning double degrees in organ and music education.
After graduation Price was hired to direct the music department at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta. In 1912 she married the attorney Thomas J. Price, with whom she had two daughters and a son. They lived in Price’s hometown of Little Rock until 1927, when a public lynching drove them from the Jim Crow South. Like so many Black families during the Great Migration, the Prices moved northward in 1927, mainly to find greater opportunity in what they hoped would be a less racist environment.

Inspired by Chicago’s active music culture, Price entered an especially fertile period as a composer and began to establish herself as a concert pianist and organist, all the while making ends meet as a piano teacher, silent-film organist, and advertising-jingle writer. In 1931 she divorced her husband and moved in with a female friend. She formed important friendships and creative collaborations with Black singers, most notably the legendary contralto Marian Anderson. In 1932 Price’s Symphony No. 1 in E minor won the Wanamaker Composition Contest and was performed the following year by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, led by Frederick Stock.

Despite these sporadic triumphs, Price found herself constantly thwarted by her country’s institutional sexism and racism. In 1943 she practically begged Boston Symphony Orchestra music director Serge Koussevitzky to program her work: “I have two handicaps,” she wrote, “those of sex and race. I am a woman, and I have some Negro blood in my veins.”

She never heard from Koussevitzky. Unfortunately, Price would find herself shut out of the concert music establishment, her sizable catalogue, estimated at more than 300 works, all but forgotten. Thanks to the diligence of historians and musicologists who have unearthed many of her unpublished scores, Price is enjoying a posthumous revival, although she remains underrated and underperformed.

“Adoration,” a brief but stunning composition, revels in chromaticism, finding the common ground between the Baroque fugue and classic country-blues. Propelled by Price’s lithe and wildly syncretic imagination, “Adoration” doesn’t sound like a stale religious rite; it sounds sacred in the best way, like faith in action, a deeply personal devotional practice. It evokes the church, yes, but also the ornate palaces that screened the silent films that she accompanied for years, and maybe even the killing fields where her enslaved ancestors suffered anonymously, singing the hymns that nourished their hope in the face of systematic oppression, abuse and dehumanization, passing them on to the next generation, and the next. Even her briefest compositions contain multitudes.

Price is believed to have composed “Adoration” in or before 1951, originally intending it for church organ, although it also exists in a popular arrangement for solo violin and string orchestra, as well as one for wind ensemble.

Unless you’re a committed pipe organ enthusiast, you may not have heard of Félix-Alexandre Guilmant. His name is absent from many modern music guides, and his Wikipedia entry is sparse, mostly consisting of an incomplete list of his works, organized by opus number. Fortunately for Guilmant, organists love him enough to keep his works alive. This seems only fair. Guilmant published many volumes of his predecessors’ organ music, including essential compositions by J.S. Bach and sons.

Guilmant was born in Boulogne-sur-Mer, a small town in northern France, in 1837. His first teacher was his father, the organist at the church of St. Nicolas. At age 20, the younger Guilmant took his place. A few years later, he began a brief but intensive course of study at the Brussels Conservatory and established himself as a recitalist and composer. Before long, he was one of the most famous organists of his era. He performed frequently in Paris and toured internationally, drawing crowds so huge that current music writers feel compelled to call him a “19th-century pop star.”
At 34 he became the organist at Ste. Trinité in Paris, a prestigious appointment that he held for nearly 30 years. His expertise was especially prized by his friend Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, the legendary organ maker whose technological innovations helped revive the French organ tradition. The respect was mutual: Guilmant resigned from La Trinité after another firm was hired, without his consent, to modify his beloved Cavaillé-Coll organ.

Guilmant composed the Sonata No. 1 in D minor in 1874. It opens with a majestic introduction, the main theme of which is presented in the pedals. The second theme, brighter and more lyrical, is inventively woven into the first subject during the development. After a vigorous coda, the flowing and graceful Pastorale takes over, with fugal evocations of the main theme. The dramatic finale combines a brisk toccata with a choralelike secondary theme: artful swagger from a proto-pop star.