One of my August blog postings extolled the magnificence of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Chorus in a series of performances at MONA by the western shore of the Derwent River in the northern suburbs of the Greater Hobart Area.
Last night I travelled to another institution, the University of Tasmania, which has its lower boundary almost at Derwent River level on the western shore, south of the Hobart city centre. I was so pleased that to continue an annual visiting artist series, the Tasmanian Conservatorium of Music had joined forces with the Hobart Organ Society to bring world renowned pipe organist John O’Donnell to Hobart.
In the University’s Stanley Burbury theatre, the only neoclassical pipe organ in Tasmania was on show for an appreciative audience. Served up was a 1 and a ¼ hour nonstop magical program: Georg Muffat Toccata Septima; Arcangelo Corelli Concerto in C minor, op. 6 no. 3, arr. Thomas Billington Largo/ Allegro/ Grave/ Vivace/ Allegro; Johann Pachelbel Wie schoen leuchtet der Morgenstern; Johann Sebastian Bach Wie schoen leuchtet der Morgenstern(BWV739); Johann Sebastian Bach Sonata no. 3 in D minor (BWV 527); Johann Sebastian Bach Fantasia sopra il Chorale Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns haelt (BWV1128); Johann Sebastian Bach Fantasia and Fugue in G minor (BWV542)
I have listened to pipe organs being played in various places around the world but last night’s performance exceeded all expectations. In the hands of a non-expert, the sounds from a pipe organ can sound muddily mixed and your ears can feel assaulted. Or the playing can sound lack lustre, colourless, and dull. Or irregular pacing can make me, as a listener, believe the organist hasn’t practised well enough and isn’t able to keep to the time signature. That he or she isn’t as familiar with the musical piece as they ought to be before they play for public entertainment and pleasure. In those instances there is minimal or no pleasure. But last night, John O’Donnell was nimble of finger across the keyboards, agile with his hip and leg movements to control the multitude of foot pedals, and most importantly made music with his touch. This wasn’t sound it was music. Lyrical. Magical. He made the composer’s scores come alive.
Listening to such music through headphones as you walk along, or blasting from a sound system in your own home, is no substitute for hearing the sounds in an environment where the acoustics work and the nuances of the music embrace you. The concert was intense. Intensely rich and beautiful.
I wondered on the effects of significant rivers in the lives of the composers from last night’s concerts.
17th century composer Muffat spent 6 years in Paris near the Seine River before settling in Vienna next to the Fluviul Dunarea. Corelli lived for a time early in his life near the river Po in Italy and later when settled in Rome, he had access to the Fiume Tevere that winds its way through. Pachelbel started life in Nuremberg through which the Reglitz flows. Later he studied at Regensberg around the Fluviul Dunarea, before moving to Vienna also on the same river, then Stuttgart on the Neckar river before settling back in Nuremberg against the Reglitz river for the rest of his life. Johann Sebastian Bach moved as a teenager to Luneberg next to the Ilmenau River. During Bach’s time in Weimar he could have accessed a number of rivers which enter into or are nearby to this city. When he was in Mulhausen, the Unstrut river and a tributary were close at hand. A multitude of rivers and tributaries flow through Liepzig where Bach spent 27 years.
I don’t want to mislead any readers. The connections between composers and rivers is a geographical one and I do not believe the rivers that they lived near had direct musical relevance. But the advantage of this tiny research to me was that I was able to understand a little more of the world’s geography and the interconnectedness of so many things; history, people, musical development. As a result, the experience of my project to walk along the Derwent River is enriched.