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Jaroslav Tůma (1956)
Organ Improvisation

Organ Improvisation 

F1 0064  [8595017406423]
TT- 79:54, released 9/1995, remaster reissue 2006

Jaroslav Tůma´s eight organ improvisations present a masterful and widely viewed confrontation of music cultural past and present. Already an idea on its own is a unigue challenge to so called classical music where an improvisation as a art linked to the nonmediate creative source has almost disappeared. Tůma´s creations, however, are heading further: there it is not only interpreted a brilliant technique that still luckily, in the long run, constantly belong to basic professional skill of every organist but also we can feel there a many hundred years of unique complex practice of a royal instrument.  

  1. Improvisation on the name BACH ___ 9:33
    Passau (Germany), Passauer Dom 20. 6. 1991
    organ by L. Eisenbarth, 1981, the largest church organ in the world
  2. Salve regina  ___ 10:11
    München (Germany), Frauenkirche - Munchner Dom, 3. 8. 1994
    organ by Georg Jann, 1994
  3. Variations on the song “Ei, du feiner Reiter“ (Samuel Scheidt) ___ 15:07
    Doksy (Czech Republic), St Bartholomew Church, 1. 10. 1994
    the unknown organ-maker, 1627 (reconstructed by Vladimir Slajch, 1992)
  4. Cantabile in B ___ 6:21
    Cambridge, Massachusetts (USA), The Harvard University Memorial Church, 9. 11. 1993
    the Charles B. Fisk Organ, 1967
  5. Fantasy in D ___ 8:27
    Milano (Italy), S. Alessandro, 2. 5. 1994
    organ by Orto-Lanzini (after G. Silbermann, 1722)
  6. Homage to the Earliest Anonymous Keyboard Composition (c. 1325) ___ 9:16
    Karlskrona (Sweden), the Frederik Church, 15. 7. 1993
    the Wahlberg Organ, 1764 (reconstructed by Groenlund company, 1987)
  7. Passacaglia on the thema by Andrew Lloyd Webber ___ 9:26
    Frankfurt / Oder (Germany), St Gertraud Church, 28. 6. 1994
    organ by W. Sauer, 1879
  8. Improvisation on the French Song "A vous dirais-je maman" ___ 10:23
    Annaka, (Japan), Niijima School, 15. 4. 1995
    organ by Kuhn A.G., 1991

Jaroslav Tůma - organ
Live recordings on eight different instruments throughout the world: Doksy (Czech Republic), Passau, Munchen, Frankfurt (Germany), Milano (Italy), Karlskrona (Sweden), Cambridge (United States), Annaka (Japan)

Improvisation has always been linked with the art of organ playing. There were, of course, times when singers and instrumentalists were also able to play the organ in addition to their main instrument, for example, the violinist Nicolo Paganini or the pianist Franz Liszt who, last century, dazzled audiences at their concerts with their ability to improvise on given themes. It was particularly common for the improvisation of cadenzas during instrumental concerts. ___ Nevertheless it was this royal instrument which was supreme in the performance of impromtu playing technique, whether during church services or as part of a concert. The art of improvisation is taught at music schools and colleges even though it is now thought that discipline is of paramount importance, albeit to a limited degree. In order to improvise well the musician is required to have not only special talent but also comprehensive theoretical and practical knowledge of a whole range of subjects. These include harmony, counterpoint, musical theory, musical forms and, to a certain degree, also an appreciation of aesthetics, philosophy and musical composition itself. ___ Basically improvisers may follow two possible courses, firstly performance using a concrete form and defined style, secondly attempting to achieve contemporary expression which is also coupled with a freer form. Both approaches can merge with one another. Extreme examples of the first approach were evidently used to greatest effect by the French organist and composer Marcel Dupre (1886-1971) who was known to have practised improvisation regularly for several hours a day even in his later years. It was only through this endeavour that it became possible, on any given theme, for him to produce the sparkling, technically demanding passages which we recognise from his compositions. ___ My teacher of improvisation at the Conservatoire and at the Academy of Performing Arts was professor Jaroslav Vodrazka (born 1930) whose performances were captured on a number of recordings from the 1960s to the 1980s. He also used improvisation to brilliantly finish off many partially completed fugues written by old Czech masters. ___ It may seem strange to some that improvisation can be "practised". This, however, is essential for every improviser. He has to know how to assemble many building blocks - all manner of approaches, beginning with basic harmonic links and ending with expositions of fugues or practising virtuoso stylised passages.

The improvisation on this CD which you have in your hands is a product of work performed during the course of several years. Almost all of them are from public concerts; only at Doksy did I play just for a few friends. ___ I was given the themes in Munich, Harvard, Frankfurt and Japan just before the beginning of play; in Passau I was given slightly more time. The theme in Doksy was selected by me just before the performance, as in Milan. In Karlskrona I used improvisation to complete a work I wrote for the clavichord which itself orginally also emerged as a result of improvisation on a given theme. In this particular case, it is not a matter of "pure" improvisation. ___ This collection of improvisations was compiled from pieces which were originally three times as long which had been set aside for possible inclusion in the recording. It is meant to be a document of important instruments, various methods of work with musical material; it also, however, exemplifies a presentation of my views of contemporary musical expression which, at the end of a century replete with all manner of movements and trends (for example, the 2nd Viennese School on the one hand or L. Bernstein on the other), comes back (how many times now ?) to the intentional simplification of musical composition and a more straightforward address to the public. ___The majority of the pieces are multi-style, the homophonic features are alternated with polyphonic passages, sometimes you will hear elements from the realm of atonality or, on the contrary, minimal music; from the point of view of form, the audience will recognise certain principles (not, of course, in the strict sense of the word) of song and variation forms; the principle of the sonata form is also used (Munich) or the passacaglia forms. ___ The moment the improvisation begins, I always try, first of all, to adapt my performance to the music itself. Then I adapt it to the instruments of which each one on this CD is a real "personality". A whole range of organs have been used, from the mighty cathedral organ to the single-manual organ with several registers (Milan, Doksy). The style orientation of the pieces also differs. From the Renaissance Doksy and the Baroque Milan or Karlskrona and the Romantic Frankfurt organ with the cone chest to the modern instruments with electric memory combinations. It was only in Munich that I tried to achieve style universality during my performance on the organ which of course, from the point of view of modern organ-playing is considered impossible and also somewhat undesirable; in this case, however, a certain universality of sound was replaced by the effect of the disconcerting echoes whose length (11 seconds) is used in the improvisation for purposes of both expression and form. ___ There is a certain problem which deserves a mention arising during improvisation on instruments which limit the musician not only with the number and colour of its registers but also with its other parametres. When playing the organ at Karlskrona or Doksy I found myself in the situation where I was forced to accommodate the specific nature of these historical instruments, as given in the original construction of the wedge-shaped bellows. This results in an immense "liveliness" of tone which, apart from a flourish of authenticity, brings with the changes of settings or number of voices not only significant alternations in tone pitch (swinging) but sometimes it even creates noises which I conceive as a necessary expressional enrichment of the music performed on given authentic instruments. ___ I also try to use the various historical uneven tuning systems (Doksy, Karlskrona, Milan) to underline the colour differences in the sound of note clusters or chords. In Munich and Passau the audience experienced the unusual colours of the chimes and the exotic language registers, for example, with the horizontally set "Spanish" trumpet stops. In Annaka in Japan the excellent contemporary Swiss organ firm Kuhn was inspired by the Baroque organ-makers to include such detail as the installation of Zimbelstern. It would have been hard for me not to use it during the improvisation. The whole expression is sometimes also created using completely random details, for example, the sound of a motorbike passing by the church just after the final chord of the Frankfurt improvisation and my subsequent energetic shifting of the register stops. ___ Some of the pieces used were recorded using professional equipment, others were made in an entirely amateur fashion even though a digital recorder was used at the time. I have my improvisations at concerts recorded on a regular basis since subsequent hearings of the recordings allows me to judge reliably the positive and negative points of the improvisation techniques I have chosen. If I am not satisfied with the result, which is common for every improviser, it is chiefly memories of professor Vodrazka which encourage me to include further improvisations in my concert programmes; Vodrazka was fond of talking about the famous declarations of German organist J. E. Koehler where he stated that, apart from talent and hard work, you need a good dose of effrontery for concert improvisation.  Public improvisation is, in my opinion, always a risky affair with no guarantee of success but, if the improvisation goes off well, it can signify something exceptional both for the public and the organist, something which can hardly be described in words. The exceptional nature of the experience is clearly rooted in the combination of both composer and interpreter in one person in real time, also with respect to the often puzzling inspirational spiritual plane...

The idea to record my improvisations on CD had been shaping itself within me for some time but the actual prompt which led to the production of this CD came in the autumn of 1994 from various friends, independently of one another. When judging the recordings we came across various problems where it was necessary to solve not only the difficulty of tying them in with each other from the technical point of view but also, in particular, from the musical standpoint where, since it was a question of musical form and expression, it was our aim to achieve the best result from all the organs represented.

Jaroslav Tůma

© 2HP Production, October 2017
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