St Petersburg, Concert Hall

Elgar. Saint-Saëns. Dvořák. Tchaikovsky. Duruflé

Evening of organ music

Edward Elgar. Vesperklange
Camille Saint-Saëns. Three Rhapsodies
Antonín Dvořák. Biblical Songs
Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Two romances
Maurice Duruflé. Requiem for Soloists, Chorus and Organ

Nadezhda Khadzheva (mezzo-soprano)
Fyodor Uvarov (baritone)
Sergei Alexashkin (bass)
Oleg Kinyaev (organ)
Nikita Kinyaev (cello)

Mariinsky Theatre Chorus
Principal Chorus Master and Conductor: Andrei Petrenko

Organ Disposition >>


Edward Elgar (1857–1934) was a representative of the Romantic organ school and Great Britain’s most important composer after Henry Purcell. The noble style that makes Elgar’s music instantly recognisable emerged gradually. It was only at the age of forty that the composer won renown and confidence in his own abilities. His vast creative legacy includes symphonies, concertos for various instruments, music for theatre, cantatas and oratorios, organ works, chamber and piano music and arrangements and transcriptions. Elgar’s organ style naturally finds itself at the heart of traditions of his time. The organ, in terms of its timbre and expressive possibilities, like those of a symphony orchestra, was the inspiration behind the composer’s artistic ideas. The typical features of symphony music were transferred into the art of the organ. This is how the “organ” version of a symphonic sonata cycle and myriad new and unexpected solutions emerged.


Camille Saint-Saëns, the organist of the Églises Sainte-Marie and La Madeleine, wrote a tremendous number of works for organ. This can probably be explained by the fact that the composer, according to contemporaries, preferred to improvise during a service, when he performed recorded works extremely rarely. Like his Austrian contemporary Anton Bruckner, Saint-Saëns was no admirer of the “symphony organ” invented by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, as it was extremely unsuited to the polyphonic structure typical of Bach which is predominant in his compositions. At the same time, in his signature as a composer one may sense the orchestral colour of thought and the imitation of orchestral timbres. The influence of the piano style, too, can be seen just as vividly in his music. Saint-Saëns’ organ music draws us with its clarity of thought, the harmonious peace and the velvety modulations. It is filled with softness and serene light, which is a rare phenomenon in the music of Romantic composers.


Antonín Dvořák’s Biblical Songs, op. 99 (1894) is a vocal cycle for baritone and piano, which can be replaced by the organ. The cycle was written during Dvořák’s time in America following the triumphant premiere of the New World Symphony. It is based on an ancient Czech text borrowed from the “Kralitz Bible” (a translation of the Holy Scriptures into Czech). In the 12th and 13th centuries, the intoning of Biblical texts was normally intended for high voices – sopranos or castratos, but Dvořák rethought this tradition and selected a baritone. The baritone timbre sounds earthly rather than angelic and the spiritual texts are adorned in more personal and warmer tones. For nine parts, the composer chose the texts himself, uniting within them separate lines from various psalms. Parts 1, 5 and 10 praise the power of God; parts 2, 4 and 9 are the realisation that God exists for mankind; parts 3, 6 and 8 are prayers; part 7 shows a clear analogy of meaning – Babylon means New York, and Zion and Jerusalem stand for his native Czech lands.



Maurice Duruflé's Requiem for Soloists, Chorus and Organ (1947) occupies a special position in this French composer and organist’s legacy. The words “Requiem aeternam” (“Eternal peace”) form the start of a Catholic prayer for the repose of the dead. In the Baroque and Classical era, composers wrote church songs to this canonical Latin text, which were performed during services for the dead. From the late 18th century, from Mozart’s times, the requiem lost its cult character and its performances were moved to the concert stage. In turning to the requiem genre, Duruflé continued the connection with the spiritual and artistic legacy of past centuries. But the form, the expressive means and the character of the work do not coincide with the normal interpretation of the genre. The composer created a requiem where the main idea is not death and scenes of the Day of Judgement (as it was with Mozart, Verdi and Berlioz), but rather Faith, Rest, Peace and Love; where the image of death is seen as a long-awaited release, the transition to higher spheres of non-existence.

Anna Kolenkova


Age category 6+

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