Recording the first published organ works of Henry Smart (1813-1879) on the 1882 John Nicholson organ at St. Christoforuskerk, Schagen.
While Henry Smart was well known for his vocal music publications from about 1840 onwards, his organ music did not appear in publishers catalogues until much later. There are probably two reasons for this. First, Smart was a celebrated improviser and had little need to write his organ music down. According to his biographer William Spark (1823-1897) he could produce perfectly formed pieces spontaneously and did so every Sunday in the course of his duties as an organist; and when he gave concerts, he invariably included an extempore performance in the programme.[i] Secondly, the organ in England was going through a period of change, not least in respect of the adoption of C compass pedal-boards. In the 1840s and 1850s, the number of organs with such pedals was still limited, as was the number of performers who had mastered them. Hence the market for organ music written for the German pedal-board did not take off until the mid- to late 1860s. On the other hand, music written for the old GG compass quickly became obsolete. For example, the early editions of Samuel Sebastian Wesley´s organ works had to be revised for later publication. Whatever the reasons, it is likely that Smart´s first organ publications embody a style of composition established much earlier in his improvised performances.
Spark recounts how in 1851 he had played over with Smart the manuscript of his Con moto in B flat for organ.[ii] This movement and a three-part Trio in E were eventually published by Wessel & Co. sometime before 1860, when the company became Ashdown & Parry. The Series of Organ Pieces in Various Styles continued under the new imprint, though the exact publication dates are unclear. The British Library gives accession dates of 1854 for Nos. 1 and 2 and 1867 for Nos. 3-5. Further works by Smart were published at frequent intervals in the Organists Quarterly Journal beginning with its first issue in 1869, and at around the same time Novello & Co. began its own collection: Henry Smart´s Original Compositions for Organ. Finally, the latter series was republished to include the pieces originally from Ashdown & Parry, as well as those issued in the OQJ.[iii]
The organ on which I made my recording was transferred from St. Mary Magdalene´s church, Worcester to St. Christoforuskerk, Schagen (North Holland) and restored there by J. C. Bishop and Son in 1981. It has all the advantages of the medium-sized, nineteenth-century English organ including mechanical action, a varied palette of orchestral tone colors and registration aids (three Combination Pedals to Swell and three to Great). Sited on the floor on the north side of the church it speaks without impediment into the resonant space. The singing quality of the organ is very special and the mechanical action is responsive and stimulating. Each stop is full of character when drawn alone and adds tangibly to the plenum in combination. The stop list corresponds quite closely to Smart´s organ at St. Luke´s, Old Street (rebuilt Gray and Davison, 1844) while also showing some features of his later instrument at St. Pancras (also rebuilt Gray and Davison, 1865). However, in terms of tonal pedigree, a closer comparison is with the Nicholson organ now at Portsmouth Cathedral, originally built for Manchester Cathedral (1861).[iv]
Choir (C-g3) manual I
Great (C-g3) manual II
Swell (C-g3) manual III
Cremona 8′ TC
Wald Flüte 4′
Small open diapason 8′
1. Clar. 8, WFl. 4
1. Gam. 8, LG. 8, HFl. 4
Octave on Pedals
Trigger Swell Pedal
Wind pressure: 2.75 inch = ca. 69 mm
Pitch: a1 = ca 450 Hz
Table 1. Specification of the 1882 John Nicholson Organ at St.Christoforuskerk, Schagen
A Series of Organ Pieces in various Styles
The original title was á Six organ pieces, intended as introductory to the characteristic difficulties of the instrument. Nos 1,2. Dedicated to his friend Thomas Adams. Spark suggests that Smart was initially commissioned to write twelve such pieces.[v] The five that eventually appeared were:
No 1 Con moto in B flat
No 2 Moderato con moto (A Three Part Study) in E
No 3 Allegro maestoso (Fantasia with Choral) in G
No 4 Allegro moderato in A
No 5 Con moto moderato (En forme de Ouverture) in D minor
The only precedent for English organ music of this complexity up to this time is in the works of S. S. Wesley (1810-1876). However, Wesley relies on pianistic figuration for the manuals, while his pedal lines, conceived for GG compass, reinforce the harmony rather than taking part in the thematic dialogue. Some of the early works of W. T. Best show a more modern approach to organ style, for example his Fantasia in E flat, Op.1 (c.1850) and Sonata in G major, Op.38 (1858), though themes and textures are not always entirely idiomatic. While it is true that the organ sonatas of Mendelssohn, published in England in 1845, had a profound effect this does not explain Smart´s full integration of the pedals into the compositional process almost at a stroke, for which he must take considerable credit. It is worth noting that, with the exception of a Fughetta, No.12 from Twelve Short and Easy Pieces, and the fugal Finale from the A major Variations, Smart showed no interest in formal fugue. He preferred a relaxed contrapuntal idiom, inspired by long-breathed melodies and enveloped in rich, chromatically inflected harmonies. Everything is carefully crafted and not a note is out of place or misjudged.
The Con moto in B flat is based on sonata form. The opening theme is a good illustration of Smart´s lyrical gift, and in particular of his powers of melodic extension. While the introduction stays firmly in the tonic key, the Allegro theme that follows, starting in the tonic, quickly modulates to G minor, and a period of quasi-fugal development based on a falling semi-tone motif ensues (Figure 1). The 2nd subject is in the expected key of F major. This leads eventually to a cadence on the dominant of D minor marking the smooth transition to the development section in which the fugal motif is argued extensively. The recapitulation is an abbreviated one, based only on the Con moto theme, with no re-appearance of the Allegro theme or of the 2nd subject. The overall effect of the piece is of an effortless flow of ideas and themes, with a rich harmonic palette and a satisfying sense of architecture.
Moderato con moto (A Three Part Study) is a mellifluous trio showing Smart´s absorption of elements of Bach´s contrapuntal technique. However, the intended performance style is very different from an eighteenth-century trio. In a footnote the composer writes: “The piece is intended to be played on one Manual (the Great Organ with Swell Reeds coupled) and Pedal. It is unnecessary to give any further directions as to the Stops to be employed, beyond that the varieties of tone indicated by the marks p, f &c, are to be made with the Composition Pedals, while the use of the Swell Pedal is occasionally indicated by the signs.”
Fantasia with Choral is an energetic Allegro maestoso in G major, again with sonata form features, in which the chorale theme, an invented one by Smart, appears in minim chords as the second subject in B flat (Voix humaine or Oboe with tremulant, swell box closed), returning at the end of the recapitulation on full organ to provide an emphatic conclusion. It is clearly modeled on the first movement of Mendelssohn´s F minor sonata. Allegro moderato in A major is in ternary form, the middle section being in the flat mediant key of C. There is a strong lyrical feel to the movement and some suggestion of orchestral textures and sonorities. This is even more the case in the Con moto moderato (En forme de Ouverture), which has a slow introduction with clarinet and flute solos, and a triple-time Allegro (not marked) with syncopated String figures and entries for orchestral basses. Despite being virtuosic in its demands, it is very well written for the instrument, with lucid textures and economical scoring.
Dynamics and Registration
Smart is very precise about registration, often using specified pitches as a substitute for dynamic markings. It is clear from the themes and textures that Smart has in mind an orchestral sonority based on eight-foot pitch. In performing at Schagen I was especially keen to follow the composer´s markings as accurately as possible. For example, No.1 opens with 8′ and 16′ foundations and with manuals uncoupled. Other typical registrations found here are 220.127.116.11 foundations on the Great (at the Allegro) and 16.8.4 foundations on the Swell (for the 2nd Subject, with the box closed). A typical orchestral device is reeds in octaves on the Swell. The build up of tone in the development section sees mixtures added first and reeds used at the climax, while the order is reversed for the subsequent reduction in intensity. Interestingly, the recapitulation has 8′ tone only, rather than 8′ and 16′, softening the effect and increasing the sense of nostalgia.
In No.2, there is a range of notated dynamics from piano to fortissimo with specific indications for the use of the swell pedal and for the combination pedals. It is clear from Smart´s footnote (see above) that the main dynamic changes are to be achieved by the Great Combination Pedals. At Schagen, these bring on the following stops:
Gt. Comb. Pedal 1 (piano): Clarabella 8′, Keraulophon 8′
Gt. Comb. Pedal 2 (forte): Small Open Diapason 8′, Clarabella 8′, Principal 4′
Gt. Comb. Pedal 3 (fortissimo): Tutti: all except Waldflute 4′
In the piano passages in which swell reeds are coupled to Great foundations, there is a strong resonance with French registration practice. In particular, there is a tonal parallel between this three-part study and the Pastorale Op. 19 (1860-62) in the same key by Cesar Franck, especially in the trio sections.
The opening of No.3 is marked forte, but has no indication of registration. Two interpretations are possible: either Great foundations to Principal 4′ (or Fifteenth); or a fuller registration including the four-rank Mixture, which I adopted. There is no indication that the Swell should be coupled to the Great at any point, allowing a minimum of registration changes for the whole piece. There is no Voix humaine on the Schagen organ so, for the central section (choral theme) I used the Swell Oboe, alternating this with the Choir Stopped Diapason alone (Choir soft 8 feet) which balanced perfectly. There being no tremulant available, I added the Vox Celeste to the Oboe for a touch of mystery. Since there is no part for pedals in this section, it is not necessary to alter the pedal registration. For the concluding statement of the chorale fortissimo, I added the Great and Pedal reeds. Smart´s approach to dynamics and registration is entirely practical and allows the player to realise the specified changes without compromising the continuity of the music.
No.4 begins with three contrasted sonorities: foundations on the Great, a Choir combination, and a Swell reeds combination. The implication is that these are roughly equivalent in dynamic level. To balance the Great 8′ diapasons I used the Swell Open Diapason 8′ with Gemshorn 4′ and Oboe; on the Choir I had the Stopped Diapason 8′, together with the registers at 4′ and 2′. For climactic effects within this basic dynamic level, the addition of Great 4′ and 2′ stops makes a tangible difference to the plenum and yet is achievable by adding individual stops by hand. For rapid diminuendo and crescendo passages, the combination pedals are necessary, especially for the middle period reduction (Comb. II), and for the final climax (Comb. III).
As previously indicated, No.5 uses an overtly orchestral form and tonal palette. In the introductory passage one can discern sections for full orchestra, interjections for woodwind choir, solos for clarinet, and possibly for oboe, cellos and violas. For the triple time Allegro I used Comb. I (Clarabella, Keraulophon) with the addition of the Small Open Diapason for the “violin” melody, and Swell Open Diapason and both reeds for the syncopated accompaniment (Figure 2). The Swell was coupled to the Great giving the possibility of a magnificent cresendo in which I could miss out Comb. II and go straight to Comb. III fortissimo. For a measured but rapid diminuendo, Comb. II and I in sequence were necessary. Where 18.104.22.168 was indicated I found that the 16′ register obscured the definition of the rapid passagework, so this was omitted.
Smart is known to have been particular about his metronomes marks. In a letter to George Tetley in 1878 with regard to a performance of his cantata King Ren´s Daughter he states: ´Of course a great matter in the performance of works such as this is, that the various movements should be given with their intended times. I believe, however, that the work is marked throughout with a metronome time.´[vi] Unfortunately, Smart only gives a an exact measure for around a quarter of the organ works.[vii] For the remainder, however, it is possible to deduce an approximate metronomic value by looking for equivalents in other movements with the same Italian term indication. Following this procedure I was able to construct a methodical approach to tempo.
For the start of No.1, Con moto in B flat, I used q = 88, using as reference theCon moto moderato movements for which Smart indicates a range of tempi from q = 80 (H.67 and H.73) to q = 96 (H.74). The absence of the qualifying term moderato implies the slightly quicker pace, as does the music. At Poco piu animato, quasi Allegro I increased the tempo to q = 120 by analogy with the Allegro section of the Postlude in E flat (H. 108) where Smart indicates this mark. For No. 2: Moderato con moto (A Three Part Study) in E, I needed to take a much slower tempo than at first suggested by the texture and character of the motives, especially in view of the full registration and resonant acoustic. My first source of comparison was the Con moto moderato movements cited above. However, the trio implies a quaver rather than a crotchet beat, and I chose a tempo hovering around e = 92. In practice, there is considerable variation in pulse as the emotional intensity of the music ebbs and flows. This moderate tempo allowed time for the registration changes to be effected with clarity and without undue haste. The use of the combination pedals and the trigger swell force the performer to take time if clarity is not to be sacrificed, especially when reducing from forte or fortissimo to mezzo-forte or piano.
In No. 3, Allegro maestoso (Fantasia with Choral) in G, I took the Finale Fugato (Allegro moderato) from the A major variations (H. 72) as a model. Both pieces have considerable semi-quaver activity, implying a measured crotchet pulse. Smart gives q = 69 for the variations, and I took the same measure for this piece, although I increased this slightly to around q = 72 for the choral theme section. A moderating factor in the outer sections was the overwhelming sonority resulting from the inclusion of the brilliant four-rank Great Mixture.
By contrast with No. 3, the main note-value of the passagework in No. 4, Allegro moderato in A, is the quaver rather than the semi-quaver, hence a tempo of q = 120. This equates to the Allegro section of No.1, and to the Allegro from the Postlude in E flat previously cited. I based the slow introduction of No. 5, Con moto moderato (En forme de Ouverture on the similar introduction to the Postlude in E flat: q = 54. There is no equivalent for the triple time Allegro except in orchestral models by Mozart, Rossini etc. on which Smart obviously based his conception. Hence, I took a brisk q = 126 to replicate the orchestral style of the music. This is further implied by the semi-quaver roulades and broken chords found in the manuals.
By interrogating tempo as a crucial element, I was able to achieve a measure of consistency in my performance decisions. In general, the process led to slower speeds than would probably have resulted from applying contemporary norms. By adopting broad tempi I had sufficient time to manage the mechanics of the instrument its solid tracker action, the combination pedals and the trigger swell. I could also allow the long-breathed melodies time to take effect in the resonant acoustic of the building. The use of the trigger swell, while demanding for the modern player, repays the effort in its subtle gradations of tone and possibilities for accent. It is also possible to release this type of pedal at the appropriate moment and allow it to return to the closed position under its own momentum for a perfect diminuendo, meanwhile leaving both feet free for pedaling (Figure 3).
This series of pieces represents some of the first characteristic organ music of quality to be written in England. It shows that, by around 1850, Smart had already mastered the continental-style instrument and started to exploit the new possibilities of an independent pedal line. Very little changed in Smart´s compositional style over the next thirty years. He remained satisfied with his early achievements and immune to the progressive tendencies of Liszt and Wagner. Whilst in the period up to 1890 Smart´s organ music was among the most frequently performed in England, its currency gradually declined, and by 1930 its presence in the repertoire was a mere shadow.[viii] By using for my recording a type of instrument with which Smart was familiar together with a close reading of the musical text, I hope it has been possible to recapture the character of the music without resorting to anachronistic performing practices. It goes without saying that it was important to use the original texts free from late nineteenth and early twentieth-century accretions. Approached in this way, the music is its own, eloquent advocate, and can rightly claim a place alongside the most accomplished instrumental writing of the mid-nineteenth-century in England.
Metronome marks indicated by Smart in his organ works. (H. numbers refer to David Hill´s work list)
Grand Solemn March (H. 62): q = 76
Three Andantes, Set 2 (H. 63-65)
1. Andante No 1 in G major: q = 76
2. Andante No 2 in A major: e = 112
3. Andante No 3 in E minor: q = 88
From Six Short and Easy Pieces (H. 66-71)
1. Poco Adagio in D major: e = 66
2. Con moto moderato in F major: q = 80
Air with variations and Finale Fugato (H. 72)
Air: Andante quasi allegretto ma moderato: e = 80
Var. 1: Quasi staccato: e = 88
Var. 2: (no indication given, but same movement implied as Var.1)
Var. 3: e = 76
Var. 4: e = 80
Var. 5: e = 88
Var. 6: q = 92
Var. 7: q = 48
Var. 8: e = 72
Var. 9: q = 72
Finale Fugato: q = 69 Allegro Moderato
Twelve short and easy pieces (H. 73-84)
1. Con moto moderato E flat: q = 80
2. Con moto moderato in F: q = 96
3. Andante tranquillo in G: e = 92
4. Soprano melody in B flat: e = 92
5. Andante grazioso in F: q = 69
6. Quasi Pastorale – Andante tranquillamente in G: e = 96
7. Andante con moto quasi allegretto in q = 104
8. Andante moderato in D: q = 80
9. Grazioso in F: e = 112
10. Evening Prayer – Andante solenelle in A: q = 60
11. Prelude – Allegro moderato in C: q = 112
12. Fughetta – Moderato in C : q = 104
Two pieces (H. 85-6)
1. Prelude – molto moderato in A: e = 69
2. Postlude – con spirito ma moderato in C: q = 78
Minuet Allegro in C (H. 106): q = 112
Postlude in E flat (H. 108) Andante lento: q = 54; Allegro: q = 120
Three Sacred Choruses by Rossini (arr. Smart) (1862)
1. Faith: Andantino e = 126
2. Hope: Andante: q = 69
3. Charity: Andante molto: q = 88
[i] For an account of Smart improvising at St. Sulpice, Paris, see Spark, W., Henry Smart: His life and works (London, 1881), 132-3.
[ii] Ibid., 249: referring to the Con moto in B flat,´It was in the year of the Great Exhibition, 1851, when he was living in Regent´s Park Terrace, that he showed me the manuscript of this piece, and asked me to try it over with him on the pianoforte.´
[iii] Hill, D., Henry Smart (1813-1879): Neglected nineteenth-century organ master ´a reappraisal (Schagen, 1988), 72.
[iv] For this insight I am indebted to Jim Berrow.
[v] Spark, W., ibid., 249-252.
[vi] Ibid., 159-60
[vii]A list of all the organ works for which Smart gave metronome marks appears at the end of this article.
[viii] For an analysis of 17,000 organ recital programmes over the period 1880-1930 see: Henderson, J., A directory of composers for the organ, 3rd, ed., Swindon, 2005, 911-28.