Premiered August 3, 2019 by Brenda Portman for the Gaslight Chamber Music Series at Calvary Episcopal Church, Cincinnati, OH
Genevan Suite for organ takes its inspiration from the Genevan Psalter of 1562; each of the four movements is based on a different tune from the Psalter. The opening movement presents the first theme [Genevan 98: Sing Sing a New Song to the Lord God] in broad statements, one phrase at a time, interspersed with imitative sections. The dancelike motive introduced in bar 28 is suggestive of music from around the time of the Genevan Psalter, such as the brass choir music of Giovanni Gabrieli.
The second movement is a salute to the connection between the Genevan Psalter and the Netherlands. Even though the Psalter itself originated in Geneva, Switzerland, Calvinism was strong in the Netherlands, and many Reformed churches in America were founded by the Dutch, who brought the Genevan melodies with them. In this movement, the music of Dutch composer Bert Matter (b. 1937) is used as a model, and the tune [Genevan 107: The Lord Will Come and Not Be Slow] is put through some of the minimalist techniques that Matter uses in pieces such as Psalm 65 and Fantaisie sur “Une jeune fillette.” The repetitive patterns are based primarily on scale degrees 1, 5, and 7, a scheme that returns again for trumpet passages in the fourth movement. The four-part chorale is stated in its entirety at the beginning and the end, with the melody in the soprano voice initially and in the tenor voice to conclude, also a technique used by Matter.
In the third movement, fragments of the melody [Genevan 124: If God the Lord Were Not Our Constant Help] are shuffled around, extended, and treated with warm 8’ sonorities, resembling the richness of Chesnokov’s Salvation Is Created.
The final movement introduces the most familiar Genevan tune [Genevan 42: Comfort, Comfort Now My People] which is commonly sung during the season of Advent. The original text, “As a Deer in Want of Water,” is the true Psalm 42, but the more popular text from Isaiah 40 has been chosen for this movement because the joyful, declamatory spirit of the piece is more in line with the hope and triumph that are depicted in those words. Trumpet calls represent “the voice of one calling in the desert” to prepare the way for the Lord, and toccata-like passages and pedal solos bring out the rhythmic, dancelike quality of the Genevan tune. About halfway through, the tune becomes subjected to 4/4 meter for a chorale-like presentation which then erupts into a toccata, concluding with a final trumpet call.