When Miguel Felipe was designing the postcard for tonight’s Advent Procession 2011, he asked me what organ music I was playing. “No prelude, no postlude” I said. “This is a choral service.” And this morning, Advent I, was another of those rare services in which I did not play a organ prelude. That is because we used Peter Hallock’s “Advent Litany,” to open the service. (By the way, it was my first time playing the Advent Litany [since Carl used to always play it] and everything went fine.)
What I have had to practice, though, is the accompaniment to Kenneth Leighton’s “Magnificat,” from his Second Service, which Miguel proclaimed as “the best piece in the whole Advent Procession.” Leighton (1929-1988) was born in Wakefield, England and started composing when he was only eight years old. He was a chorister at Wakefield Cathedral then attended Queens College, Oxford. He held a number of academic positions before becoming a professor of music at the University of Edinburg, where he remained until his untimely death. It has been said that his music is characterized by “lyricism, rhythmic energy, virtuoso writing, and a penchant for instrumental colour.” Some think his music was influenced by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten and William Walton.
Leighton’s Second Service was commissioned in 1971 for the Cathedral Organists’ Association and is dedicated to the memory of Brian Runnett, a talented organist and choirmaster of Norwich Cathedral who was tragically killed in a car accident. It begins with slow tone clusters, and gradually builds to a fast and rhythmic section (this is the part that is so challenging to me as an organist, as I am used to mostly playing Bach!) I guess it is the syncopation of it all and the fast tempo that keeps me on my toes — literally! Thankfully, the slow section is reprised at the end, and I end the piece by myself, on the soft flute stop on the swell division, and the box shut.
Wish me luck that I don’t get lost!