Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Kenneth Leighton: Fanfare for Organ: 1966 (50th Anniversary)

The twentieth-century produced four major British composers contributing sizable catalogues of music for the organ:  Herbert Howells, William Mathias, Francis Jackson and Kenneth Leighton. Leighton’s organ music is not in the trajectory of Howells, in spite of there being some fingerprints of the elder composer in the pages of these scores. He has looked to Europe for inspiration rather than the organ lofts of English Cathedrals. Paul Hindemith and Bela Bartok would appear to have an important influence on Leighton’s sound-word: influences from Flor Peeters and Hendrik Andriessen have also been remarked on.

Kenneth Leighton was born in Wakefield, West Riding on 2 October 1929. He enrolled as a chorister at Wakefield Cathedral and at the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School.  Moving to Queen’s College in Oxford, he graduated with BA in Classics and BMus. During 1956, Leighton was appointed by the University of Edinburgh as Lecturer in Music.  His academic career continued here with preferment to Senior Lecturer, Reader and finally Reid Professor of Music (1970). Kenneth Leighton died in Edinburgh on 24 August 1988.  
As a composer, Leighton produced more than a 100 substantial compositions covering a wide variety of genres. These include three symphonies, several concertos, a deal of church music and an opera based on the life of St. Columba.

The first major organ work was the Prelude, Scherzo and Passacaglia, published by Novello in 1963. Two years later, Leighton contributed an ‘Elegy’ to Novello’s Music before Service album. The year1966 also saw ‘Et Resurrexit’ (Theme, Fantasy and Fugue) op.49 which was first performed at Brompton Parish Church on 16 November of that year. It was subsequently published by Novello.

The ‘Fanfare’ was Organ was composed in 1966. It was a commission from Oxford University Press for the album, Easy Modern Organ Music: Six Pieces by Modern Composers which was duly published in 1967. Other works in this album included Alun Hoddinott: Intrada; William Mathias: Chorale, Christopher Brown: Nocturne, John McCabe: Pastorale sostenuto and Arnold Cooke: Impromptu.  The same year also saw a commission by OUP for ‘Paean’ to be included their Modern Organ Music, Volume 2, also first published in 1967.  The ‘Fanfare’ was subsequently issued in A Leighton Organ Album (OUP) issued in 2002.
In a review of Easy Modern Organ Music printed in the American Music Teacher (February/March 1968) E.J. Hilty pointed out that ‘All of these compositions have one thing in common: dissonance! Dissonance can be fun if you will not give up at first trial.’ The critic considered that ‘a ‘Fanfare’ by Leighton could be used as a short processional.’

‘Fanfare’ is written for a two manual organ with pedals. No particular registration is indicated, however the piece is to be played ‘In a moderate march time-very rhythmical’ and is ‘brillante.’ The work is in a loosely ternary form. After a short one bar introduction the main material of the march tune is presented. This is followed by a transition based on arpeggiated minor seventh chords. The middle section, ‘trio’ is heard ‘cantabile’ on the swell organ with the tune accompanied by chordal comments of various densities. After the return of the main march theme, the chordal structure is largely parallel second inversions. The work concludes with an echo of the opening gesture and ends on a solid D major chord.
The pedal part is largely supportive of the ‘manual voices’ with little to trouble the organist’s feet. It is mostly based on a rising fourth motif.

Peter Hardwick in his British Organ Music (2003) suggests that the work has ‘an engaging brightness and rhythmic forward thrust’ which is achieved by the ‘symmetrical phrases that begin on weak beats.’ 

In 1995 Priory Records issued The Complete Organ Works of Kenneth Leighton on PRCD 326 (3 CDs): Dennis Townhill plays the organ of St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh. Leighton’s ‘Fanfare’ for Organ is currently available on ‘An Organ Pilgrimage’ played by Peter Latona on Basilica of the National Shrine, Washington D.C., USA (OAR 560, 2001). The work was released on LP: Wealden WS139 with Malcolm McKelvey playing the organ of Christ’s Hospital in Sussex.  I expect that it will be included in Resonus’ ongoing survey of Leighton’s organ music.

Kenneth Leighton: ‘Fanfare’ for Organ (1966) can also be heard on YouTube in a number of recordings. I enjoyed Carson Cooman playing an uncited organ.  

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