One of the first pieces of modern organ music I discovered was Peter Dickinson’s Three Statements, dating from around 1964. I think that I found the sheet music in a second-hand bookshop in the early ‘70s’, so perhaps it was a review copy, or maybe it had belonged to an organist who found that it was not to his taste.
Ten years ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing Peter Dickinson’s ‘complete’ organ works which was released on Naxos 8.572169 during 2009. I gave my considered opinion that the Three Statements were ‘interesting, if a little dated in their sound-world.’ Having revisited them in recent days, I find that I misjudged them. To be fair, in the past decade I have been listening to much music composed between 1950 and 1970, so perhaps I have just got my eye (or ear) in to this style of music.
Peter Dickinson has written (CD Liner Notes) that ‘the Three Statements…arose from some work in improvisation I was doing with students, documented in a series of six articles in The Musical Times.’ So, clearly, they hint at this creative world rather than that of a formally constructed set of pieces. The work dates from the time that the composer had returned to Cambridge after study at the Julliard School in New York. During that period, Dickinson became familiar with music as diverse as Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber and John Cage.
Only the first Statement was in my gift as an organist, with its rolling melody played on the ‘choir’ organ and supported by soft cluster-chords on the ‘swell.’ The pedal part was made up of a short phrase containing two or more descending fifths. As the signed speed was ‘♩=84’ or ‘adagio’ it was quite easy to perform. I guess that the congregation at the Church of Scotland where I was assistant organist did not rate it. I was certainly never asked to play it again. One senior member felt that it was a little ‘long-haired.’
The second Statement, also an ‘adagio,’ has a collection of typically descending chords, often inverted triads, but sometimes with added notes. These have a jazzy syncopation about them. This is supported by a G major triad played on the swell, which continues until the end of the piece, with only a couple of added notes and suspensions introduced in the last few bars. The pedal part is played loud and is largely based on a rising tritone. The final C natural is played ‘fff’. I do find the sustained chord just a little irritating on the ear. The impact of this piece is created by the strong chords, which ‘modulate’ over a wide tonal range on the ‘great’ and the ‘choir’ organ, contrasted with the whisper on the ‘swell’ which never raises its voice beyond ‘pp’.
In the third Statement the contrast is straightforward: between a chorale-like few bars played on the ‘swell organ’ and a contrapuntal section for the ‘choir’ manuals only which repeats three times. The chorale is written using several parallel chords built on the fourth (e.g. E, A, D, G, C). The contrasting section uses a gently undulating left hand part against a wider spaced melody which never really comes into step. Much of the Statement is composed in 5/4 time. The piece concludes with a chords built on perfect fourths, separated by a variety of intervals.
All three Statements are good examples of organ music. Clearly, they belong to the era they were composed, but their interest holds in 2019.