The Organ Concerto is dedicated to Simon Preston and was commissioned by the Three Choirs Festival with funds from South West Arts. The first performance was given in Gloucester Cathedral on August 22 1971, with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Louis Frémaux. The second performance was with the same forces, but with Christopher Robinson as soloist, in Birmingham Town Hall on December 2 1971. The first BBC broadcast was given by Simon Preston with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Atherton, from St Albans Abbey on July 8, 1977. Jennifer Bate, who has also recorded my solo organ music, made this recording at the Royal Festival Hall on January 31, 1986.
Whilst the Piano Concerto has three different thematic sources, the Organ Concerto has only one. I wrote a blues setting of Byron's lyric "So we'll go no more a roving" as a basis for the Concerto. The song uses the harmony of bars 53-61 of No. 1 of Ravel's Valses Nobles et Sentimentales considerably slowed down. It was not performed independently until 1985 when Meriel Dickinson and I also recorded it. The sections of the Concerto's single movement are:
Grave - three loud organ chords, -aamotto for the whole work, are separated by sustained strings, phrases of the song. The last chord is C major, which is slowly distorted into a tone-cluster.
Allegro - a woodwind and percussion texture forms a constant background for increasing organ interruptions.
Adagio - sustained canons in the strings over which the organ has a 2' solo in duet with the celesta: a mini-cadenza drops down several octaves.
Adagio - duet for two timpanists over the organ's motto chords.
Allegro Molto - rapid exchanges between organ pedals and brass over sustained note-clusters backed by a driving beat in 6/8.
Adagio - a flute solo over organ sostenuto and a soft reminiscence of the earlier timpani duet.
Allegro Molto - a return of the fast music with further organ and string outbursts leading to the organ's motto chords. The third one is the climax of the Concerto, backed by ferocious percussion. This time the last chord is first of all a cluster which slowly things to plain C major. Then the four percussionists obliterate the sound of the full organ.
Adagio (with cadenza) - the blues song now appears complete as clarinet and cor anglais solos, against a developing cadenza on the organ trailing celesta and percussion. When the violins have the blues song the organ becomes more assertive. Eventually the organ works the cadenza out on its own with increasing rapidity and a pedal solo which ends "as fast as possible."
Grave - the opening Grave is recalled but with organ and string roles reversed. Now the strings have the motto chords and the organ the melody. The celesta superimposes a reminiscence of the organ cadenza throughout this section. The last of the motto chords - C major, gradually distorted into a cluster - is heard softly on the organ after a loud crescendo. The celesta wanders into the distance on its own.
© Peter Dickinson