John Rutter Composer
Variations on an Easter Theme ('O Filii et Filiae'), for organ
Musicology:Though John Rutter is mostly known to his audience as a choral composer for the English church, early in his career he also worked in the organ repertoire for the same congregations. Though his organ works are much less well-known today, they deserve the same appreciation for a musical mixture between a variety of historical idioms and more contemporary worship styles. In his set of organ variations "on an Easter theme," Rutter successfully and impellingly mingles musical forms and styles from several centuries of Christian worship, from the Middle Ages to the jazz age. In addition to this stylistic breadth, the composer also sets the Variations on an Easter Theme apart from much of the organ repertory by casting its form as a duet between two organs. Rutter exploits the wide variety of musical textures possible in an organ duet, such that his variations may plumb a rather wide variety of harmonies, melodies, and musical styles in their variations, making a theological point about the variety of worship styles that can praise the same God.
Variations on an Easter Theme ('O Filii et Filiae'), for organYear: 1983
Genre: Other Keyboard
Pr. Instrument: Organ
Rutter's very choice of musical text plants his feet in the history of Christian worship. The melodic basis for his variations is a 15th century Latin hymn, O filii et filiae. The 12 stanzas of this hymn celebrate various moments of the Easter story, liberally punctuated by ejaculations of "Allelujah!" Rutter's musical setting digs roots into the medieval chant, taps a wide variety of historical organ styles for inspiration, and offers a vibrant hybrid of each plant for our contemplation. The pieces' introduction sets the chant melody against a French-romantic style toccata and cross-rhythmed counterpoint, and leads directly into the first variation, which features bold pedal lines and cascading upper harmonies. The next variation sets the melody right in the pedal, with triple-meter chord progressions above and mixed meter at the cadences. The next variation sets the chant melody uncertainly in the midst of a misty background of countermelodies, voicings, and dissonant harmonies; another variation with even more harmonic uncertainty (and delightfully irregular meter) ensues. The central variation opens with the timbres of a late vox humana, upon which is laid an improvisatory solo variation on the chant melody, whose melodic echoes and blues-inflected ornaments channel William Grant Still. The final musical return begins with an Orff-like breadth and continues into a recapitulation of the French romantic organ sound, with renewed emphasis on the foundational pedal tones festooned by the bursting upper sonorities.
© Timothy Dickey, Rovi