Encores & Curtain Calls:
“Organ playing is the manifestation of a will filled with the vision of eternity.”
— Charles Marie Widor (organist, composer)
Come then, prepared for such celestial visions, along with a welcome dose of the irreverent, as the Brick Church Music Series in Deerfield resumes its season Sunday, Feb. 3, at 3 p.m. with a performance by organist Harry Huff, minister of music at Boston’s historic Old South Church, and music director and lecturer on ministry at Harvard Divinity School.
Huff will offer works by Pierre DuMage, J. S. Bach, Cesar Franck, Carson P. Cooman and — just to let us know he can swing — Henry Mancini’s “Suite from the Pink Panther.”
The concert, at First Church, 71 Old Main St., Deerfield, is a fundraiser for the church with a suggested donation of $10 at the door. A reception will follow in the Caswell Library at Deerfield Academy.
HH: The concert is three-quarters classical and I’m ending with a suite I created from the various songs that were created for the “Pink Panther” movies.
JM: Wow, you’re brave. That’s something of a counterintuitive choice for organ!
HH: Well, I play transcriptions all the time — I do “Harry Potter,” I do “The Nutcracker,” I do a lot of transcriptions on a regular basis.
JM: And what of the first work by DuMage?
HH: The first is a set of six pieces by Pierre DuMage who was a French Baroque composer; he was writing in the 1600s. All the French organ composers wrote these suites that are very specific for the organ. They’re different than say, the Bach suites, which were based on dance movements. These are based on liturgical movements and they were intended to serve a purpose during the mass.
JM: How would you characterize the style?
HH: (laughing) French Baroque!
JM: So, very florid, then ...
HH: Yeah, there’s a lot of ornamentation and, in a way, the music is almost like a lead sheet (a bare-bones version of a pop song — JM), but people who know the style of French Baroque know how to fill that in. It’s a lot of ornamentation, a lot of runs.
JM: Is it fair to say that, in music like this, that the piece would be a lot less successful or even fall flat if the ornamentation were not done?
HH: Oh yes, it’s essential. In a way, ornamentation in French music is even more essential than in English or French Baroque organ music, where a lot of the notes are already written out ... In the case of French music, it’s basically just a chord structure.
JM: So you can wind up with radically different pieces depending on which performer did this ...
HH: Oh, very definitely, very definitely. And I play differently every time I play them.
JM: And then there are no melodies as such?
HH: Very little. It’s more of a skeleton and a chord structure.
JM: So this is almost parallel to contemporary jazz?
HH: Yes, I would say so.
JM: Then there’s this fellow, J.S. Bach ...
HH: Yes, I’m doing the B minor Prelude and Fugue, and in the middle I’m inserting a movement from one of the trio sonatas and this was a common practice in Bach’s day, and now a lot of organists do this, to make a little suite out of it.
JM: And this creates a three rather than a two-movement structure.
HH: Yes, and it works really well because both the prelude and fugue are pretty big, and this gives a nice little “sorbet” in the middle.
JM: (tongue-in-cheek) So what you’re trying to say is that Bach didn’t do it right in the beginning ...
HH: Oh, he did it right. He even did this himself, inserting a trio sonata movement into the middle, when he performed these pieces.
JM: I was just teasing you ... then there’s a piece by the 19th-century French composer and organist, Caesar Franck ...
HH: And that again is in B minor; it’s one movement, but in three different moods; it starts with a lovely prelude that’s almost like a whistling tune — with a very melodious theme. And the middle movement is a fugue, and then it comes back to the variation, which is the original theme, with an accompaniment in the left hand — that’s like “riding bicycle” music. It’s a really delightful, bubbly, beautiful melody.
JM: And it’s secular in conception?
HH: It is (chuckling), although it’s always played in church.
JM: Which brings up an interesting question — the organ, just because of it’s sacred pedigree, strikes most people as an ecclesiastical sound, without necessarily meaning to, and, as you know, that’s hard to break away from. And, you want to get away from it when you’re doing something like the “Pink Panther” medley that you’re doing. I’m imagining that’s a matter of intelligent “stopping” (setting up of organ sounds)?
HH: Yes, well, in the past, a lot more people came out to organ concerts even though they were in churches; it was not just considered a liturgical instrument. But, in the 19th century, every city had major concert organs that were not in churches. So, there’s a lot of 19th and early 20th century organ music that were created for non-church events.
JM: And then the Cooman piece ...
HH: Yes, that’s Carson Cooman, he is a brilliant young composer. He’s only 30 now, but he’s the most prolific composer I’ve ever known, and I’ve known a lot of composers, and he’s probably at opus 1500 at this point (laughing). He has now published six or eight volumes of organ music and I did an entire CD of his music.
JM: And the Mancini “Pink Panther” suite ... I’ve always admired his music for its transparency and freshness, he never clutters up his aural space as so many of his Hollywood colleagues were tempted to do.
HH: Yes, I started playing through a simple version of his “Pink Panther” songs and pieces from those movies; he wrote such wonderful music; Mancini was a wonderful songwriter.
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An author and composer, columnist Joseph Marcello of Northfield focuses on music and theater. He can be reached at