Composer of New Music for Concert Festival Calls Organ “Magical”

Cornell doctoral candidate Zachary Wadsworth has composed music for other organs, but he says Cornell’s organ, is an extraordinary instrument and it’s going to be around for a very long time, and that’s something really magical, to be there right when it?s being created.

Zachary WadsworthThe piece he has composed for the March 11 concert at 6:30 pm is called “Recitative and Aria for the Dedication of an Organ,” and will be performed by David Yearsley, organist and Cornell professor of music; Steven Zohn, baroque flutist and Temple University professor of music; and Kristen Dubenion-Smith, mezzo-soprano. Wadsworth used two 19th century English poems (see below) praising the organ as his texts for the semi-operatic, oratorio style-piece.

Composing for the organ poses a unique challenge, says Wadsworth, because each organ is so different. And although his “Recitative and Aria” was written specifically to show off the beauty of Cornell’s organ, he says that “it’s a tricky balance that you have to negotiate whenever you write for the organ. You have to write something that is very native to the organ that you’re writing for, in the specific moment that you write it. But you also should write something that could be performed on other organs.”

Asked about the place of new music on historic instruments, Wadsworth notes that because classical music in the 20th century was typically performed in a romantic style, authentic early music sounds new to modern ears. “I think there’s a natural sort of friendliness between early music and new music performance,” says Wadsworth, “just because these are sounds that fall outside of the classical mainstream, but are still exquisitely beautiful. And so it can take you to a new place, an exciting place as a listener and as a composer.” That’s the excitement of working with early instruments.

RECITATIVE (from “The Organ-Blower” [1872] By Oliver Wendell Holmes)

This many-diapasoned maze,
Through which the breath of being strays,
Whose music makes our earth divine,
Has work for mortal hands like mine.
My duty lies before me. Lo,
The lever there! Take hold and blow!
And He whose hand is on the keys
Will play the tune as He shall please.

ARIA (from “Abt Vogler” by Robert Browning)

Would that the structure brave, the manifold music I build,
Bidding my organ obey, calling its keys to their work,
Claiming each slave of the sound, at a touch, as when Solomon willed
Armies of angels that soar, legions of demons that lurk,
Man, brute, reptile, fly,–alien of end and of aim,
Adverse, each from the other heaven-high, hell-deep removed,–
Should rush into sight at once as he named the ineffable Name,
And pile him a palace straight, to pleasure the princess he loved!

Would it might tarry like his, the beautiful building of mine,
This which my keys in a crowd pressed and importuned to raise!
Ah, one and all, how they helped, would dispart now and now combine,
Zealous to hasten the work, heighten their master his praise!