Bush's output for the organ is collected on The Complete Organ Works, a most enjoyable disc recorded by Robert Crowley and released by Pipework in 2000. Starting with the Three English Song Preludes, Op. 40 (1952), his later style can be clearly followed through to the works of the later 1980s, all of which were dedicated to the performer. Throughout these distinctive works, Bush's concerns with counterpoint and thematic voice construction are clear, as well as an interest in maintaining a national style.
Three English Song Preludes Listen
This work takes as its inspiration three old melodies, respectively a 13th century song, a 15th century carol and a 17th century shanty. 'Worldes blis ne last no throwe' is a charming evocation of the medieval origin of this melody, with Bush's modal language sitting well. It is perhaps slightly reminiscent of some of Jean Langlais' pseudo-medieval compositions, updating the language whilst paying tribute to it. The structure here is an ornamental presentation of the melody, whilst the second Prelude, 'Be Merry', presents the theme as a very free cantus with contrapuntal lines derived from the original melody and features a number modernised Landini Cadences. The third Prelude, 'Lowlands, My Lowlands' is the most harmonically static of the set and is in the form of a meditation on the theme with much held pedal-work. Throughout this suite, as in the later works, the harmony is arrived at horizontally through contrapuntal lines, rather than for any vertical effect.
Two Occasional Pieces
The Two Occasional Pieces, Op. 56 (1960) share some of this evocation of the past, especially in For a Solemn Occasion. The modal language here is brooding, with a solemn melody leading to a central climax, somewhat in the Vaughan Williams mould. A spread chord heard at the outset provides unity to the structure, which again features much thematic interest in all lines. For a Festive Occasion is cast in typically British Ceremonial Style, somewhat in the manner of a slightly more austere Walton. The use of the pedals as a rhythmic element is in evidence here, as it will be so in later works. The second subject features some imaginative decorative writing and leads to a toccata-like figure before the recapitulation. There is some combining of both first and second subject elements, and this again will become a feature of later works. The ending on a unison is also recurring feature.
Prelude and Concert Piece
Alan Bush had a revitalised interest in the organ in the late 1980s, and this is a direct result of collaboration with Robert Crowley. The Prelude and Concert Piece, Op. 116 (1986) is an important work and should find a place in the concert repertory that is short of music of this length and vintage. The Prelude was written after the Concert Piece, being in an austere modal language and of almost inconsequential length alongside its companion. Bush's own note in the CD describes his interest in composing a prelude of appropriate length and tonality, eventually settling on C sharp Dorian, chiefly because black notes are easier to play on the organ pedalboard!
Although cast in four movements linked together without a break, these are quite difficult to distinguish without reference to the score. What is clear is the tight and energetic organization of the musical ideas. The opening introduces a number of fairly fragmentary but related ideas with considerable rhythmic interplay between the hands and feet. Bush describes his use of 'English harmonic vocabulary', but it is certainly a cosmopolitan interpretation of this, with considerable echoes from across the Channel. A climatic and distinctive group of chords provides some recurring structure, with a rhythmically exciting march and final fugal section bringing the work to a driven, if abrupt, ending. The overall impression is of a successful welding together of a number of musical ideas, even if the more detailed structure is less obvious to the listener.
Suite for Organ
The Suite for Organ, Op. 117 (1986) again makes heavy use of the modes, as made explicit in the movement titles. Dorian on E is a decorated arabesque-like melody with a more meditative second idea appearing before a return of the melody. This is then transferred into the left hand before a final flourish concludes the movement. Phrygian on A is the Adagio of the Suite, with a great variety of contrapuntal textures and techniques being featured. This movement also features another Bush characteristic which is of juxtaposing two different tempos. A chordal build-up to a central climax is followed by a quiet conclusion using the opening material. The ending is surprisingly abrupt after such a development. Aeolian on C features dissonant counterpoint in a style not dissimilar from the old cantus firmus settings. The counterpoint builds in complexity throughout and features many skilfully drawn out cadences. The final Mixolydian on D starts with a bold opening in unison from which the omnipresent counterpoint builds. Throughout, this helps to give a sinewy energy to the music, always driving the developments forward. A move to compound time gives an added swing of energy before the return of the opening material and a tuba fanfare ends the suite.
Sonata for Organ
The final work on this disc is the Sonata for Organ, Op. 122 (1987). Cast in five movements, this is music of energy and drive, throughout displaying Bush's innovative and effortless counterpoint. The opening Moderato begins with chords in the right hand while the left hand provides moving counterpoint. The pedals reprise their rhythmic role and provide a driving force into the climax. The Theme and Variations begins immediately with the theme presented in counterpoint which, to a certain extent, makes its transformations less obvious. This is followed by three variations - the first featuring faster contrapuntal chords, the second ornamentation over a pedal reed line and the third using triplet decorations before a quiet conclusion.
The Fugue starts with a surprising theme which serves more as a springboard for the rest of the counterpoint in this movement. The exposition is not an exact one, but the ideas have an organic feel, growing out of the previous line. A characteristic final flourish ends this small-scale display of contrapuntal virtuosity. The Adagio is austere and meditative, with the central melody again cast as an arabesque over slow-moving chords. The Allegro makes much use of repeated note figures, again with tight counterpoint and through motivic development at varying speeds throughout the parts. A final carillon-effect section brings this exciting an dynamic work to a close.
Brimming with Life
The music on this CD is definitely worthy of inclusion in recital programmes, providing energetic, tautly constructed and idiomatic additions to the repertoire. Far from showing signs of age, Bush's later works are brim full of life and fresh ideas. The pieces here are all excellently performed with all the enjoyment and understanding that you might expect given Crowley's close work with Bush, but also with a proselytising flair that should guarantee these works new audiences.
Robert Crowley (organ), Pipework (Cat. No: SCS655)
Now available only from:
The Alan Bush Music Trust
7 Harding Way
Price: £10 including p&p
© 2006 Alan Bush Music Trust