Vers la lumiere: the mystical organ music of Thierry Escaich

Thierry Escaich’s compositional work is recognised the world over, and in acknowledgement of this he was elected to the Académie des Beaux-Arts of the Institut de France in 2013. He is the only composer of international stature today whose output contains a substantial place for the organ.  In a fast-growing oeuvre which comprises now well over a hundred compositions, there are fifteen for solo organ; and the instrument is used also in chamber combinations, has an important accompanying role in choral pieces (several of which are on a large scale), and is included in a number of orchestral works, of which three are solo
concertos for the instrument. If the sizable output of recorded improvisations is added to this, then it becomes clear that Thierry Escaich is already author of a very considerable contribution to the organ’s literature.

As the musicologist Claire Delamarche has put it: ‘Contrary to those composers claiming a rupture [with the past], Thierry Escaich likes to remind us that his style, personal as it is, fits in with a multiple tradition’.  The French tradition of Franck, Fauré, Debussy, Ravel, Messiaen, and Dutilleux figures prominently, as might be expected, but Escaich has been strongly influenced from outside it: by a German tradition of Bach, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Mahler, and even Berg; and by Hungarian composers Liszt, Bartók, and Ligeti.

David Maw analyses Escaich's writing for the organ in detail, with examples, in this article which originally appeared in the RCO Journal for 2017.  Maw discusses Escaich's creation of genres of writing of his own invention, along with the traditional concerto form; his use of improvisation and historical allusion; and his assimilation of an unusually wide range of musical material - from folksongs to note-rows,
from triads to seemingly atonal chords - without any compromise to the compositional voice.

 

 

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