Concerto for Organ and Orchestra (1992)

Programme Note: John Buckley

The Concerto for Organ and Orchestra was commissioned jointly by the National Concert Hall Dublin, RTE, and the Irish Arts Council for the new National Concert Hall organ built by Kenneth Jones and inaugurated in September 1991. The work which is dedicated to Hugh McGinley was first performed on June 26th.1992, with Peter Sweeney as organist and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland conducted by Robert Houlihan. It is scored for three flutes (doubling piccolo), three oboes, three clarinets, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, two trombones, bass trombone, tuba, two sets of timpani, a wide range of percussion and strings.

In composing the work one of my principal concerns was to maintain a balance between the orchestra and organ, which in a sense is like a second orchestra. Frequently, the development of the musical argument takes the form of a dialogue, with organ and orchestra in counterbalance to each other. Throughout the work elaborate organ solos have analogous passages in the orchestra: elsewhere organ and orchestra blend and reinforce each others material. The orchestral writing is often bravura in character making the work a concerto for orchestra as much as for organ.

The Concerto is in a single movement, which falls broadly into three sections: Toccata 1, Adagio, Toccata 2. A vigorous Toccata for organ follows the opening orchestral flurry. In this section I have attempted to create a feeling of energy and forward momentum impelled by a strong sense of rhythmic vitality and explosive orchestral gestures. Characteristic of this section are the frequent changes of metre and orchestral textures.

A transition passage for organ pedals and two sets of timpani leads to the central Adagio section. This is for the most part slow and lyrical in disposition, though it also incorporates dramatic and vigorous writing reminiscent of the opening Toccata. The development is based on two ideas: the ascending string clusters which immediately follow the transition, and the organ theme to which they give way.

A short scherzo-like passage highlighting trios of flutes, clarinets, oboes and bassoons in turn, leads to a varied recapitulation of the opening Toccata. A short snappy coda brings the work to its conclusion.