Mark Gresham | 5 JUL 2019 (updated 8 JUL 2019)
ATLANTA, GA— On Saturday afternoon, June 29, First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta and its next door neighbor, The High Museum of Art, presented a collaborative “Music and Masterworks” program featuring six works for solo organ allied with projected images of seven works of visual art from the High’s “European Masterworks: The Phillips Collection” exhibit, which closes July 14.
Claudia Einecke, the High Museum’s curator of European art, presented the projections of the selected works of art and Jens Korndörfer, First Presbyterian’s director of worship, arts, and organist, performed music chosen to go with them.
The opening segment was the most interesting in terms of the relationships. It compared a pair of paintings by two French artists, “A Bowl of Plums” (1728) by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin and “Ginger Pot urh Pomegranate and Pears” (1893) by Paul Cézanne, with music by two German composers: the chorale prelude Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich (BWV 605) from the Orgelbüchlein (“Little Organ Book”) by J.S. Bach and Choralfantasie über “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott,” Op. 27 (1898) by Max Reger
Connections can be observed on several levels. Chardin was a contemporary of Bach; Cézanne a contemporary of Reger. Both are paintings still life involving fruit and household tableware, just as both musical compositions are based on Lutheran chorale tunes. However, differences in style were also telling: masters of fairly settled early 18th-century styles (Chardin and Bach) compared to transitional 19th-century fin-de-siècle styles (Cézanne and Reger).
Less on target was the attempt to make connections between the artwork of Paul Klee (“Printed Sheet with Picture,” 1937) and Wassily Kandinsky (“Succession,” 1935) with the music of Paul Hindemith (represented by the “Sehr langsam” section that opens the second movement of his Organ Sonata No. 1).
I find that much like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. Like Hindemith, Paul Klee learned to play violin as a child and was remarkably skilled at it at a young age, growing up as he did with parents who were professional musicians. As a teenager he rebelled and took up the study of visual art, but continued to play violin. Unlike Kandinsky, Klee didn’t care for modern composers much, and as a violinists preferred to perform the classics, especially Mozart.
Hindemith did have an early “enfant terrible” phase as a composer, but by the time of the Organ Sonata No. 1 (1937), and the Klee and Kandinsky paintings cited, Hindemith was writing in a tonal, though non-diatonic, harmonic system of his own devising. His mature compositional style, while labeled “neo-classical,” owes much more to Bach and Reger than it did to Mozart.
The art of Kandinsky, however, is intrinsically tied to the music of Arnold Schönberg. In 1911, Kandinsky heard Schönberg’s Drei Klavierstücke, Op. 11 (1909) at a concert in Munich. The experience altered Kandinsky’s whole aesthetic and inspired his painting, “Impression III: Konzert” (1911).
Kandinsky and Schönberg began to correspond and became friends. Given that Kandinsky and Klee were close colleagues, and Schönberg was also an amateur painter encouraged by both of them, it only seems natural that they be allied with music by Schönberg instead of Hindemith. A good candidate would have been Schönberg’s uncompleted Sonata for Organ (fragment) of 1941, which is written in his 12-tone method and short enough to serve in the same slot on this particular program.
Like Schönberg, Hindemith was also somewhat of an amateur visual artist who would often seize opportunity to draw. He never considered his drawings to be very important, so was somewhat careless with their preservation and are often undated. Often whimsical and grotesque, along with his advocate of the Neue Sachlichkeit (new objectivity) movement in the 1920s — a reaction against expressionism — Hindemith can be more naturally allied with German artists such as George Grosz, Otto Dix and Jeanne Mammen.
Two other comparisons were more easily drawn through common subject. Composer Louis Vierne was organist at the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris from 1900 until his death in 1937, and during that time Henri Rousseau created his painting “Notre Dame” (1906) – the allied musical example was “Lied,” No. 17 from Vierne’s 24 Pièces en Style libre.More musically intriguing was the pairing of the portrait “Paganini” by Eugène Delacroix with George Thalben-Ball’s Variations on a theme of Paganini for pedal solo. These Variations are a genuine tour de force for the feet, and served to show off not only Korndörfer’s remarkable pedal technique but also the unusual “Pedal Divide” capability – just one of the state-of-the-art special pistons and features of the organ’s 2018 Klais/Schlueter upgrade. (Download the complete current stoplist and digital console capabilities of the Klais/Schlueter Organ (IV/112) from the Klais website.)
The “Pedal Divide” was notably used in the Variations. It allowed Korndörfer to play a bass line in one registration with his left foot, while using another registration for the upper half of the pedalboard where he played a melodic part in parallel thirds with his right foot alone. Not all organists can do the latter, as it requires a certain flexibility of the organist’s ankles to make it possible to play thirds involving two “white keys.”
Given that organ pedal technique treats the two feet like a single four-fingered hand, it’s not surprising that Korndörfer was also able to play a four-part chorale passage with feet alone. I learned afterward that he was wearing ordinary dress shoes, not shoes specially designed to make this possible.
To conclude the recital, “The Uprising” by Honoré Daumier invoked Korndörfer to choose another musical showpiece to represent it: The Overture to Richard Wagner’s opera, The Flying Dutchman, in a colorfully played arrangement for solo organ by Edwin H. Lamare. Following the concert, attendees were permitted admission to the exhibition on the second floor of the High. ■