organistb Alan Morrison and violinist david Coucheron. (Spivey Hall)

From Renaissance to Modern, diverse dances delight organ fans

Alan Morrison with David Coucheron
April 15, 2023
Spivey Hall
Morrow, GA
“A Dance through Time”
Alan Morrison, organ; David Coucheron, violin.

J.S. BACH: “Gigue” Fugue, BWV 577
Dietrich BUXTEHUDE: Passacaglia, BuxWV 161
Three Italian Renaissance Dances published by Antonio Gardane (Venice 1551)
Tommaso VITALI: Ciaconna
Sigfrid KARG-ELERT: Valse Mignon
Jonathan DOVE: Dancing Pipes
Calvin HAMPTON: Five Dances for Organ

Mark Gresham | 19 APR 2023

On Saturday afternoon, organist Alan Morrison, took the audience at Spivey Hall on a little time-travel journey with a recital entitled A Dance through Time, which included a cameo appearance by violinist David Coucheron.

The intermissionless program naturally began with the high Baroque era. Morrison opened with a favorite of many organists, Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Gigue” Fugue, BWV 577, a light-hearted and lively piece in a rollicking 12/8 meter.

Then came the Passacaglia, BuxWV 161, by Dietrich Buxtehude (c.1637-1707), one of his most important organ works that influenced Bach and Brahms, though it only survived in a singular source compiled by Johann Christoph Bach (1671–1721), Johann Sebastian’s oldest brother.


We then journeyed back further in time for a trio of short works billed in the program as Three Italian Renaissance Dances: “Saltarello del Re,” “Le forze d’hercole,” and “Pass’e mezzo antico.” All three were published by Antonio Gardane in 1551 as part of Intabolatura Nova di Balli (“A new tabulation [book/record] of dance”), a representative collection of 25 pieces, as dances of various kinds, to be played on a variety of keyboards, but fails to give attribution to any of the composers who wrote them. But the anonymous short pieces offered a fascinating glimpse into the music of 16th-century Italy.

David Coucheron, the concertmaster of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, joined Morrison onstage to perform the Ciaconna traditionally attributed to the Italian composer Tomaso Antonio Vitali (1663–1745).

It was first published in 1867 by the German musician Ferdinand David who gave it the “Chaconne” title, substituted a piano for the continuo, and embellished the violin part considerably. Some musicologists have suggested that the Chaconne was a musical hoax composed by David, similar to those of Fritz Kreisler.

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Belgian violinist Léopold Charlier subsequently made further changes, making significant edits, rearranging the order of variations, removing some, and further embellishing the violin part. Charlier’s arrangement is a Romantic version of the Chaconne, yet it is the version most commonly performed in concerts, with most editions based on it.

Jumping to the arly 20th century, Morrison continued the concert solo, performing Valse Mignon, the second of Three Pieces for Organ, Op. 142, by early twentieth-century German composer and harmonium specialist Sigfrid Karg-Elert (1877-1033).

He followed it with Jonathan Dove’s playfully energetic The Dancing Pipes, featuring intricate and complex rhythms with rich harmonic dissonances, creating an atmosphere of joy and celebration.

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Morrison closed the formal part of the concert with Calvin Hampton’s Five Dances for Organ. Hampton was inspired by Stravinsky’s Five Easy Pieces for Piano Duet to compose the somewhat challenging, conceptually vivid set for organ. The dance titles are decidedly modern: “Primitives,” “At the ballet,” “Those Americans,” “An exalted ritual,” and “Everyone Dance.” Each of the five pairs an ostinato rhythm with a simple tune.

Journey over, Coucheron and Morrison returned to the stage together to perform a familiar encore, Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria.


About the author:
Mark Gresham is publisher and principal writer of EarRelevant. He began writing as a music journalist over 30 years ago, but has been a composer of music much longer than that. He was the winner of an ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for music journalism in 2003.

Read more by Mark Gresham.
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