Holy Seasons

Holy Seasons
(Four Tone Poems for Organ)

Dan Locklair

Holy Seasons (Four Tone Poems for Organ) is the result of a commission from the Music Ministry of historic Bruton Parish in Williamsburg, Virginia. It celebrates the church’s new 2019 Dobson pipe organ. Currently under the direction of Rebecca Davy (Music Director & Organist) and JanEl Will (Organist), the program of music at Bruton Parish has had a long and distinguished history. The new Dobson organ adds fresh excitement to the vital present and future roles of the organ within the context of worship and concert at Bruton Parish.

A genre developed and most often applied to one-movement orchestral works of the late 19th century, a “tone poem” is an instrumental composition inspired by a story, idea or descriptive title. The extra-musical aspect of a “tone poem” is paramount toward the listener understanding both the inspiration behind the composer’s creation and the composition’s ultimate musical impact. While the genre “symphony” has been historically applied to large multi-movement works for both orchestra and organ, the use of “tone poem” for an organ work is not so common. But, the genre seemed appropriate to me for Holy Seasons – a composition that explores, in as many movements, four of the most significant Seasons of the liturgical year: Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. Further, since historic orchestral tone poems are notable for their exploration of color, the limitless color possibilities of the pipe organ seemed to me to be an exciting parallel.

Holy Seasons, approximately twenty-five minutes in length, may be performed complete or with its individual movements excerpted. Begun late in 2017, Holy Seasons was completed on Good Friday, 30 March 2018.

1. The Call of Advent (ca. 7’00”). Reflective of the call in the wilderness (“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness” – Isaiah 40:3), dialogues between the reed stops open the movement. The dialogues soon lead to music characterized by a pulsating pedal that underpins a chromatic accompaniment on the foundation stops of the organ. A melody, heard on a prominent reed stop, foreshadows what is to come. Symbolic of the foretelling of the coming of Christ as told in the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins in Matthew 25, a spirit of longing prevails, as does the metrical groupings that focus on the numbers five and ten. Anticipation of the birth of the Light of the World symbolically emerges in the chordal dialogues between the manuals, culminating in a bold major mode pedal statement of the ancient Advent plainsong chant, Veni, Veni Emmanuel (“O Come, O Come Emmanuel”). Leading to a chorale-like section, the festive spirit of the Joy that is to come soon begins to melt into a serene and concluding statement of Veni, Veni Emmanuel (now in its normal minor mode), as this well-known plainsong melody is heard on a 4’ Flute, accompanied by the gentle celeste strings of the organ. A brief return to the movement’s opening dialogue idea, now heard on the strings, brings The Call of Advent to a gentle conclusion.

2. Christmas Lullaby & Pastorale (ca. 7’00”). In three primary sections, a chaconne is at the heart of the first and third Lullaby sections of this movement. A chaconne, a form where variations occur over an unchanging harmonic progression, is used here to symbolically convey the sense of unending Love bestowed to humankind through the Incarnation of Christ. The gentle homage-paying opening section features the diapason stops, the sound of which is unique to the organ, just as the birth of Christ is unique to human history. A middle section – the Pastorale – is characterized by playful pipings and dialogues between the flutes of the organ. When the chaconne returns for the final Lullaby section of the piece, qualities of praise and thanksgiving are suggested through the fullness and richness of the powerful organ registration.

3. An Aria for Lent (ca. 8’00”). The longest movement of Holy Seasons, An Aria for Lent shares a similarity to the “chaconne” variation form heard in Christmas Lullaby & Pastorale. However, the variation technique used here is more akin to the historic passacaglia, where variations take place over a recurring bass line. In three ongoing sections in triple meter and full of symbolism of the sorrow and grief of Lent, An Aria for Lent contains twelve variations with each variation being thirteen bars in length. Over the course of each variation the pulsating bass line descends chromatically, providing yet another traditional musical symbol of grief. All the while an aria, heard on a solo reed stop and accompanied by the celeste strings, unfolds. Mid-way through the movement, however, the pitches of the passacaglia change (with all twelve pitches of the chromatic scale now being present) and the music becomes more biting and dissonant as it seeks to convey the agony of Lent. After a large climax is reached, the passacaglia line returns to its original pitches so as to reflect a more restrained sorrow. Soon a portion of the moving Lenten chorale tune Passion Chorale (“O Sacred Head Now Wounded”) emerges in the pedal on a 4’ Flute. An Aria for Lent ends reflectively on the celeste strings.

4. Easter Joy (ca. 3’00”). A dance of ecstatic Resurrection Joy and New Life, Easter Joy opens with exciting fanfares and dialogues reminiscent of the opening of The Call of Advent. But, here, the musical materials are transformed and “made new.” A vibrant and rhythmic melody quickly emerges and serves as the basis for the entire movement. Following a dialoguing middle section over double pedal with reduced registration, the vibrancy of the opening of Easter Joy returns with the power of full organ and propels Easter Joy to its exciting conclusion.

Dan Locklair
Winston-Salem, North Carolina