Concerto for Organ and Orchestra

Concerto for Organ and Orchestra

I. Entrata
II. Canto (to God and dog)
III. Toccata
Dan Locklair (b. 1949)

My Concerto for Organ and Orchestra is the result of a 2009 – 2010 commission from the Greater Greensboro Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, with funding from Robert A. Bearden and David C. Ratchford, for the 2011 AGO Regional Convention in Greensboro, North Carolina. Begun in the autumn of 2009, the piece was completed in September 2010 and is scored for an orchestra of strings, pairs of winds and percussion. Approximately twenty-two minutes in length, each of its three movements is musically linked by the triad (i.e. notes 1 – 3 – 5 of the major or minor scale) and, specifically, by the G major triad, G – B – D. Because of this continuity between movements, the Concerto for Organ and Orchestra is cyclic in nature.

The genesis of the Concerto for Organ and Orchestra is its second movement, Canto (to God and dog). The first movement composed of the concerto, it musically celebrates the sacred in all creation through the musical symbolism of the word “God” (musically spelled, G – B – D) and its retrograde spelling, “dog” (D – B – G). It is this three-letter word, which forms the G major triad and its various transpositions, that unites the entire composition and generates most of the piece’s musical materials. I owe thanks to the revelation of this most simple of musical material to a gentle canine named Riley (1999 – 2009). Through his final illness and death, both of which were sad realities as I created this work, this beloved Shetland Sheepdog was often by my side as I composed. He provided me with a daily reminder that the sacred is ever-present in all of God’s creation, especially God’s retrograde namesake, the dog.

Just as this G – B – D triad is three notes, so, too, is movement II in three sections. This movement is the heart and soul of the concerto and is the longest of the three. The magical sound of the Bell Tree begins Canto (to God and dog), followed by the solo timpani outlining the retrograde of the triad theme, D – B – G. The organ and strings are briefly heard in dialogue as they set the stage for the organ to enter with the primary melodic material of the movement. Through dialogue between the organ and solo orchestral colors (often in canon and supported by antiphonal and triadic underpinnings in the strings, woodwinds, and brass), a second melodic element is introduced in the middle section of the movement: The 11th century plainsong melody, Divinium Mysterium (now most often heard paired with the 4th century Aurelius Clemens Prudentius hymn text, Of the Father’s Love Begotten). The climactic final section of the movement unites this plainsong melody with the primary melodic material that opened the movement and Canto (to God and dog) ends very softly with ethereal string harmonics embracing a final organ statement of the movement’s primary melody.

Like the second movement, the opening movement, Entrata, is a three-part form. The full organ immediately outlines a minor triad that is quickly echoed by the full orchestra. Stately dialogues between the organ and orchestral woodwinds, brass and strings soon emerge. The full orchestra and organ climax of the first section soon leads to a quick and dance-like middle section. Here the earlier dialogues between the organ and different families of orchestra sound continue. Entrata is a chaconne, but an unusual one. Whereas the traditional “chaconne” presents several bars of harmony that remain harmonically and rhythmically constant throughout the movement (over which variations occur), here the chaconne itself is rhythmically varied in the middle section as playful asymmetrical meters cast it in a fresh, new light. The grand style of the opening of the movement, with the power of full organ and orchestra, ultimately returns to end the piece as the organ in the final two bars proclaims the G major triad that unites the three movements of the concerto.

The third movement, Toccata, begins with both timpani and organ outlining the concerto’s uniting G major triad. Chords in the organ then briefly present the harmonic palette of the movement and lead to the organ introducing the primary melodic material of the movement. Unlike movements I and II, this movement is not a three-part structure but, instead, is a unique form that is always evolving. The one constant in the movement is its energetic and driving rhythm. Ultimately a cadenza for the organ pedals alone emerges, leading to yet more driving energy and excitement between the organ and orchestra that, ultimately, propels the movement to its exuberant conclusion.

Dan Locklair
September 2010
Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Sound & Score YouTube