Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians: Organ

From the January 2020 Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians:

Dan Locklair. Angels: Two Short Tone Poems for Organ (2018, Subito Music Publishing, 91460100), 12 pp., $14.95.

This diptych was premiered this past Summer at the South Jersey AGO Regional Convention by Alan Morrison. The composer explains that although it is unusual to use the term “tone poem,” he chose it “because of the extra-musical stimulus that inspired each piece.” These two short movements contain many elements that make Locklair’s music so recognizable and so loved. Angels of Tranquility features a chromatically descending series of chords that separates strains of a broad lyrical melody on different solo stops. This descending motion symbolizes the “descent of heaven to earth” according to the composer. Details such as pizzicato bass, punctuating notes on the chimes, and the aforementioned broad melody over sustained chords are reminiscent of other well-known Locklair organ works such as Rubrics or Phoenix Processional. There is, however, more of an emphasis on chromatic lines and even some cross-relations in this movement than in some these well-known compositions. Angels of Joy is a driving toccata in mixed meter. A lyrical central section develops the melody heard in the pedals in the outer sections; this melody is in turn rooted in the melodic material of the previous movement, Angels of Tranquility. From a practical point of view, these pieces would be truly useful in that they could serve as a short prelude and postlude set or be used as part of a larger prelude or a recital.

Also from the January 2020 Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians:

Dan Locklair. Holy Seasons: Four Tone Poems for Organ (2018, Subito Music Publishing, 91460090), 36 pp., $28.95.

Here we find the composer Dan Locklair exploring the idea of the tone poem in a more extended way that seems to fit the genre well. The four movements of Holy Seasons correspond to the most popular seasons of the church year, Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. A theologically thoughtful and mature approach characterizes these pieces and the composer’s notes explain how theological concepts inform each work. Two of them quote popular hymn tunes but do not use the hymns as the basis for the entire piece (a good thing, in my opinion). These movements take to a new level the subtle use of hymn tunes seen in another composition by Locklair, St. John’s Suite of 2007, especially in the wonderful piece for Palm Sunday, “Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel.” I reviewed this composition in the March, 2014, Journal.

The Call of Advent is surprisingly chromatic overall, in line with Angels of Tranquility, reviewed above. In contrast to this is a spare opening with fanfare motifs on two trumpet stops in dialogue, representing “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,” perhaps implying an echo in the wilderness. The use of a quintuple meter hearkens back to another organ work based on the same seasons, Marcel Dupré’s Symphonie Passion, although here the meter yields to the more common quadruple time for much of the piece. Over a chromatic accompaniment emerges a melody that contains seeds of Veni Emmanuel, eventually culminating in a bold statement of that tune in the major mode before melting down to a lovely and serene conclusion featuring the tune in its original form. This movement’s seasonal companion, Christmas Lullaby & Pastorale is in a simple ABA form. A lilting diatonic lullaby is gently enlivened by a thirty-second note figure as well as periodic 5/8 measures punctuating the 6/8 meter, subtly recalling the previous movement. The middle section marked “Playful and piping,” is a dialogue between 4’ flutes on two manuals. When the A section returns there is a fuller registration and a crescendo to the end to suggest “qualities of praise and thanksgiving,” according to the composer. This is unexpected and I wonder if it might be moderated to a gentler registration by the player depending on the circumstances of performance. I understand the reason for it when the work is played as a whole, since a slow movement follows, yet if playing this for a Christmas prelude a less full registration may be effective.

An Aria for Lent, the first of the next pair, also features a hymn tune, although only towards the end following the main portion of the work which uses the form of a passacaglia. The bass line of the passacaglia invokes a centuries-old tradition for the depiction of grief, the chromatic descending tetrachord, used in such works as Dido’s Lament by Purcell and the Crucifixus of Bach’s B minor Mass. Mid-way through the movement, Locklair then expands the bass line to include all twelve chromatic pitches and the level of dissonance increases. After a climax, when the bass line returns to its original form it is played in the left hand while the pedals reveal the Passion Chorale on a 4’ stop. The movement ends gently, as it began, on the celestes. Easter Joy, the final movement is appropriately extroverted and contains a number of hallmarks of Locklair’s organ style: alternation between duple and triple meter, dialogue between manuals, and large climaxes with sustained chords in the manuals, under which the pedals ring out thematic material. About half the length of the other movements, Easter Joy would naturally stand alone as a short postlude. These pieces were commissioned by Bruton Parish in Williamsburg, Virginia to celebrate their 2019 Dobson organ. These works are sincere and eloquent expressions of faith using a mature tonal language and I commend them to you for your consideration.