Pittsburgh welcomed renowned French organist and improviser Frédéric Blanc on October 28, 2014 for a recital at Saint Bernard Parish in the suburb of Mt. Lebanon. In addition to works by Dupré, Handel, Langlais, Tournemire, and Duruflé, his performance also showcased his improvisational skills in several styles and forms. The recital opened with Blanc’s “Ouverture improvise,” followed by Dupér’s “Toccata sur Placare Christe Servulis.” After his performance of the concerto in d minor by Handel (adapted by John Guillou), Frederic Blanc improvised a three movement concerto in a similar style. He also paired his own improvisation on a Gregorian theme with “Mors et Resurection” from Trois paraphrases gregoriennes by Langlais and “Improvisation sur le Te Deum” by Tournemire (reconstruction by Duruflé). The program closed with a dazzling “Poeme symphonique improvise” showcasing St. Bernard’s magnificent Casavant organ.
Duquesne University also hosted Frederic Blanc for a master class and discussion of his life and training, including his studies with Marie-Madeleine Duruflé. He also described Maurice Duruflé’s life and development as a composer, offering fascinating insights into Duruflé’s personality and education.
More information on Frédéric Blanc may be found on his website: http://www.frederic-blanc.fr/biographie/biography/
The greater Pittsburgh area boasts a vibrant musical community with a plethora of concerts and recitals by professional and amateur ensembles. Attendees at the upcoming regional AGO convention will experience some of the city’s outstanding organs and concert venues as part of the official proceedings, but may also wish to take in some of the region’s little-known musical attractions including the rich musical heritage of Old Economy Village.
Now a state-run historic site, Old Economy is just north of Pittsburgh in Ambridge, PA, making it a worthwhile day trip for convention attendees with a musicological bent. In addition to seventeen original buildings constructed in the early nineteenth century and stunning formal gardens, the museum houses an extensive music archive with thousands of scores including early German Pietist hymnals, early American printings of choral masterworks, and handwritten manuscripts of hymns, festival odes, and orchestral music by the members of the Harmony Society, who founded the village and lived there communally from 1824-1904.
Seven nineteenth century pianos are also on display, including four with added reed attachments and bellows mechanisms; these “reed pianos” were briefly popular in the middle of the nineteenth century and were favored by the Harmonists. Orchestral instruments from the 1830s and a metronome believed to have been built by Johann Nepomuk Maelzel himself are also on display.
Many outstanding organs and worship spaces may be found in the Pittsburgh area, including the 1962 Rudolf von Beckerath Organ at St. Paul Cathedral. This magnificent four manual instrument is featured in hundreds of liturgies each year, as well as in recitals by local and visiting organists. Hailed as one of Beckerath’s finest instruments, it recently received extensive restoration by Taylor and Boody Organbuilders.
Craig Cramer of the University of Notre Dame identified the St. Paul Cathedral organ as one of the most significant instruments in the United States, stating “I consider this organ to be one of the monument organs of the continent. Certainly it can be said that this organ is one of the most important organs to be installed anywhere on this continent in the post World War II era. It is a masterpiece, not only in sound, but in its architectural concept as well. It follows majestically and proudly the basic tenets of the great antique European models, and as such it represents all that is good about the organ as an instrument”.
Here is Paul Jacobs, who grew up near Pittsburgh, playing the St. Paul Cathedral organ: