The Organist Entertains

On Thursday evening, our Director of Music, and talented organist, Roger Muttitt, delivered a recital in the Chapel inspired by two themes: Variations and Shakespeare. It was an exquisite selection of pieces, and they were all delivered masterfully.

Roger’s first piece would be familiar to everyone who is a fan of the BBC’s The Apprentice. Sergei Prokofiev’s Dance of the Nights from his ballet Romeo and Juliet usually accompanies the start of each episode, and tonight, Roger himself transcribed the orchestral arrangement for the college’s organ. A slow, haunting and steady section is situated between by the famous thundering chords which accompany those dreaded words “You’re fired”!

Roger Muttitt became Director of Music in October 2015 and is also Head of Music at Durham School
Roger Muttitt became Director of Music in October 2015 and is also Head of Music at Durham School

William Shakespeare died 400 years ago, and it was very fitting that Roger selected music inspired by the bard for tonight’s recital. His other theme, Variations, was also an excellent opportunity to showcase works inspired by a common theme. His next selection was Jan Pieter Sweelinck’s Variations on ‘Mein junges Leben hat ein End’, which was written in the Sixteenth Century, in a similar style to Byrd and Gibbons, who wrote music with which Shakespeare would have been familiar. The Dutch song has a very soft, subtle melody, and as the Variations progress, it evolves into a rich, quick and powerful work that tested our Director’s dexterity and athleticism!

The Belgian composer Flor Peeters wrote Variations on an Original Theme some three centuries later, and it shares a similar structure and style, with a gentle, subtle introduction, followed by a rousing finale. This Twentieth Century piece had a richer texture, almost evoking a black-and-white film score, but it was delivered with skill and poise, with a particular highlight being the rapid fast movement.

British composer William Walton wrote the Henry V Suite, and Roger chose the Passacaglia entitled Death of Falstaff. Sir John Falstaff is a Knight who fell out of favour with the King (“The King has killed his heart”). Walton’s music begins slowly, with a sombre, powerful slow section reminiscent of a funeral march. The organ – being the King of all instruments – is capable of evoking joy and sorrow equally, and Roger’s juxtaposition of the moving Walton in between the happier Peeters and Bach meant that the audience was presented with a complete array of emotions.

The recital concluded with J. S. Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor. An organ piece by a Baroque master was a fantastic finale to the programme. The passacaglia began like the Walton passacaglia, with a slow, sombre, gradual beginning, before evolving into the powerful and uplifting fugue. Roger interpreted Bach’s music beautifully, and as the organ grew louder and stronger, every note was played to perfection, and the audience duly gave our Director of Music a hearty round of applause as he drew the recital to a rousing end.

St. Chad’s College currently has a vacancy for an Organ Scholarship, and an Organ recital is usually delivered every term in the Chapel. On Monday, the College choir will combine with the rest of Durham University’s college choirs to sing Evensong in the Cathedral, before departing upon a tour to Amsterdam.