Alternatim Performance Practice in French Classical Organ Works

Christopher Holman

Thursday, June 23, 9:30 AM
Meeting Room 335.B-C

A substantial portion of the French Classical organ literature consists of relatively short pieces intended for alternatim performance. Yet today, performers routinely present the organ versets only, without any singing in between; further, when audiences are fortunate enough to hear plainsong, the performance practice often follows the Solesmes school of chanting: quick, unmetered, and unaccompanied. Primary sources, however, suggest an entirely different approach to chant.

This lecture will examine several little-known documents that can assist modern organists in presenting historically informed performances of alternatim works. Alexandre Hardy’s Methode de serpent (1815) instructs serpent players how to improvise accompaniment to plainchant, providing valuable insight into chant tempi and French Classical interpretations of neumes for vocal versets. These ideas will then be compared with Imbert de Sens’s Nouvelle methode de plain-chant (1780). Liturgical context will also be considered by examining the Ceremonial de Toul (1700) and excerpts from similar ecclesiastical edicts. Together, these documents indicate an approach to plainsong performance that more closely mirrors the writing of existing organ versets based on chant than the Solemses style, and better communicates the music.

Christopher Holman is pursuing a Master of Music degree in organ performance and literature at the University of Houston Moores School of Music, and holds Bachelor of Music degrees in both organ and vocal performance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As an organist, he has performed throughout North America, won prizes at the Albert Schweitzer, Quimby Regional Young Organists’, and Young Baroque Artists Competitions, and has appeared as a solo and continuo keyboardist for the Bach Society Houston, Mercury, Austin Baroque Orchestra, and others. His primary teachers include Robert Bates, Dana Robinson, Matthew Dirst, and Charlotte Mattax.