From Triomphe de l’Art Modal to The Embrace of Fire: Charles Tournemire, Eastern Scales and the Organ Music of Naji Hakim

Crista Miller

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

In French organ music, the Sainte Clotilde tradition of Paris is embodied by Cesar Franck, Charles Tournemire, Jean Langlais, and Naji Hakim. Its compositions utilize the Cavaillé-Cöll organ, improvisatory techniques, and beginning with Tournemire, the prominence of Gregorian chant. However, Tournemire’s more experimental work contributed to future reception of non-French materials combined with Western chants. Tournemire noted twenty-eight Hindu modes in his 1936 Précis d'exécution, de registration et d'improvisation à l’orgue, and used both Gregorian and Hindu elements in his 1935 Sept-Chorals-Poemes d’orgue pour les Sept Paroles du Christ. Similarly, Middle Eastern building blocks are found alongside Gregorian themes in the music of Naji Hakim (b. 1955). This paper examines early compositional experiments in the Sacratissimi Cordis Jesu of Tournemire’s L’Orgue Mystique and Hakim’s The Embrace of Fire (1986).

In each composer’s future works, these experiments matured. Where Hakim used a Hindu mode from Tournemire’s Sept-Chorals-Poemes both melodically and harmonically in The Embrace of Fire, in his future works he favors Arabic modes.However, Hakim is unique in this French tradition: he is not borrowing cultural elements. Rather, he knows Arabic modes and rhythms, the Maronite Catholic rite and popular Hindu music firsthand from his childhood culture in Beirut, Lebanon. A defining characteristic of Hakim’s compositions, then, is the use of Maronite chant and Arabic maqamat. These elements mature after publication of The Embrace of Fire.

Crista Miller, DMA, is the Director of Music and Organist at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston. Committee Chair for procuring Martin Pasi's Opus 19 organ, she leads a growing music and concert program. A member of EastWest Organists, she has performed in seven countries and twenty states, including her 2015 multi-media series Projections for Houston Arts Alliance and the City of Houston. Her work on Tournemire and Hakim was published in 2014’s Mystic Modern: The Music, Thought and Legacy of Charles Tournemire, Jennifer Donelson and Stephen Schloesser, eds. Crista chairs the New Music Committee for AGO Houston 2016.