My favourite music

Justin in the Anderson Room office in 2013. Photographed by Sarah Chapman.

Last summer, staff at the Pendlebury library and the UL Music Department were asked to do a sort of Desert Island Discs (one disc not eight, luxury item and book of course allowed). I was about to pick Ennio Morricone’s Chi Mai composed in 1971. It was made famous for the television series The Life & Times of David Lloyd George and reached number 2 on the UK singles chart in 1981. I remember hearing it coming from the radio in the UL’s printing department which used to be near the back door. There should be more music at the back door.

However I still prefer Cesar Franck’s Chorale no. 2. which is on a record I bought in Ely Cathedral in the 1970s played by the organist at the time Arthur Wills (who sadly passed away last October).

It would be still some years in the future before I bought my first CD, which was a collection of organ music composed by Charles-Valentin Alkan. A story goes a bookcase fell on him as he tried to get a copy of the Talmud from the top shelf and died; but the truth is he lived alone, collapsed and was trapped by a piece of furniture.

Franck at the organ.

Cesar Franck’s three chorales were composed in 1890. He knew he did not have long to live because shortly before he had been involved in an accident with a trolley bus. He was a deeply religious man and you can hear his faith in his music. I especially like the quiet passages where one could use a Vox Humana or Celeste stop. He has been described as a “cheerful saint”. His students loved him and gave him the nickname “Pater seraphicus” (seraphic father). He was organist of St. Clotilde in Paris for over thirty years and from 1872 onward Professor of organ at the Paris Conservatoire. He was Belgian but became a naturalized Frenchman so that he could work at the Conservatoire.

Claude Debussy said he was a great musician. Franz Liszt said hearing Franck extemporizing was like hearing Bach at his own organ.                                                                                                                                    

I wanted to vote for Chorale No. 2 in Classic FMs Hall of Fame one year but only Chorale No. 3 was included on the voting list. I like the excitement of no 3, but I enjoy the soothing music of No 2.

The soothing music of Franck’s second chorale.

Further reading

Full with Wills : my life in my music : a memoir / Arthur Wills. Brighton : Pen Press, c2006. (M950.c.200.941 – available via Click and Collect)


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