Organ recital explores relationships of music and art master

ATLANTA, GA— On Saturday afternoon, June 29, First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta and its next door neighbor, The High Museum of Art, presented a collaborative “Music and Masterworks” program featuring six works for solo organ allied with projected images of seven works of visual art from the High’s “European Masterworks: The Phillips Collection” exhibit, which closes July 14.

Claudia Einecke, the High Museum’s curator of European art, presented the projections of the selected works of art and Jens Korndörfer, First Presbyterian’s director of worship, arts, and organist, performed music chosen to go with them.

The opening segment was the most interesting in terms of the relationships. It compared a pair of paintings by two French artists, “A Bowl of Plums” (1728) by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin and “Ginger Pot urh Pomegranate and Pears” (1893) by Paul Cézanne, with music by two German composers: the chorale prelude Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich (BWV 605) from the Orgelbüchlein (“Little Organ Book”) by J.S. Bach and Choralfantasie über “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott,” Op. 27 (1898) by Max Reger.

Connections can be observed on several levels. Chardin was a contemporary of Bach; Cézanne a contemporary of Reger. Both are paintings still life involving fruit and household tableware, just as both musical compositions are based on Lutheran chorale tunes. However, differences in style were also telling: masters of fairly settled early 18th-century styles (Chardin and Bach) compared to transitional 19th-century fin-de-siècle styles (Cézanne and Reger). [...]

Two other comparisons were more easily drawn through common subject. Composer Louis Vierne was organist at the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris from 1900 until his death in 1937, and during that time Henri Rousseau created his painting “Notre Dame” (1906) – the allied musical example was “Lied,” No. 17 from Vierne’s 24 Pièces en Style libre.

More musically intriguing was the pairing of the portrait “Paganini” by Eugène Delacroix with George Thalben-Ball’s Variations on a theme of Paganini for pedal solo. These Variations are a genuine tour de force for the feet, and served to show off not only Korndörfer’s remarkable pedal technique but also the unusual “Pedal Divide” capability – just one of the state-of-the-art special pistons and features of the organ’s 2018 Klais/Schlueter upgrade. 
The “Pedal Divide” was notably used in the Variations. It allowed Korndörfer to play a bass line in one registration with his left foot, while using another registration for the upper half of the pedalboard where he played a melodic part in parallel thirds with his right foot alone. Not all organists can do the latter, as it requires a certain flexibility of the organist’s ankles to make it possible to play thirds involving two “white keys.”

Given that organ pedal technique treats the two feet like a single four-fingered hand, it’s not surprising that Korndörfer was also able to play a four-part chorale passage with feet alone. I learned afterward that he was wearing ordinary dress shoes, not shoes specially designed to make this possible.

To conclude the recital, “The Uprising” by Honoré Daumier invoked Korndörfer to choose another musical showpiece to represent it: The Overture to Richard Wagner’s opera, The Flying Dutchman, in a colorfully played arrangement for solo organ by Edwin H. Lamare. Following the concert, attendees were permitted admission to the exhibition on the second floor of the High.

Mark GreshamEarRelevant