Improvisation on Adeste, Fideles

Recessional voluntary or recital piece for Advent or Christmas

forces: Organ
duration: 6'00"
2005
published by: Peters Edition

A performance of the Improvisation by Tom Winpenny, who gave its world premiere in 2005, may be heard here:

 

Composers' Note

This piece was commissioned by Christopher Jonas as a recessional voluntary for the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols broadcast from the Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, in December 2005. It was written for and played by Tom Winpenny, at that time Senior Organ Scholar at King’s College. The idea behind it had, however, taken root some considerable time earlier, when an egregiously flippant work based on the same tune had been played in Winchester Cathedral during my time as a lay clerk there (its composer shall remain nameless). When I had commented unguardedly upon it, the performer’s cheerful response had been to challenge me to do better. Years later, the resolutely diatonic foursquareness of the AdesteFideles tune presented considerably greater challenges than I had anticipated! 

The Improvisation presents various motivic fragments of the Adeste, Fideles melody while disguising them through rhythmic alteration, as at the very start, where the first four notes of the tune are imitatively declaimed as catalyst for a broad introduction (longer stretches are obliquely apparent too, but much altered harmonically and tonally). When the piece gets fully underway as a sort of toccata based on jig-like rhythms, the tune’s opening remains embedded within the flow of continuous semiquavers. After a quieter secondary presentation of the theme, snatches of it are subjected to canonic exploration, including inversions of its original content, before the music resumes its former energy in a brief fugato.  A discursive development follows, in which fragments of the original tune’s chorus can be intermittently heard as jaggedly dancing chordal rhythms.  

Eventually the entire tune bursts forth in canon between the uppermost ‘voice’ and the pedals, a device heavily dependent upon the harmonic language used to lend the melody a drastically-modified tonal context. After this the earlier fugato passage is balanced and rounded off by a thunderous pedal entry of its subject, and the material of the work’s opening bars recurs in modified guise, fanning out first in descending and then in ascending form. In its closing stages the piece settles upon modally-inflected D major as its definitive point of arrival: one of several possibilities implicit in the music’s very opening bar. 

Composers' Note