Rhapsody for organforces: Organ
published by: United Music Publishers
Winner of First and Second Prizes, Lloyd’s Bank National Composition Award, Cornhill Festival, London, 1982.
In summer 1985 the then 21-year-old virtuoso Jeremy Filsell gave a performance of Empyrean at the organ of Coventry Cathedral as part of a recording for the long-defunct Wealden Classics label (cassette). This may be heard here, with the kind permission of Jeremy Filsell, a close friend of and collaborator with the composer for over 35 years:
The impulse to write this piece came from the experience of sitting beneath the famous Octagon in the crossing of Ely Cathedral during a performance of the Berlioz Requiem Mass.
Architectural features of our great churches communicate as deliberate visual metaphors for things of the spirit; and so, on a summer evening, with shafts of light intersecting in its lantern, the Octagon provided a memorable image of Christian aspiration willing the soul upward, away from the earth and towards heaven. This is the idea behind the resulting music. In mediaeval times the word ’empyrean’ (from the Greek for fire, or the firmament) came to apply by extension to the supposed tunnel leading from this world up to the next, and it is in this sense that it offers an apposite title for the music. To reinforce its significance, two verses (first and last) from one of Isaac Watts’ greatest hymns are superscribed on the manuscript:
Give us the wings of faith, to rise
Within the veil, and see
The saints above, how great their joys,
How bright their glories be…
…Our glorious Leader claims our praise
For His own pattern given,
While the great cloud of witnesses
Show the same path to heaven.
Empyrean is dominated throughout by a four note pattern (first heard almost at once) whose kinship to Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb or Shostakovich’s musical monogram D-S-C-H is merely coincidental. Tonally the music rests principally upon conflict between the triadic areas of A minor and F sharp major, especially in the latter stages. The intended impression is of music first heard coming from far above, gradually approached and finally encountered in full and blazing immediacy.
© Francis Pott, 1989
Honest music of a quality that is rare in the contemporary organ repertoire. Most striking is the ability to develop ideas into a convincing and strong structure. A highly effective concert piece.
Organists’ Review, 1989