CD: A0016 Passacaglia

Passacaglia by Paul Ayres

CD CoverA disc of ostinato organ works, featuring music by Bach, Buxtehude, Reger, Willan and several pieces recorded for the first time.

Buy this album CD £12.50 +p&p

Audio Samples

Track Listings

01 Max Reger
Introduction and Passacaglia in D minor
02 Girolamo Frescobaldi
Partite sopra Passacagli

03 Richard Arnell, Tim Brooke, Paul Burnett,Gary Carpenter, Michael Finnissy,Ruben Godman, Simon Gottschalk,John Hawkins, Robert Hugill, Julian Joseph,Andrew Mcliimie, James Mooney-Dutton,
Annie Parker, Tim Parkinson, Antony Pitt, Matthew Power, Daryl Runswick, Ian Stephens,Joby Talbot, Len Tubb, Nick White,
Guy Woolfenden
Passacaglia on themes of Joanne Johnson

04 Andrew Lloyd Webber
Variation 16, from Variations on the
A minor Caprice by Niccolo Paganini

05 Dietrich Buxtehude
Passacaglia in D minor
06 Henry Purcell
Chaconne in G minor
07 Nicholas Ansdell-Evans
08 Healey Willan
Introduction and Passacaglia in E flat minor
09 Dick Koomans
Basso Ostinato
10 Johann Sebastian Bach
Passacaglia in C minor
  Total playing time 1:11:46

CD Notes & Credits

Sleeve Notes:
The organ of St Peter’s Church,
Ealing, London W5.

Built by
Bishop & Son, 1893,
J. W. Walker& Sons, 1924,
Bishop & Son, 1985.


Great organ
Double diapason 16 ft
Open diapason I 8 ft
Open diapason II 8 ft
Clarabella 8 ft
Principal 4 ft
Wald flute 4 ft
Twelfth 2 2/3 ft
Fifteenth 2 ft
Mixture III ranks
Trumpet 8 ft
Choir organ
Viola da gamba 8 ft
Lieblich gedact 8 ft
Dulciana 8 ft
Flauto traverso 4 ft
Piccolo 2 ft
Clarinet 8 ft
Trumpet 8 ft
Swell organ
Lieblich bourdon 16 ft
Violin diapason 8 ft
Rohr flute 8 ft
Echo gamba 8 ft
Voix celestes 8 ft
Principal 4 ft
Fifteenth 2 ft
Mixture III ranks
Contra fagotto 16 ft
Comopean 8ft
Oboe 8 ft
Clarion 4 ft
Pedal organ
Open diapason 16 ft
Bourdon 16ft
Lieblich bourdon 16 ft
Quint l0 2/3 ft
Octave 8 ft
Flute 8 ft
Trombone 16 ft

'Passacaglia' is usually defined as a musical form, originating in the 17th century, in which a constantly repeating melody or motif, often in the bass line, underpins music which varies in figuration, harmony and/or texture.

There is much common ground (if you will excuse the pun which is about to become apparent) between passacaglia, a ‘serious’ composition, usually in 3-time with a 4- or 8-bar theme, ground bass, an English term used by composers such as Byrd and Purcell, with a shorter bass-line, maybe just between two or three notes, chaconne, a 3-time Baroque dance, sometimes with interludes or‘ verses’ between the repeated-bass ‘choruses’, basso ostinato, Italian for ‘obstinate bass’, i.e. where the bass remains grudgingly on one idea while the other pans develop new ones and riff, a jazz/rock term for the same basic principle, usually played by members of the rhythm section while melody instruments improvise.

The term ‘chacona’ is first found in Spain in the late 16th century, as a popular dance with a refrain. It must have been a strong physical experience, as a 1615 edict banned performances of such licentious dances as chaconas and zarabundas in the theatre. The term ‘passacalle’ is thought to have come from ‘pasar’ (to walk) and ‘calle’ (street), and to have originally applied to guitar music performed outside, or whilst walking about. It may have been a guitar refrain, or link, or ‘vamp till ready’ between verses of a song, as the first published examples (Girolamo Montesardo, Florence 1606) are open-ended variations on a I-IV-V-I chord sequence, in all keys, rather than self-contained compositions. Girolamo Frescobaldi gives us the first keyboard music in this form in the early 17th century, and it became popular in organ music with Muffin, Pachelbel and other South-German composers, spreading north to be developed by Buxtehude and Bach.

Such a strict form as the Passacaglia did not appeal strongly to composers of the Classic-Romantic era, with notable exceptions such as Beethoven’s 32 Variations in C minor for piano and the last movement of Brahms’s Symphony no. 4. In the 20th century, the passacaglia experienced a true revival, with its rigorous, static structure exploited for dramatic as well as musical effect, and used by Britten, Ravel, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Tippert, Vaughan Williams, Webern and many others. In the field of popular music, the 12-bar blues may also be seen as an equivalent form (although in this case the whole harmony, not just the bass, repeats).

An interesting point to note is that almost all of the music written in the passacaglia form is in the minor key (Pachelbel’s famous Canon in D is one rare example of a strict ostinato work in the major). Max Reger (1873 - 1916) went to teacher-training college after leaving school, but his love of music and of the organ (he and his father had built one at home), which he called ‘a concert instrument of the very first class’, led to his career as organist, composer, conductor and teacher. Although much of his work is regarded as long-winded, the Introduction and Passacaglia in D minor of 1899 is very immediate and dramatic experience. It was written for an organ album at the request of Ludwig Sauer and the composer claimed ‘any more or less
proficient organist should be able to sight-read’ the piece. From the huge discords and chaos of the Introduction emerges the Passacaglia, whose theme seems eternally striving, and which seems to develop and grow organically, finally achieving its apotheosis in a glorious D major variation and closing with a reminiscence of the opening.

The organist of St Peter’s Rome, Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643), leaves us the first passacaglias, so named, for organ. In the 1627 edition of Il secondo libro di Toccate d’intavolatura di cembalo e organo appear two ostinato works, one of which, the Partite sopra Passacagli, is featured on this recording. Over the next ten years Frescobaldi was to develop the form much further, for in 1637 this work was omitted from the second edition of Il secondo libro... and replaced, as it were, with a much more extended composition, a Partite Cento sopra Passacagli, in the 1637 edition of Il primo libro...

Joanne Johnson studied music at Leeds University and was a finalist in the 1993 BBC Young Composer of the Year Award. Despite her talent as a composer and flautist she committed suicide in March 1997. The Way, for soprano, counter-tenor and organ (1996), starts and finishes with an ostinato figure, and the opening melodies both of this work and of her very last composition, Blood Sky, have been combined to form the theme for Passacaglia on themes of Joanne Johnson. In this new tribute piece, 22 composers have contributed one variation each, on the understanding that any number of variations may be played in any order. The composers were not given specific instructions, resulting in a wide variety of approaches: sometimes the
theme is prominent, sometimes varied and disguised, and sometimes it seems to be more honoured in the breach than the observance.

Here are brief introductions to the composers, in the order in which the variations are played:

Born in 1917, Richard Amell studied composition at the Royal College of Music with John Ireland, since when he has pursued a long and successful career both sides of the Atlantic. In the 1940s he received many performances and commissions in the USA, his music was championed by Thomas Beecham and he started teaching compositions at Trinity College of Music in London. He has composed many symphonic and instrumental works, scores for ballets and for more than 20 films. Recent work has included a sixth string quartet commissioned by the Cheltenham Festival in 1992 and a sixth symphony recorded by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra in 1995. He is currently working on ‘M’, a symphonic statement for President Nelson Mandela.

Nicholas White was born in London and was organ scholar at Glare College, Cambridge. Since 1989 he has worked as a church musician in various parts of the USA before his 1994 appointment as Assistant Organist and Choirmaster of Washington National Cathedral. His choral music has been published by Hinshaw and by Augsburg Fortress, and he also works in the theatre, both in the pit and on stage.

Antony Pitts sang as a boy in the Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace, and was an academic and honorary senior scholar at New College, Oxford, graduating with first-class honours in Music. He now works part-time as a producer for BBC Radio Classical Music and won the Radio Academy BT Award 1996. His music has been performed across Europe and in the USA, and is published by Faber Music and in his own edition, Tonus Peregrinus.

Tim Brooke wrote the score to the much-acclaimed multi-media Whale Nation for the 1989 Glastonbury International Festival of Contemporary Dance. Recent works include long screams, dark voices, swift weapons (for orchestra) and starferrysong (for string quartet).

Annie Parker is a founder member of Flute House Trio, one of the main outlets for her composing work, and plays flute and penny whistle regularly for Tanglefoot Barn Dance band. She has written concert and dance works, and teaches at Middlesex University and for Oxfordshire County Council.

James Mooney-Dutton sang in the Choir of St Giles’s Church, Ickenham, before becoming a chorister at Westminster Abbey in 1995. He studies flute and piano and hopes to take up the organ.

Ian Stephens studied music with Adrian Beaumont at Bristol University. A bassist, cellist and singer, he is now working for the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

Matthew Power comes originally from Guernsey and works as a composer and choral conductor, as Director of Music at the church of St Anne Brookfield, London, and as Assistant Editor of Choir & Organ magazine. His compositional debut came at the age of 15 with a Latin Mass in the Cathedral of St Malo, France, his first broadcast commission while an undergraduate at London University, and in 1997 he was the commissioned composer for the Tudeley Festival.

Guy Woolfenden is Head of Music at the Royal Shakespeare Company and as such has written music for all of Shakespeare’s plays. He has composed for the Kirov Ballet in St Petersburg, for the Comédie-Française in Paris and for many other theatrical and ballet productions throughout the world.

Len Tubb was born in 1910 near the field which is now the Arsenal FC stadium. In the 1930s he was busy as a bandleader, under his professional name, of ‘Leo Weston and his Bunch of Keys’, and his piano accompaniments for the wartime comedian Nosmo King’s monologues were broadcast on the Home Service. He served as verger of St Peter’s Church, Ealing from 1972 to 1995.

Gary Carpenter has a career as composer, arranger, pianist, conductor and lecturer. His musicals have played at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket, London, Buxton Opera House, Theatre Royal, Stratford and Library Theatre, Manchester and his concert works have been performed by the Hallé, BBC Concert and Dutch Radio Philharmonic Orchestras. He has arranged for John Harle, Joanna MacGregor, Paul Silverthorne and the films ‘The Wicker Man’ and ‘Voyager’.

Joby Talbot works in a wide variety of musical genres, from concert pieces, which have been performed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Britten Sinfonia and Brunel Ensemble, to pop music projects, most notably with The Divine Comedy, of which he is musical director, arranger and pianist.

Julian Joseph is a young British composer and pianist, well known in the jazz world, who often infiltrates the classical music scene with performances by such groups as the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Orchestra and the Residencie Orkest in Den Haag. He has worked with Evelyn Glennie, Joanna MacGregor and Martin Brabbins as well as a host of jazz artists including Wynton and Bradford Marsalis, Bobby McFerrin, Johnny Griffin and Joe Zawinul.

John Hawkins studied composition with Malcolm Williamson and Elisabeth Lutyens. Several of his works have been broadcast, including Sea Symphony, by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and by the BBC Scottish Orchestra, This World by the BBC Singers, and Urizen by the violist Paul Silverthorne.

Self-taught as a musician, Robert Hugill’s first pieces were a musical and a musical revue. He now concentrates on choral and vocal music: the motet Here be Angels was commissioned by Crouch End Festival Chorus, and his own choir, Fifteen B, received a grant from the National Lottery to perform his cantata The Young Man and Death - A Dialogue.

Paul Burnell was born in Ystrad, South Wales, and currently lives in West London where he plays oboe with, and composes and arranges for, numerous ensembles.

Simon Gottschalk is currently studying music at Durham University where he is taught composition by Paul Archbold. A number of his pieces have been premiered at the Dulwich Festival and received performances across the country.

Daryl Runswick is Director of Composition and Media Studies at Trinity College of Music, London, and tenor singer in Electric Phoenix. Two CDs of his music are available on the British Music label, with a third planned for release in 1998.

Robert Godman studied at the Royal Northern College of Music with Anthony Gilbert and later with Simon Bainbridge in London. His music ranges from acoustic to digital media. Performers have included Evelyn Glennie, Joanna MacGregor, the BBC Singers and Gemini, and he has collaborated with the Siobhan Davies Dance Company and the CandoCo Dance Company.

Andrew McBirnie studied at Bristol University and the Royal Academy of Music. His music has been performed by the BBC Philharmonic and the BBC Singers as well as the London Sinfonietta, and has been broadcast frequently on BBC radio and television. He was a Fellow at Tanglewood in 1995 where he worked with Henri Dutilleux.

Michael Finnissy is one of Britain’s most highly regarded composers whose work is is frequently commissioned, performed and broadcast world-wide. Much of his music explores the relationship between the simple and ‘innocent’, such as folk music, with rigorous intellectual processes, informed by his fascination with mathematical structures. He created the Music Department of the London School of Contemporary Dance, teaches at Sussex University and the Royal Academy of Music, London, and was President of the International Society of Contemporary Music from 1990 to 1997. As a pianist, Michael Finnissy has been particularly involved with the promotion and commissioning of works by British composers such as Elisabeth Lutyens, Judith Weir and Oliver Knussen.

After studying at Oxford, Tim Parkinson studied composition with Kevin Volans in Dublin. He is currently living in North London.

As a result of losing a bet with his brother on the relegation of Leyton Orient Football Club, Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote a set of Variations on the A minor Caprice by Niccolo Paganini which was released as an album in 1978. The record features Julian Lloyd Webber on cello, with a band including Barbara Thompson on flute, Rod Argent and Don Airey on keyboards and Phil Collins on percussion. The music was used as the dance half of the show Song and Dance and also appears as the theme music to The South Bank Show. Variation 16 shows the strictest application of the ostinato principle — a regularly repeating 2-bar riff bass, over which three ideas are played with: the first is derived from the bass line (itself deriving from Paganini’s famous melody); the second is a chordal version of the second half of Paganini’s tune, with an entertaining ‘red shift’ of harmony in the middle; the third is a wacky fugue on a minor-key version of the tune ‘Blue Peter’. This new organ arrangement has been made by the performer, based on the original MCA recording and on the orchestral arrangement made in 1986 by David Cullen.

Dietrich Buxtehude (c.1637-1707) was born in Denmark, but worked for most of his life in Germany as organist of the Marienkirche in Lübeck. In accordance with traditional practice, he married the daughter of Franz Tunder, his predecessor in the Lübeck position which combined musical duties with church administration, and his own daughter was to marry his successor nearly 40 years later. His Passacaglia in D minor, BuxWV161, is made up of four sections, the outer ones in the tonic key of D minor, the second in F major and the third in A minor. Each section features the seven-note ostinato theme in the pedals seven times. The Dutch organist Piet Kee has put forward the convincing notion that the 4 x 7 statements of the theme are inspired by the 28 days of the lunar month (four weeks of seven days) — many Baroque composers used number symbolism in their work, and Buxtehude’s interest in astronomy is also known from seven keyboard suites (now lost) depicting the nature of the seven planets known at the time. Thus the opening is the new moon and the third section (which contains the most strident writing) is the full moon, and so on. Kee clinches his argument with a paragraph which is worth recounting in full:

‘There is yet another factor in the Passacaglia which points towards the cosmos. Although the precise length of an orbit of the moon around the earth is 27.321661 days, the interval between two new moons is 29.530588 days. The difference in time of 2¼ days, the difference between the so-called sidereal and synodic months, is caused by the movement of the earth around the sun. In Buxtehude’s Passacaglia there is also a difference of length: 28 times the four-bar theme should produce 112 bars, but the total length is 122 bars. This difference is caused by the three modulatory interludes and an extra final bar necessitated to end the piece in D minor. Thus the interludes create an ‘overlength’ of nine bars; converted into theme-lengths (days): 2¼.’

The famous Chaconne in G minor by Henry Purcell (1659—169 5) is scored for two violins, viola and bass viol, and is often heard in arrangements for string quartet, string ensemble or string orchestra. This new organ transcription has been devised by the performer.

Nicholas Ansdell-Evans started his career as a pianist and organist (making his Purcell Room solo debut at the age of 18 and winning all the major FRCO prizes in 1990), but now works fall time as a composer. Recent works include a commission from Salisbury Cathedral Choir and orchestral works for the Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools’ Orchestra. In 1998, he is working on a commission from the Croydon Bach Choir and a cantata for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to celebrate their royal incorporation. His Passacaglia of 1995 is cast in the exact form (four groups of seven variations) of the Buxtehude Passacaglia. The writing is influenced by composers such as Buxtehude and Purcell, and due to Ansdell-Evans’s mastery of texture and structure, the music remains entertaining and convincing without falling into the gauche superficiality one often finds in the ‘neo-Baroque’.

Healey Willan was born in Balham in 1880 and moved to Toronto in 1913, holding many important musical appointments there until his death in 1968. The Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue in E flat minor, of which the Introduction and Passacaglia are here recorded, was written in 1916: Willan was at this time organist of St Paul’s Church, Bloor Street, which boasted a new (1914) four-manual organ, the largest in the country and at the time the eighth-largest in the world. A story is told of how the composer’s friend Dalton Baker remarked of the Reger Passacaglia in D minor that such a work could only have been composed by a ‘German philosophical mind’. Willan thus composed his own piece in this form (on behalf of the English-speaking musical world, perhaps?) which combines the structural strength found in the Reger with a much wider variety of melodic and harmonic ideas, and many interesting varieties of registration. He claimed to have written each variation on a separate tram journey from Toronto to his rented summer accommodation near Jackson’s Point, later adding the Introduction, and finally composing the Fugue.

Dick Koomans was born in 1957 and received his musical training at the Amsterdamsch Conservatorium (now the Sweelinck Conservatorium) as an organist and harpsichordist. Since 1990 he has concentrated on composition and in 1997 his ballet The Jogger was performed at the Joyce Theater on Broadway, New York. He is currently working in the Belgium and Netherlands tour of the musical Annie, for which he was repetiteur and co-arranger. Basso Ostinato was originally written for synthesizers and also exists in an arrangement for jazz band. The organ version can be seen, according to the composer, ‘as an experiment in writing “light” contemporary music for an old instrument’. There are two ostinato themes, the first in D minor and the second in G# minor Both are treated quite freely, modulating around and developing into new versions of themselves, within an overall stylistic world reminiscent of Starsky & Hutch-genre theme and incidental (‘chase’) music.

The Passacaglia in C minor, BWV582 by J.S.Bach (1685—1750) concludes this CD, and it stands as one of the masterpieces in the whole organ repertory. It certainly acted as an important model of the passacaglia form for subsequent generations of composers, but the coupling of the passacaglia with the fugue which concludes the work is unique in the Baroque era. Bach’s manuscript is not available to us and the earliest source is found in the ‘Andreas-Bach-Buch’, a manuscript that includes various passacaglias and ciaconas by Pachelbel, Bohm and Buxtehude (including the Passacaglia in D minor featured on this recording). Such a rich and profound work as that of Bach has inspired many very different interpretations, in theory and practice. Harvey Grace in 1922 suggested that each variation should be played on a different combination of stops, making an overall crescendo’ of the piece — an idea much more suited to the Reger and Willan pieces. More recent commentators have sought relationships between the variations and to group them in various patterns, suggesting manual- or stop-changes to reflect these structures. Interestingly (if one is interested in such things), Piet Kee has argued convincingly that the whole piece is based, using a complex system of number symbolism, on the Lord’s Prayer (see ‘The Secrets of Bach’s Passacaglia’ in The Diapason, June, July, August and September 1983). Ultimately, however, the music professes its own unity of concept, and any artificial division into sections will, while highlighting certain musical relationships, necessarily destroy others, and so this performance is made on one registration throughout. This artistic reason is more important than, but certainly could be supported by, questions of ‘authenticity’.


Many people have helped enormously with the preparation of this CD, in particular the Reverend Dr William Taylor and the PCC of St Peter’s Church, Ealing, Mark Denza, Douglas Hollick, Don Kennedy, Robin Langley and the RCO Library, Malcolm Lauder, Michael Mappin, Ian McRae, Dan Molt, Ruth Pepper, Matthew Power, David Sanger, Caroline Skidmore and the Really Useful Group Ltd, Ian, Andrea and Benjamin Webb-Taylor and John Woolrich, to whom heartfelt thanks are due.


Fand Music Recordings FAND 102
Played on the organ of Sr Peter’s Church, Paling, London, by Paul Ayres, February/March 1998.
Recorded and edited by Michael Mappin.
Registration assistants: Ruth Pepper, Matthew Power, Matthew Shorter, Ian Webb-Taylor
Inlay design: Malcolm Lauder Design Associates.
Production: Repeat Performance Ltd.

All rights reserved. Unauthorised copying, hiring, lending, public performance and broadcasting prohibited

Album Information

Instruments: Organ
Genre: Classical
Format: CD
Our Ref: A0016
Label: Fand Music Recordings
Year: 1998
Origin: UK

Artists Information & Contact Details

Paul Ayres
Paul Ayres

“a confident musicality and formidable technical assurance”

Choir & Organ magazine, September/October 1998

“…commanding technique resulted in performances of total clarity and precision”

Sevenoaks Chronicle, April 2000

“a player of outstanding talent and authority”

Hexham Courant, May 2000

Paul Ayres was born in London in 1970 and read music at Oxford University as organ scholar of Merton College. He graduated with a first-class honours degree in 1991, at the same time obtaining the FRCO diploma, winning the Turpin/Durrant, Harding and Samuel Baker prizes. He now works as a freelance organist, composer and choral conductor, and is Assistant Director of Music at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, London.

His first solo CD, “Passacaglia”, on the Fand Music Label (which has been broadcast on the radio in Australia, South Africa, USA and Hungary) was enthusiastically received:

“The Buxtehude and Bach pieces are given mature and yet energetic performances, whilst the Lloyd Webber and Koomans have so much vitality and bounce to them that they are quite addictive. On this his debut solo organ disc Paul Ayres shows himself to be a player of the highest calibre…” Simon FitzGerald, The Organ, August 1998

“Paul Ayres’s attractively constructed programme… playing is never less than assured…” Stephen Haylett, BBC Music Magazine November 1998

“This is an imaginative record, by a fine player on a fine instrument…the playing is splendid!” Organists’ Review, November 1998

“…an interesting programme, well played with great energy” Church Music Quarterly, January 1999

“Paul Ayres shows excellent technique and stylistic awareness throughout… a CD exploring the organ and some new music with great enthusiasm and flair.” Basil Ramsey, Music and Vision (daily internet music magazine) May 1999

Recital venues have included:

[London] St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Central Hall, St Martin-in-the-Fields,

St Bride’s Fleet Street, Marylebone Parish Church, St Michael’s Cornhill, St Lawrence Jewry

[UK] Bristol, Norwich, Sheffield, Truro, Portsmouth, Glasgow and Edinburgh Cathedrals, St Alban’s Abbey,

Hexham Abbey, St Mary Redcliffe Bristol, Hull City Hall

[Europe] St Finbarre’s Cathedral Cork, St Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin, Copenhagen Cathedral, St Johannes Kirke Bergen, Skt Klara Stockholm and other venues in Scandinavia, Holland, Germany and Hungary

[USA and Canada] St Thomas’s Fifth Avenue New York, Washington National Cathedral, St James’s Cathedral Toronto, Christ Church Cathedral Ottawa, Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, Adolphus Busch Hall Harvard University, St Paul’s Cathedral Boston, Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral Kansas City, St Andrew’s Cathedral Honolulu and venues in Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Michigan, Florida, South Carolina, New York, Connecticut and Illinois

[Australia and New Zealand] St George’s Cathedral Perth, Nelson Cathedral, St Paul’s Cathedral Rockhampton, Newcastle Cathedral, St Paul’s Cathedral Goulburn

Telephone 020 8632 1854
Booking Contact as above
Teaching Private pupils accepted , Grade 5 and above
Ensembles Music of the Fuchsia
Artist Web Site

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