By Peter Niedmann
Noel Rawsthorne died on January 28th. He was the esteemed organist of Liverpool Cathedral from 1955 to 1980. Also a composer, Rawsthorne may be best known for his collection of hymn reharmonizations: 200 Last Verses.
Jean Guillou died on January 26th. He was the esteemed organist of Saint Eustache from 1963 to 2015. Also a composer, Guillou may be best known for his Toccata.
John Joubert died on January 7th. He was a British-South African composer who lived from 1927-2019. Joubert may be best known for his carols, Torches and There Is No Rose of Such Virtue.
Sensing a pattern?
The world of choral and organ music is populated with many fine composers who, for whatever reason, are known by only one or two of their pieces. They wrote plenty of other music of equal quality, yet their existence is eclipsed by the “greatest hit.” Paul Manz…Gregorio Allegri…the two Harolds (Darke, Friedell).
[There are examples of “one-hit-wonders” in the symphonic world, too. Holst and Mussorgsky come to mind.]
But—speaking as a composer—I would rather be remembered for generations by only one composition, than not remembered at all! To contribute one perfect gem to the canon is an honor. Can you imagine how many thousands of choirs sing Tallis’ If Ye Love Me on the Sunday when John 14: 15-17 is the Gospel reading?
Of course, as thoughtful musicians, we should be digging deeper into composer’s catalogues to share more of their work with the world. Their job was to write music. Our job is to perform it. We need to do our part. Perhaps, while planning for next season, we can spend some time researching overlooked repertoire, and try to fold some of it into the mix. It will certainly add interest to our work—always a good thing!