Friday, June 12, 2009

Reminiscences of an Active Life #17 -- June 12, 2009

Doctor Peter Henri Van Der Weyde was born in Nymegen, Holland in 1813. He went on to live a remarkable life of achievement in the sciences and the arts. He died in America in 1895.

While serving as editor of Manufacturer and Builder Magazine, he wrote many articles, including the ones which gave this blog its name. In 1893 and 1894, he published a 23-part (!) memoir in the same periodical. Here is the seventeenth part. He continues to talk about his interest in music.

The tower of the town hall in Heusden was demolished by the Nazis in 1944 in such
a way that it killed one tenth of the population, who were hiding in the cellar.

The image comes from Manufacturer and Builder Volume 4, Issue 10, October 1872, page 233.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Part Seven

Part Eight

Part Nine

Part Ten

Part Eleven

Part Twelve

Part Thirteen

Part Fourteen

Part Fifteen

Part Sixteen

Reminiscences of an Active Life.


From Manufacturer and Builder, Volume 26, Issue 6, June 1894

(Continued from page 107.)

9th. Career as an Organist.-- My last teacher, De Vries, often expressed the opinion that an organ wants improvisation by an improvisator to bring out what there is in it. This, of course, he can only do after having first made himself acquainted with the resources offered by the peculiarities of its construction, which varies considerably in different organs. In fact, they are never exactly like one another, wherefore it is absolutely necessary for a performer to examine and try privately any large organ previous to giving a public performance on the same.

This last remark reminds me of the extra duty imposed upon the organists of preeminently good organs. Their duty is to give on some week day, for one or two hours, a public performance on their organs, when they may bring out such beauties of their instruments as are not suitable to be exhibited during public worship.

Large organs contain stops which give imitations of various instruments, such as the flute, clarionet (sic – JT), cornet, etc. With such an organ, having always three or four key-boards, an organist can entertain an audience as fully as a whole orchestra with its solo players, wherefore organ concerts, in the hands of proficient performers, are very enjoyable to the public, which in Holland never fails to take advantage of the opportunity.

My teacher, De Vries, enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for his finish and taste in piano playing, and in consequence had so great a number of pupils that he was glad to let me often attend to organ-playing not only on week days, but also during religious services, of which my relatives, especially my mother, were very proud. It was so good a training for me, that on the first occasion that a position as organist in a neighboring town had to be given by competitive examination, I was far ahead of the other candidates.

The city referred to was the small city of Heusden, North Braband, with a very large church. The church authorities advertised, as customary, in the public papers, that on a stated day a public competition would take place, when candidates would be given a chance to perform before examiners, who were not allowed to know who was playing, but had to decide by number who performed the best.

When I arrived at the appointed time, I found thirty other candidates, to each of which was, of course, given a chance to examine the organ to be performed upon. Then we had to draw lots to decide the order of performance, while the sexton took charge of all of them and brought them to a house in the vicinity where the organ could not be heard, as no one was permitted to hear the others play, as this would give a great advantage to those who had to play later, because they all had to perform the same programme (sic – JT) which they found on the desk over the organ key-board. Therefore, when one had finished, the sexton went for another one to take his place.

My turn came much sooner than I expected, for the reason, as I was told, that half the candidates had withdrawn when they came to the organ key-boards and saw the programme. These programmes were about as follows, but varied according to the taste of the examiner or examiners:

1st. Introductory voluntary, to begin in the key of B minor, modulate through the keys a G major, C minor, and close in the key of A flat major.

2d. Play in that key one verse of the melody of Psalm 65 with the proper harmony, modulate to a lower key, and play the next verse in that key.

3d. Execute the thorough bass indicated by bass notes and figures on the music sheet before you.

4th. Harmonize the chromatic scale upward and downward; play scale with the right hand and harmony with the left.

5th. Play the chromatic scale with the pedals, and harmonize with both hands on full organ.

This is only intended to give an idea of the style of programmes used on such occasions; the programme on that occasion I have forgotten, as this event took place some sixty years ago.

After the information was given me that I had been elected, a paper was shown me testifying that I was the only candidate who had satisfactorily performed all the numbers of the programme. It was signed by all the examiners.

Attached to the church was an old tower with heavy bells, which were rung to call the congregation; but the chimes of bells often found on church towers were here on a smaller square tower on the City Hall, where there was clock-work moving the hands of four dials, one on each side, while at every hour and half hour the chimes played a lively tune before striking the hour. As people do not want to hear the same tune always, this tune has to be changed twice a year, which has to be done by the organist, who therefore has to understand the structure of a barrel organ, on the principle of which the chimes of bells ring automatically every hour. This is common in Holland, also in my native town, where I had assisted the organist to perform the work of changing the old tune to a new one.

I was also examined on this subject, of which I was the only candidate who knew anything about it, and of which the others did not understand anything at all.

(To be Continued.)

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