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Release: Aug. 24, 2001

Organist Disselhorst to open faculty recital series

Organist Delbert Disselhorst will open the 2001-2002 season of faculty recitals at the University of Iowa School of Music with a performance at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7 in Clapp Recital Hall on the UI campus. His performance will be free and open to the public.

Disselhorst, appearing at the top of the fall faculty recital schedule, will open and close his program with a composer who, for many organists, stands at the top of the list of European composers: J.S. Bach. Disselhorst will play Bach’s Fantasy and Fugue in G minor, S.542, to open the program, and the Prelude and Fugue in E minor, S.548, to close the program.

Between these bookends, he will play a set of organ chorales by Helmut Walcha, who was Disselhorst’s teacher in Germany, as well as the Theme and Variations in A-flat major by Johann Friedrich Ludwig Thiele and the Suite for Organ of American composer Leo Sowerby.

"The two Bach works reflect diverse influences from two different periods in Bach’s life," Disselhorst said. "The Fantasy in g minor is modeled on the ‘fantastic style’ of Bach’s older north German contemporaries, in which brilliant improvisatory writing contrasts with imitative sections. The fugue, which may not originally have been paired with the fantasy, may have originated as an improvisation for a Hamburg organ position Bach sought in 1720.

"The Prelude and Fugue in e minor was written later, during Bach’s Leipzig years. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘Wedge,’ due to the expanding chromatic nature of the fugue subject. It is the longest of all the organ preludes and fugues. The Prelude has three distinct themes, and the fugue is a ‘da capo’ fugue with the initial section repeated exactly at the end.

The middle portion is less a fugue than a brilliant improvisation with the fugue subject appearing here and there simply as a theme."

Helmut Walcha was a distinguished teacher, concert and recording artist, composer, and dedicated church musician in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, where he was active from 1929 until his death in 1991. As a young organ student, Disselhorst received a Fulbright grant to study with Walcha in Frankfurt.

Walcha composed 81 settings of well-known chorales. Intended as introductions to the singing of the chorales by the congregation, these pieces also are representative of the art of chorale improvisation for which Walcha was extremely well known.

Thiele was organist at a church in Berlin from 1839 until his death in 1848 and the age of only 32. Although his 10 concert works for organ were performed by leading German and American organists at the end of the 19th century and in the early years of the 20th century, they gradually disappeared from the repertoire. After years of neglect they are being rediscovered today, and a major conference is being planned with lectures and performance of the complete works at Yale University in 2003.

"Thiele’s works represent a level of virtuosity far above anything else written in his time," Disselhorst said. "The organ works of Bach’s sons and pupils, of Mendelssohn, Schumann and others are far better known, but much less challenging in many technical aspects. In some respects the virtuosity you find in Thiele’s works, especially of the pedal, is not seen in German organ literature until the works of Liszt some years later."

In 1921 Sowerby became the first American composer to be awarded the coveted "Prix de Rome," which earned its winner the opportunity to study in Rome for three years. He was also later awarded a Pulitzer Prize. Today, Sowerby is best known for his organ works and compositions for the church. He wrote, however, for all performance media including a violin concerto, two piano concertos, five symphonies, chamber music, songs and many other works.

At about the time the suite was written the composer was writing more for other performers than for himself. When teased by a student for having written something he possibly could not play himself, Sowerby replied, "This is not true. I don’t know if I can, and I don’t intend to find out."

Disselhorst has been a member of the UI School of Music faculty since 1970. He holds both bachelors and masters degrees in music from the University of Illinois, where he graduated as a Bronze Tablet Scholar. As a recipient of a Fulbright grant in organ, he also studied at the Staatliche Hochschule fuer Musik in Frankfurt, Germany. He earned the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Michigan.

As a concert artist, Disselhorst has performed in the United States, Canada and Europe. He has appeared as a recitalist for several regional conventions and for the National Convention of the American Guild of Organists in Houston, Texas, in 1989. He has recorded the Organ Books of Ned Rorem and "Prophesies" by Daniel Pinkham on the Arkay Label.

The School of Music is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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