The hope of Heaven

Yesterday, a CD arrived for me in the post, from America.

It was one that my husband had bought me in honour of that famous feast day of St Cyril and St Methodius (14th February… -these apostles to the Slavic nations actually existed unlike the fairly spurious chap with the heart motif), Cyril invented a written language -Cyrillic, to share the Gospel.

The CD was very hard to track down, because it was remastered from an LP, and contained a recording, I would say safely the world’s BEST recording, of Widor’s Toccata. Played by virtuoso organist, the late Fernando Germani, upon the organ of Selby Abbey in Yorkshire…

Fernando Germani

Now I’m not an expert on Widor or on organists… but this particular piece of music has held such significance for me since childhood, that I can safely say, I’ve become a bit of an expert on available recordings.

When I was a child, I used to have quite strong synaesthesia, when I heard music, I ‘saw’ almost overlaid with genuine visual input, bands of colours, ranging from mauves and turquoises, through to yellows, pale browns and greens… I also used to find sound more powerful than physical input… so that a loud shout, or the roar of a train was physically more upsetting than a blow to the body or a nasty fall. This latter remains  true…

When I was young, my father had a superb record player and sound system, with two sets of speakers, all arranged in a lit-up cabinet. And he taught me how to work the record player. And I would kneel alone in the light of the cabinet, on the floor, with my head positioned between the two lowers speakers, hardly breathing, as I listened to an LP, ‘The King of Instruments’, on which were played a variety of famous organ works by Bach and others.

The music thrilled through my body and mind first like a musical carding comb, smoothing out tangles and knots, then pouring like water over my head – clean and flowing, and then like light and water, like a baptism of sound, turning every part of me to light and life, so that my mind and my body was full of light… and the final piece of music on the LP was this Widor’s toccata… like a flight across an ocean of darkness and light in which one is at times a flying-fish and at times a swimming-bird, and always in living motion; aware of the expanse of immeasurable height above and the awesome depth below.

It spoke to me with certainty, of things worth living for, things unseen and yet only just out of reach.

Certain music has always felt transcendent, that is something most human beings can identify with, whether they would regard themselves as spiritual or religious, or not… Some pieces have temporary appeal, according to our state of mind, whilst others seem to be alchemical, able to reach us throughout our lives…

…Years passed, I left home, and my father got rid of his record player… I occasionally heard snippets of Widor’s toccata, on the radio, at a wedding… and though I sensed a peculiar longing, I was unaware why, not having known, as a child, what the piece was called. And none of the performances quite set me alight in the same way as those earlier hearings.

In recent years, I purchased two, three, four CDs, with performances of the piece… and listening to them once, I never played them again as they just weren’t right. I would sit poised by the speakers of my CD player -and time and again I would be disappointed… So many organists seemed to treat the piece like a complicated exercise… fitting all those notes in at high speed, to show what they were capable of, stomping along as fast as they could to display their skill… you could sometimes even hear them rocking back and forth to pump more blood to their fingers as they fought to keep the pace… but for me it was just sad… like catching a glimpse of a beloved in a crowd, only to turn them around and see the features were similar but not the same.

Then a couple of weeks ago I tried a new tactic… I looked up the original LP on the internet, and discovered what the tracks were, and who had played them, and when and where….

So I uncovered Fernando Germani… described by some as the last century’s greatest organ virtuoso… and I also discovered that surprisingly, he had played the piece, not on a public organ in a concert hall, but in the sacred space of Selby Abbey in Yorkshire- not far from where I trained at theological college…

Then it was a matter of tracking down this one performance, by this one man, to one EMI CD… and it arrived yesterday.

I can only tell you -Notre Dame can keep it’s pipes, The Albert Hall and SouthBank can eat their hearts out… because on that day, in Selby Abbey, Fernando Germani and Charles-Marie Widor met together with the Holy Spirit for a performance that transcends time and offers a glimpse into eternity…

-Enough raptures… I also looked up Selby Abbey whilst writing this article and I discover that their wonderful organ currently needs, as organs seem to so often… a vast amount of restoration to save it! I shall donate, perhaps you will too… and if you visit their appeal site, you can actually hear some of Germani’s recordings too!


About Jemma

Learning to be both a priest and a human being in the Anglican Church
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