The English Organ Sonata and the Path to Elgar

Iain Quinn

Thursday, June 23, 8:30 AM

In 1858 both William Spark and W. T. Best contributed sonatas to the organ repertoire. They were the first written by English composers and set in motion one of the most fascinating developments in nineteenth-century keyboard writing. In an era dominated by concerns of betterment and worthiness, the form of the sonata was to become a beacon of stylistic idealism. English composers who trained on home soil set about to fill a compositional void from the previous century. However, rather than advance the harmonic vocabulary towards Liszt and new continental trends, many wrote works inspired by models of the past. The re-awakening of interest in Bach was allied with an homage to Mendelssohn as well as stylistic influences from Mozart and Beethoven to produce a unique English form that encompassed multiple styles; the “portfolio sonata”. It was a model to be admired by the novice and connoisseur alike and served both pedagogical, liturgical and concert purposes.

However, it was not long before a small number of organists took leave from England and began a parallel tradition of composition influenced by their studies at the Leipzig Conservatory. Bertram Luard Selby, Basil Harwood and Walter Battison Haynes advanced the role of the symphonic sonata leading a clear stylistic path to Elgar. This workshop demonstrates how one “school” ultimately influenced the other to produce the most significant work of the English repertoire, Elgar’s sonata of 1895.

IAIN QUINN studied at The Juilliard School, The Hartt School, University of Hartford (BM), Yale University (MM), and the University of Durham (PhD Historical Musicology) and was a Visiting Fellow at Harvard University. He has held church positions in the U.K. and U.S.A. and performed for concert series and festivals throughout the world. His scholarly writings are published in many journals as well as editions of Samuel Barber (G. Schirmer), and Carl Czerny and John Goss (A-R Editions). He has recorded eleven CDs with Chandos, Hyperion, Naxos, and Raven. He is Assistant Professor of Organ at The Florida State University.