Gaston Litaize’s Douze Pièces Pour Grand Orgue at the Crossroads of 1930s Paris

Michael Unger

Monday, June 21, 8:30 AM

The earliest organ works by French organist-composer Gaston Litaize (1909-1991) were composed throughout the 1930s and subsequently published in 1939 as Douze Pièces pour Grand Orgue. As his debut collection for the organ, it offers two perspectives into the composition and performance techniques of a young musician educated within the vibrant Parisian organ culture between the two World Wars. As a group of non-programmatic non-liturgical genres, it illustrates a link to the late nineteenth-century French Symphonic organ school. Simultaneously, Litaize’s compositional techniques demonstrate experiments with more progressive conceptions of modal-chromatic harmony, especially in pieces dating from later in the decade.

This presentation will seek to contextualize this collection within the changing musical landscape of 1930s Paris, informed by contemporary modernist conceptions of the past and the future. Specifically, this presentation will explore how this collection synthesizes French symphonic and neo-classical compositional approaches, particularly seen in Litaize’s experimentation with harmony, modality, and texture. Additionally, the presentation will demonstrate how Litaize’s use of the organ in these works reflect changes in instrument aesthetics, as demonstrated by registrations which explore both symphonic conceptions of blend and neo-classical conceptions of transparency. Finally, this presentation will briefly address how Litaize himself approached these pieces later in his career as a performer and pedagogue.

Michael Unger is Assistant Professor of Organ and Harpsichord at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. A multiple award-winning performer who appears internationally, he is a First and Audience Prize winner of NYACOP, a First Prize winner of the International Organ Competition Musashino-Tokyo, and a Second and Audience Prize winner of the International Schnitger Competition in Alkmaar, the Netherlands. He has recorded under the Naxos and Pro Organo labels. He holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts and Performers Certificate from the Eastman School of Music, and is a Gold Medal graduate of the University of Western Ontario.