Alun Hoddinott's ‘Toccata alla Giga’ for Organ
by John France
Alun Hoddinott was one of the most significant Welsh/British composers of the second half of the twentieth century. His musical output was considerable and covered virtually every form and genre from opera to his ten symphonies. He was born in Bargoed, Glamorganshire on 11 August 1929. After an education at Gowerton Grammar School he went up to University College in Cardiff. He was a founder member of the National Youth Orchestra of Wales. After university he studied with the composer Arthur Benjamin. Apart from composing, Hoddinott held a number of academic posts including lecturer in music at the Welsh College of Music and Drama, and then as Lecturer, Reader and Professor of Music at University College, Cardiff. In 1967 he co-founded the Cardiff Festival of Music with the pianist John Ogdon. Alun Hoddinott died on 11 March 2008.
Hoddinott’s musical style was eclectic. He embraced serialism and aleatory music, jazz and popular idioms through to his ‘nocturnal’ moods characterised by dense chromaticism and ‘brooding’ Celtic intensity.
The ‘Toccata alla Giga’ Op.37 No.1 was composed in 1964. It was commissioned by Oxford University Press for the first album of Modern Organ Music which was duly published in 1965.
The first performance of the piece was given in the Santa Maria la Real de La Almudena Cathedral, Madrid in the same month as the manuscript was completed - July 1964. The organist was Bryan Hesford, who was also the editor of the published score. The same performer gave the UK premiere at the Parish Church of St. Mary, Little Walsingham on 12 August 1964. The work has received only a single recording by Huw Tregelles Williams (BRAN B1202) on the Brangwyn Hall organ issued in 1980. This has not been re-released on CD or download. There was a proposed recording by Robert Munns; however I can find no trace of this having been published.
The ‘Toccata alla Giga’ was Hoddinott’s first major essay for the organ. He was to contribute a small number of fine works for the instrument over the following years including the Concerto for Organ and Orchestra, Op.51 (1967) and the Symphony No.7 for Organ and Orchestra, Op.137 (1989). The important Sonata for Organ, Op.96/2 appeared in 1978: it is the only organ work by the composer to be currently available on CD (Great European Organs Volume 44, Jane Watts, Priory Records 1993 PRCD389)
The same year as the ‘Toccata alla Giga’ was composed saw Hoddinott’s ‘Intrada’ for organ, Op.37 No.2 and the ‘Sarum Fanfare’ Op.37 No.3 which were also commissions for Oxford University Press.
The key to ‘Toccata alla Giga’ work lies in its title. A ‘toccata’ is typically a piece of music designed to create the impression of an improvisation and to display the technical skill of the performer. It is often characterised by elaborate runs, complex and/or repetitive figurations, full chords and sometimes sections of imitation. It is not unusual for the tempo to be relatively free and at the discretion of the player. The ‘alla giga’ part of the title means ‘played like a ‘jig’ or ‘gigue.’ Interestingly this ‘baroque’ form derived from the Irish or English ‘Jig’. The ‘giga’ is the Italian version, and is often styled as being non-fugal with running passages over a harmonic basis. The ‘giga’ is invariably written in 3/8, 6/8, 12/8 or sometimes 6/4 time. Hoddinott has chosen 6/8 throughout. Organists will be reminded of Bach’s (spurious) ‘Fugue alla giga’, BWV577. Although this is clearly not the exemplar for the present work both pieces are based on the characteristic ‘jig’ rhythm.
Formally, the ‘Toccata alla Giga’ work has an ABA structure. There is a short three-chord introduction which is answered by the main ‘giga’ figuration. The basic cell from which much of the music is derived is two dissonant, staccato chords followed by a unison ‘chord’ on C#. This phrase is repeated a number of times with various harmonies throughout the piece.
The middle section of the Toccata is an elaboration of the second part of the introductory phrase. This is presented in a number of guises and rhythmical variations which build up to a crescendo preceded by a running passage in unison on the ‘great’ organ. The opening cell is presented at ‘double-forte’ before the ‘jig’ figuration is presented again. After a number of unison scales the work ends loudly with a reiteration of the opening chord sequence. The pedal part is active for less than half of piece’s duration. The melodic pattern is typically based on two falling semitones.
There are a number of possible registrations for this Toccata. The composer has asked for full organ on both Great and Swell with an added ‘mixture’ on the Choir organ. The chordal pattern requires ‘full reeds’ which are then put ‘off’ for the ‘giga’ figures. Hoddinott has called for flutes in the middle section, which sounds particularly effective with the mordents and trills. Although this piece requires a 16´ pedal, the composer explicitly states that a 16´ stop must not be used on the manuals ‘throughout.’ It would be possible to play this Toccata relatively quietly on wood stops.
The ‘Toccata alla Giga’ is difficult and requires an excellent sense of rhythm to bring off the intricate variations and permutations on the 6/8 time signature that the composer has devised. Accuracy is required in the unison passages and the playing of the ornaments. Registration need to be carefully handled to reflect the use of the reed stops.
Corliss Richard Arnold in his Organ Literature: Historical Survey (Scarecrow Press: 1995) has written that this Toccata has a ‘… powerful sense of snap and drive’. P.F.W. (Music & Letters, October 1965) has declared that this Toccata is ‘a real piece of music -a quick 6/8 jig, more or less atonal, un-halting, quick, fresh, scherzo-like.’
There is certainly a need for a new version of Alun Hoddinott’s ‘Toccata alla Giga’ on CD. This could well be coupled with the other works for organ solo.