Basic Noise

Totentanz - Hommage à Petr Eben

Choir & Organ cmmission set for FRCO exams 2011/12

Totentanz (Hommage à Petr Eben) was the result of a commission from Choir & Organ magazine to compose a new piece for internet publication. It was written for the Canadian organist, Maxine Thévenot, to whom the piece is dedicated. Petr Eben's music was present throughout my musical upbringing and had a powerful influence upon my taste as a young musician. Following the news his death, I felt some regret at not having had any correspondence with him during his lifetime. Being so naturally fond of his musical voice, it is perhaps unsurprising that traces of his language have found their way into my own compositional style. Therefore, this piece does not attempt to mimic Eben's works (any similarities are purely the effect of one composer's voice influencing another's) but rather pay homage to a musician for whom I have always had the utmost respect. The formal structure is that of a Sonata-Rondo movement, perhaps suggesting the medieval friezes which portray death dancing with his many victims - some old and some who are yet to die. The 'dance of death' ('totentanz' or 'danse macabre') has no particular significance in the composition other than having been present in my mind whilst writing. In the Middle-Ages, it was seen as a warning to powerful men, a comfort to the poor, and ultimately an invitation to lead a responsible life. Today, its purpose remains to recall the shortness of life.

The first performance of Totentanz was given by the work's dedicatee, Maxine Thévenot, at Royce Hall (University of California, Los Angeles) following which subsequent performances have taken place in several other countries by different performers, noteably including Canada's largest organ in Toronto; Helsinki Cathedral (it was an exam piece in the 2010 Sibelius Academy finals); Notre Dame, Paris; Westminster Cathedral, London, among many others. It was recently recorded by Maxine as the title track of a new CD launched in the USA on the RAVEN label. This recording was made on the organ of Girard College, Philadelphia, alongside a substantial programme of music by Louis Vierne. Since being selected as an exam piece for the FRCO syllabus, the score is now available from the RCO library as well as directly from myself.


Listen to Icarus

played by Martin Stacey at St Dominic's Priory (London)


Some reviews of Totentanz

British organist Martin Stacey's virtuosic 'Totentanz' employs incessant rhythmic drive and ostinatos in the manner of Eben. It quotes a few of Eben's themes, all the while remaining a compelling, original work.
James Hildreth – The American Organist (May 2011)

It is an intense and majestic piece—not exactly the normal conception of a dance, whether of the dead or otherwise—though very appealing in a number of ways.
John Speller – The Diapason (Feb 2010)

The work is energetic and virtuosic, displaying influences of Eben (whom Stacey admired) combined with original elements, well served by the IV/108 E. M. Skinner organ of 1931-33 in Girard College Chapel, Philadelphia.
Victor Hill – The Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians (Nov 2009)

New work by Martin Stacey... an arresting and stunning opening to this CD with adventurous harmonies and rhythmic energy, recalling Eben and Guillou.
(****) rating – Christopher Nickol – Choir and Organ (July/August 2009)

Martin Stacey's 2007 "Totentanz" (Hommage à Petr Eben), dedicated to Thévenot, proves to be a cacophonic yet persuasive dance of devilish delight, stunningly played. Raven's technical staff keep the chapel's ponderous acoustic on a judicious rein; but even so, this one will put your speakers to the test.
Craig Smith – Pasatiempo, Santa Fe New Mexican (Mar 2009)


go to writing an organ symphony



© 2012 Martin Stacey