Anacrusis for organ/organists, wood workers, and electronic sounds

Anacrusis is a piece about suspension and anticipation.  It was composed for organist Annette Richards for the inauguration of the new baroque organ ...

Anacrusis is a piece about suspension and anticipation, both hope and dread.  The work is dedicated to Dwight “Gus” Hemion, a man who found solace in working with his hands but who died of lung cancer on November 10th, 2010.

The piece was commission by organist Annette Richards for the inauguration of the new baroque organ in Anabel Taylor Hall at Cornell University. The designers, researchers, woodworkers, and volunteers for the organ construction were also part of the performance, producing, at specified times, sounds of air, metal, and wood.

(It is said that when J. S. Bach befriended a new organ, he would ‘test the lungs’ by pulling out the stop for a group of pipes and dropping his arm on the manual to hear the overall character of the pipes in question.)

Play an excerpt from Anacrusis:

An article on Anacrusis by Linda Glaser:

The new instrument with woodworker Christopher Lowe (on ladder) and lead designer Munetaka Yokota (inset)

Award-winning electronic music composer Kevin Ernste, professor of music and director of the Cornell Electroacoustic Music Center, will open the organ dedication’s keynote concert on Saturday, March 12 at 5:30 p.m. with a special inaugural composition. “It’s an exciting opportunity to showcase the organ as a vehicle for new music,” says Annette Richards, professor of music and conference organizer.

The piece is titled Anacrusis, invoking the anticipation and the suspension of time that happened in the construction of this organ, says Ernste, as well as the name of Anabel Taylor Chapel, the organ’s home.

Ernste opens the piece with the hissing of a misaligned organ pipe and the sounds of woodwork and construction, performed by representatives of the organ project, including case maker Chris Lowe, organ designer Munetaka Yokota, volunteers Maureen Chapman and Jeff Snedeker, undergraduate students and others.

Then comes a blast of all the organ pipes at once. The ensuing resonant silence creates an awareness of the physical space, says Ernste, while sounds of hammers and hand planes invoke the organ’s creation.

Organist Annette Richards at the manuals of the new Baroque organ

This opening sound cluster recurs but eventually gives way to a borrowed melody from the beginning of J.S. Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor, BWV 582, itself filled with suspensions and anacrusi. Ernste transforms the Bach into an elongated series of suspensions using special software he wrote especially for this piece.

Late in the composition Ernste brings in recordings of other Cornell organs. “I had this idea that even the other organs on campus would have some sense of anticipation, almost like welcoming a new sibling,” he says. “Their collective character turns into a kind of haze,  but they’re also each in slightly different tuning systems, so that blast of sonic richness that begins the piece becomes, at the end, an amalgamation of all of these voices coming together.”

A score for Anacrusis is available here.  It is licensed under a “Creative Commons” license, see below.

Creative Commons License
Anacrusis for organ/organists, wood workers, and electronic sounds
Kevin Ernste is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.