Friday, February 28, 2014

CCC 094 - John Birge

Canadian composer John Burge is focus of the Consonant Classical Challenge this week. Burge is best-known for his choral works. He's an accomplished organist, and has also written a significant amount of music for both organ and solo piano.

Even when he's not writing for chorus, Burge's music has a singing quality to it. Burge uses very simple melodic and harmonic materials to create engaging and accessible works.

His organ composition "Dance" is a good example of this. The syncopated rhythms have a jazzy quality to them, but there's never any doubt about where the pulse is. The chromatic passage work also has a clear destination. It's a show piece that keeps the audience following along with every note.

John Burge's solo piano piece "Loved and were loved" is a quiet, poignant work. The melody is composed of simple scale passages that gradually build upon each other. Since Burge mostly keeps to a diatonic scale, every note is more or less consonant with the other, creating its own pleasing harmony.

"Tag" for two violins and piano is simply that. The two violins chase each other back and forth through the work. Burge's seemingly simple material makes the lines easy to follow, even on first hearing.

By contrast, "Everything Waits for the Lilacs" is a much more aggressive work. The clusters that begin the work put the listener on notice. Burge's melodies are more chromatic, and the harmonies dense and dark. Yet the dissonances seem to add piquancy rather than chaos.

"Sanctus" illustrates how well Burge's style is suiting for singing.The smooth, linear melodies are well-suited for the human voice.

John Burge writes music meant to be performed -- and enjoyed. Although his music doesn't sound complex, it does have a substance to it that all true artistic expressions do. Finding recordings of Burge's music is quite challenging -- and there's a lot more I'd like to hear. Perhaps more choral directors will consider programming his music in the future. It's certainly worthwhile to do so in my opinion.

Recommended Recordings

Masterworks of the New Era - Volume Four

Diana Gilchrist Sings Songs of Canada

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