Worgan: Complete Organ Music

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The first thing to get straight is which Worgan we are listening to on this excellent new CD. There are seven Worgans listed in New Grove, all of whom are related. There are some date variances across the various Worgan family histories.

John Worgan’s parents were not particularly musical: John père was a surveyor of Welsh descent; his mother was Mary (née Lambert). The musical legacy of the Worgans began with the eldest son, James (1713-53) who became organist at Vauxhall Gardens and was then elected organist at St Botolph without Aldgate and at St Dunstan-in-the-East. James and John Worgan’s sister (?), Mary, (probably) succeeded her brother as organist at St Dunstan’s on his death.

Our composer was born in 1724 in London and would outstrip his brother’s achievement. He studied with James and also with Thomas Roseingrave. In 1748 he graduated B.Mus. from Cambridge, followed by his appointment as organist at St Katharine Cree (1743) and St. Andrew Undershaft with St Mary Axe (1749). A few years later he succeeded his brother to the post of organist at Vauxhall Gardens and subsequently, in 1753 at St. Botolph without Aldgate. Finally, he held the position of organist at St. John’s Chapel, Bedford Row. Worgan was composer ‘in residence’ at the Vauxhall Gardens: 1753-1761 and from 1770 until his retirement in 1774. Other qualifications included a D.Mus. gained in 1775.

John married three times and fathered many offspring; he taught his children to play the harpsichord and organ. These included Richard (1759-1812), James (c.1762-after 1801) and Thomas Danvers Worgan (c.1773-1832). John died at his home in Gower Street on 24 August 1790.

Dr. John Worgan is now best ‘recalled’ as having composed the hymn tune for ‘Christ the Lord is Risen Today’. However, I understand that this melody actually appeared in Lyra Davidica (1708) some 16 years before John was born. Better attested is the fact that he taught Charles Wesley to play keyboard and was friends with George Frideric Handel and Charles Burney. There is a line quoted from a popular song of the day, ‘Let Handel or Worgan go thrash at the organ’: clearly he was held in high regard by contemporary concert-goers.

Some other extant/published works by John Worgan may merit exploration, if the quality and enjoyable substance of the pieces on this present disc are anything to go by. There is a concerto, six sonatas and teaching pieces for the harpsichord, the Vauxhall songs, a number of hymns and the oratorio Hannah to words by the poet Christopher Smart (1722-71).

I suggest that the listener explore this CD slowly. I worked through the program in track order, but taking only three pieces at a time. The first-rate notes on the music give a detailed synopsis of each piece and reward reading before hearing. The insert includes a satisfying essay-length discussion of the composer and his work in general. These notes are by Timothy Roberts.

This organ music, which was published around 1795, is enjoyable, and leans towards the style of Handel more than any other composer; it shares ‘the (same) brilliance, drama and grandeur’.

The organ at St. Botolph without Aldgate is one of England’s oldest surviving instruments. Although, there are older pipes and cases in use around the country, this is the ‘oldest collection of pipes on their original positions on their original wind chests.’ The text states that the organ dates from around the turn of the eighteenth century and was originally built by Renatus Harris. In 1744 it was stored whilst George Dance’s (the Elder) new church was built on the site. The instrument was restored successively by John Byfield the Elder, Hill in 1866, Bishop in 1898 and latterly by Mander in 1966, where many of the accretions of the Victorian organ builders were removed. In 2006 the organ was commissioned after restoration to as near its original specification as possible by Goetze and Gwynn, but clearly allowing for contemporary liturgical use.

The CD insert includes the specification of the three manuals and details the original pipe work on the ‘Great’ and ‘Choir’ organs. The Pedal section, which is modern, was not used on this recording.

Timothy Roberts specialises in playing the harpsichord, clavichord, fortepiano and historic organs. He gives solo recitals as well as playing continuo. On the scholarly side, Roberts is a researcher and editor, particularly of English music of the 17th to 19th centuries. Recently he has acted as recording producer and sound editor.

I loved the ambience of this recording. St Botolph without Aldgate is a church that I know quite well: I used to visit quite often when I was working in London. The CD is true to the outstanding sound of this historic instrument.

It is of considerable importance to have this CD of the complete organ works of John Worgan played on this particular instrument. As noted above, Worgan was organist here for many years. So, it is a supremely important historical production. I hope that this disc may be the first of a number exploring the music of this important composer.

– MusicWeb International (John France)

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: TOCC0332

  • UPC: 5060113443328

  • Label: Toccata Classics

  • Composer: John Worgan

  • Performer: Timothy Roberts