About | Events | Listen | Works | Contact |

Toccata ar St Denio




Programme note:

Toccata ar St Denio is based on a traditional Welsh folk melody Can mlynedd i nawr (A Hundred Years from Now) which was popular in the early 19th Century and published in 1839 as the hymn tune St Denio in John Roberts's Caniadau y Cyssegr (Hymns of the Sanctuary). The name St Denio is a tribute to St. Denis, a 3rd Century Bishop of Paris, who became a Patron Saint of France and is celebrated by Catholic and Orthodox traditions during October. The tune later became associated with the words “Immortal, Invisable, God only wise” written by Free Church of Scotland minister Walter Chalmers Smith in 1867.

Toccata (from the Italian toccare, literally, "to touch", with "toccata" being the action of touching) is a musical word which has slightly different expectations depending on the historical period. The form was of great importance in the French romantic (19th-20th Century) organ school, usually consisting of rapid progressions combined with a powerful tune. Toccatas have generally been written for keyboard instruments in a free style characterised by full chords, rapid runs, high harmonies, and other virtuoso elements designed to show off the performer’s “touch”.  In this case showing off “touch” of the feet as well as the dexterity of the performer's fingers and hands.

Referring to the history of St. Denis the toccata opens in an “older” musical style, which is a selectively retrograded and then ornamented version of my re-harmonisation of the hymn tune. Following a chordal cluster transition are a set of 3 quieter variations. These reveal in order: the baseline, middle harmony, and the melody of the hymn the correct way around. The first two are somewhat minimalistic in musical character, the third intertwines the melody in counterpoint with two other Welsh folk tunes: Dafydd y Garreg Wen (David of the White Rock) and Bugeilio'r Gwenith Gwyn (Watching the White Wheat). Following this are 3 iterations of St Denio simultaneously at different speeds in the: pedals, top of the right hand (⅓ faster), and the bottom of the right hand (½ of the pedal speed). This ½ speed version does not complete until the pedal version has been played a second time, but now transferred to the top of the right hand. At this point of transfer the pedal part becomes very active, before eventually descending to a held note over which the retrograded tune from the majestic opening and a slightly ornamented version of the St Denio melody are played simultaneously. Following another chordal cluster transition, the toccata closes with a thunderous statement of St Denio: melody, middle-harmony and baseline united for the first time.



Solo Organ (2022)
3 manuals (or more)


Organ requirements/info:

➊ Indications for 3-manuals: including loud 8' reed & 16' pedal reed/s
➋ Playable on a 2-manual instrument, but not suited to this
➌ Should not be performed on an instrument with less than 2-manuals



Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, London,UK
29th October 2022
Anthony Gritten, organ

Further performances:

Westminster Cathedral, London, UK
16th Nov 2022, 1:15pm
Anthony Gritten, organ

St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, UK
17th Nov 2022, 1pm
Anthony Gritten, organ

Page last updated: Saturday 5 November, 2022