*THE RISE OF THE HOUSE OF USHER op.532 (June 2003)

A concert piece for organ
Published by: Highbridge Music Ltd
Commissioned by: Peter Hamblin on behalf of The Usher Hall and The Scottish Arts Council
Instrumentation: solo organ
[Key to Abbreviations]
Duration: 6 mins
First Performance: Dame Gillian Weir, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, June 2003
Sheet Music Available
Instrumental parts for sale


The piece was commissioned to celebrate the renovation of the Willis organ in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh< in June 2003


13th July 2019 Dong ill-Shin, Peter Auty, Julian Trevelyan, St.Albans Bach Choir directed by Andrew Sinclair with The Orchestra of St. Martin in the Fields, conducted by the composer,



A concert of the music of Howard Blake obe fram, firstly celebrating his 80th year, secondly celebrating the opening of the 30th St Albans organ festival directed by David Titterington and thirdly recalling that Howard’s acclaimed oratorio 'Benedictus' was given its world premiere in St Albans Cathedral when conducted by Sir David Willcocks, sung by tenor Robert Tear, played by violist Frederick Riddle, withThe St Albans Bach and Cathedral Choirs and The English Chamber Orchestra with speaker, the very rev. the Dean of Saint Albans, (January 25th 1986). The programme planned for July 13th 2019 recalls this memorable concert but substantially adds to it:

1. THE RISE OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (2003) for  solo organ (Dong ill-Shin,top prize-winning S.Korean organist) – A concert work originally commissioned by the Usher Hall Edinburgh to celebrate the restoration of their historic Father Willis organ and first performed there by Dame Gillian Weir on June 10th. 2003.

2.WALKING IN THE AIR (1982) sung by the internationally-acclaimed operatic tenor Peter Auty, who as a St. Paul’s chorister was selected by composer Howard Blake to record the definitive version of ‘Walking in the Air’ for his Oscar-nominated animation film and album  of ‘The Snowman’. This concert astonishingly brings them back together for the very first time since that very memorable recording of 1982, .

3. 'SPEECH AFTER LONG SILENCE' (2009) a virtuoso piano work commissioned by Vladimir Ashkenazy for the world piano contest in Hong Kong 2009, here played by the brilliant young St. Albans piano prizewinner, Julian Trevelyan

4. SONGS OF TRUTH AND GLORY (2005) - Five poems of George Herbert, (opus 546) for chamber choir and ensemble, originally commissioned as The Elgar Commission for the Three Choirs Festival 2005, Here performed by a section of the St. Albans Bach Choir conducted by Andrew Lucas.


5. BENEDICTUS – A DRAMATIC ORATORIO (1986), was originally commissioned by Victor Farwell, Abbot of  the Benedictine abbey of Worth in mid-Sussex, in order to celebrate the 1,500th birthday of St. Benedict in 1980, when it was performed by Richard Lewis (tenor), The Ditchling Choral Society and The National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Janet Canetty-Clarke, with Frederick Riddle solo viola.  It was extensively revised by the composer over the following five years to be given its first complete performance  and world premiere at St Albans Cathedral on January 25th 1986 when it was conducted by Sir David Willcocks with Robert Tear (tenor) , Frederick Riddle  (solo viola), The English Chamber Orchestra and The Saint Albans Bach Choir.

In this performance, which opens the 30th St Albans Organ Festival on July 13th 2019.   The St. Albans Bach Choir (chorus-master Andrew Lucas) and The Orchestra of The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields will be conducted by the composer, with Peter Auty, solo tenor, Rosalind Ventris, solo viola and the role of Saint Benedict spoken by the Very Rev. Dr. Jeffrey John, Dean of St. Alban's.


3rd January 2019
- 7th January 2019
Ana Puche lyric soprano,The Liverpool String Quartet with Nelia Sanxiz flute , Joan Segui organ. Concert produced by Ars Aurea Sonora (director Jordi Borras) with the support of 'Generalitat de Catalunya - Departament de Cultura,

Three concerts on 3, 4 and 6 January 2019 with music by Howard Blake in the vicinity of Tarragona: Les Borges, La Selva and Montblanc. Programme including a new song 'La Meva Terra'  for soprano, flute, string quartet and organ, Ana Puche soprano and The Liverpool String Quartet with Nelia Sanxis (flute) who will also play the solo part in performances of the Flute Quintet. Also featuring The Snowman narrated by Jaume Comas', 'A Month in the Country' for string quartet and a virtuoso solo organ piece originally composed for the great organist Dame Gillian Weir - 'The Rise of the House of Usher'. played in La Selva by young Catalan organist Joan Segui

12th November 2015 Canticum Choir conducted by Mark Forkgen, St. Paul's Knightsbridge

JUBILATE DEO (choir & organ - Opus 406* commissioned by Abington Presbyterian Church, Penn. USA 1990)

FESTIVAL MASS (a cappella 8-part double choir - Opus 377* commissioned by The Three Choirs Festival, Worcester 1987)

THE RISE OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (organ solo - Opus 532* (commissioned for Dame Gillan Weir by The Usher Hall, Edinburgh 2003)

WALKING IN THE AIR (a cappella choir - Opus 585* commissioned by the Stockholm Boys Choir 2007)


 MOTET: GOD BE MERCIFUL UNTO US AND BLESS US (a cappella choir - Opus 494 - commissioned by St. Margaret's Westminster & 1st performed there in 1996)

STILL FALLS THE RAIN (choir & organ - Opus 495* - commissioned by  Chester Bach Singers 1997)

A TOCCATA OF GALUPPI'S (solo voice & harpsichord - Opus 263 - commissioned and 1st performed by Michael Leighton Jones, baritone with Howard Blake, harpsichord, on BBC Radio 3 1978 - 1st London concert performance)

SONGS OF TRUTH AND GLORY (choir & organ - Opus 546* - The Elgar Commission for the Worcester Three Choirs Festival  2005)

* = 1st London performance


Although born in New Zealand, Gillian Weir has lived in the UK since she arrived in Britain as a 20-year-old student to study at the Royal Schools of Music in London. She has become one of the world's most outstanding organists, which she amply illustrated this evening. She successfully used her skills to achieve the main aim of this recital, namely, to show off the outstanding features of the Norman and Beard pipe organ, built and installed in the Usher Hall in 1914 and now beautifully restored by Harrison and Harrison, after years of neglect followed by many years of campaigning and fund-raising by a group of enthusiasts and subsequently the City of Edinburgh Council.

Dame Gillian illustrated, through her choice of programme, just what a beautiful instrument this is and what a useful addition to the Edinburgh Musical scene it will be. No major work was played. The choice of short pieces, including some movements from suites, was ideal for showing off the many different textures, mixtures of sounds, variations in volume, and all the other features of the organ. There is no doubt that this instrument is most suited to the 19th and 20th century romantic and modern repertoires, as was shown by the programme and the choice of pieces for, or including, the organ in its inaugural recital. However, I am sure that, with judicious registration, some of the baroque repertoire will eventually be played. Her clear and crisp interpretation of the Bach Trio Sonata, the only baroque piece in the programme, amply illustrated this.

However, to start at the beginning, the first half of the recital emphasised the range and capabilities of the restored Usher Hall organ instrument. It opened with the World Premiere of a piece specially written for this evening by Howard Blake, The rise of the House of Usher. It was based on a reversed version of Edgar Allan Poe's story The fall of the House of Usher and started with a slow, brooding solo on the pedals, using the 32 foot stop, which was to play a very prominent part during the evening. The piece gradually built up, in texture and sonority, to reach a glorious climax which filled the Usher Hall with the marvellous sound of the full organ. A fitting start to the evening.

It isn't often you hear a classical concert audience actually laugh out loud but, during Ives' Variations on the hymn tune 'America', that happened here tonight. This hymn tune, better known here as God Save the Queen, really is an irreverent work, written when he was only 17 but already showing the genius he was, producing ironic, comic, satiric, lyric and contentious music, all at the same time. This was followed by the Bach. The first half ended with a piece by Marcel Dupré, one of France's leading organist-composers during the 20th century, again showing off the pedal department.

Lionel Rogg's transcription of Liszt's virtuoso piano piece, St François de Paule marchant sur les flots, a deeply religious work, was a fascinating foretaste of the Messiaen piece played in the second half. My companion said the Messiaen suggested light streaming through a stained glass window, which is also what the Mulet piece "Rosace" beautifully illustrated: sunlight streaming through the tracery of a rose window, the dust dancing in the beams, and the colours tinting the stone floor of the church.

The second half was much more atmospheric and opened with the three movement work by Healey Willan, which again showed off the pedal department, especially in the Passacaglia, and which, overall, was very reminiscent of Elgar. It culminated in a beautiful full organ chord which filled the Hall with a glorious sound. This was followed by Rosace and then Naïades, a piece by another 20th century French Master, Vierne. This was a beautiful representation of water nymphs and one could easily imagine them gambolling in the rippling waters.

After the Messiaen came Moto ostinato by the living Czech composer, Petr Eben, a piece inspired by the Sunday liturgical music culminating in the plainsong hymn Salve Reginasoaring above the full organ. The recital finished with a work by another living composer, the Swiss Guy Bovet. This was the Hamburger Totentanz, one of three preludes based on improvisations performed in Hamburg with other organists. which Gillian Weir described as "the organist's Bolero" in her programme notes. Hidden, well hidden I must say, in the music were musical quotations from Offenbach, Beethoven and Wagner, but the overall effect of the "big crescendo on an ostinato rhythm" was just as exciting as the similarly constructed Ravel work

Dame Gillian's performance was greeted by very enthusiastic applause She treated the audience to "a little chocolate piece" encore, Elves by Joseph Bonnet. No fault could be found with Miss Weir's performance. Her choice and deft changes of registration, together with her virtuosic finger work and footwork, ensured a memorable performance. If I may be allowed one small criticism, her choice of stunning red dress was fitting for the occasion, but the glitter of the sequins on her back in the spotlight, did appear like "sparklers" at times and was a little off-putting. However, it did not completely spoil the recital for this reviewer.

One criticism for the Usher Hall staff: why was the specification for the organ not included in the programme? There were many organists in the audience; all are used to finding the instrument specification included in any programme. This was a serious omission, especially for such an important instrument on such an important occasion.

© Charlie Napier. 7 June 2003

charlie napier, edinburgh review - EdinburghGuide.com, 7/6/2003

Related Autobiography Chapters

'The Rise of the House of Usher' (2002)
Liberation of Jersey,Oh mistress mine,Christmas Bells (2011)
'The Passion of Mary' at Salisbury Cathedral (2015)

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