Winkel - CD Rhapsody in Blue - Organ transcriptions

Piet van Egmond plays the Steinmeyer organ at the former Prinsessekerk in Amsterdam

Piet van Egmond

The Dutch organist and choirmaster Piet van Egmond was born in Amsterdam on April 14, 1912. He made his debut at the tender age of fifteen as an organist at a Bach recital in the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam. He was educated at the Amsterdamsch Conservatorium, where he took lessons with, amongst others, Cornelis de Wolf, Anton H. Tierie and Nelly Wagenaar. In 1931 he gained the Certificate for organ, followed in 1933 by a solo-diploma. In the same year he was appointed organist at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. He performed as a church organist in the Hersteld Evangelisch Lutherse gemeente (1931-1941) and several Dutch Reformed churches in Amsterdam. In 1967 he was appointed organist in Haarlem and from 1971 to 1979 was organist at the Grote Kerk in Apeldoorn.

During the fifties and sixties, Piet van Egmond built up a great reputation in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom as a concert organist. He played in the Royal Festival Hall and in several major churches in London. He was invited for concert tours throughout England and Scotland. In addition, he was choirmaster of the Amsterdam Oratorio Choir, which he had founded in the thirties. With this choir he built a reputation as a choral conductor during annual performances of Bach's Matthäus-Passion in Amsterdam and Aardenburg, oratorios by Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn and Berlioz, Verdi's Requiem and the Missa Pro Pace by R. Mengelberg.

Piet van Egmond made a large number of gramophone recordings of the organ repertory and improvisations on hymns, and a live recording of Bach's Matthäus-Passion , performed in Amsterdam's Concertgebouw.

He died on May 11, 1982 in Den Helder.

The organ transcriptions

From 1948 until 1967 Piet van Egmond (1912-82) performed weekly ‘Popular Organ Recitals', at the invitation of the Dutch NCRV Broadcasting Company, at first on the Maarschalkerweerd organ at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and later on various organs in Amsterdam and Hilversum. From 1953 onwards he broadcast from the romantic Steinmeyer organ at the Prinsessekerk in Amsterdam.

In his popular organ programmes, Piet van Egmond played arrangements of piano and orchestral repertoire, as well as ballet, opera, operetta and salon-room pieces. Almost every programme ended up with an improvisation in free style. All the programmes were conscientious registered by his secretary and assistant, Miss Nettie Spies (1920-2006), in a programme book. Most orchestral music was played from piano transcriptions. In his registrations, Piet van Egmond stayed as close as possible to the original orchestration, relying on his experience as a conductor and his knowledge of the symphonic repertoire. He successfully used the various potentialities for registration of the Steinmeyer organ and the splendid church acoustics.

His repertoire was not only restricted to short compositions, but also included extended pieces such as opera overtures, symphonic poems ( Die Moldau by Smetana, Finlandia by Sibelius), suites ( Peer Gynt by Grieg, l'Arlésienne by Bizet) and concertos like Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin.

Piet van Egmond recorded many of his broadcasts on tape, at home, via the Dutch “Draadomroep”, an early form of cable radio. A number of these recordings were preserved, thanks to Nettie Spies, and are now part of the sound archive of the Dutch Piet van Egmond Foundation. In 1988 the Foundation released a first selection from his Popular Organ Recitals on cassette; in 1992 a second selection was released on CD (Festivo FECD 121).

Thanks to improvements in sound restoration techniques, it has been possible to compile a new collection of arrangements from Popular Organ Recitals, recorded in the fifties and early sixties. The old tapes are not perfect, technically speaking, but from an artistic point of view they definitely prove Piet van Egmond's mastership.

Without underestimating the rest of the programme, Piet van Egmond's transcription of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue should be regarded as the high point of the CD. He played it during his Popular Organ Recital of 3 November 1954, together with items by Raie da Costa, Reginald King and Lee Sims. Nearly two years later, on 15 October 1956, he performed the Rhapsody again on the Steinmeyer organ. Both broadcasts were recorded by him at home. When the tapes were rediscovered, it turned out that both were incomplete. The first recording breaks off quite early on, the other one being part of a “remnant tape” which was given to Mr. Paul Hartog, who at the time tuned Piet van Egmond's organs at home. After examining the tape, which was donated by Mr. Hartog to the Piet van Egmond Foundation, it became obvious that both recordings could be edited into one performance. Due to modern sound restoration techniques, a smooth cross fade between both recordings could be made and their different sound characteristics equalised. This has all been done with as much respect for the original recordings as possible. Some interference noise in the first part of the Rhapsody could not be removed. The listener should bear in mind that we are dealing with amateur broadcast recordings from half a century ago!

© Gerco Schaap