Music for the Last Sunday after Epiphany, February 27, 2022

Sonata de Chiesa – Hendrik Andriessen (1892-1981)


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Hendrik Andriessen was of great significance for the renewal of Catholic church music in the Netherlands.  His organ compositions show the unmistakable influence of the French romantic composers — a symphonic approach that best comes to life on a large instrument placed in a reverberant church such as St James’.


His Sonata da Chiesa (Italian for “church sonata”) – this Sunday’s organ prelude and postlude in church – bears some resemblance to what a mountain climber experiences, and therefore apropos to the lessons appointed for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany.


The organ prelude reflects a mountain ascent, which typically is marked by periods of acclimatisation:


  • the chorale: at the foot of the mountain
  • variation 1: leads to base camp
  • variation 2: gives a view at a higher elevation
  • variation 3: a difficult and steep climb leads to a higher level
  • variation 4: inclement weather
  • variation 5: the other-worldly experience at the summit, exuding a sense of peace


The toccata for the organ postlude has all the hallmarks of a mountain descent. Typically more dangerous than the ascent, going down a mountain includes hazards such as ice slopes, avalanches, and severe weather conditions, which are reflected by recurring sweeping downward motions.

Having been conditioned to the lower oxygen levels at higher altitudes, mountain climbers typically feel enormously energised when they return to the foot of the mountain.  And so, the toccata marvellously concludes in a grandiose and stately rendition of the opening chorale.


PJ Janson