Sumptuous and spectacular Romantic works by ‘Toscanini’s Organist’.
Pietro Yon (1886-1943) played in what is widely regarded as one of the finest-ever performances of Beethoven’s Missa solemnis, conducted at Carnegie Hall in 1935 by Arturo Toscanini. Yon was sharing the stage with the likes of Elizabeth Rethberg and Ezio Pinza; he had acquired a comparable celebrity within the organ world in his lifetime, having emigrated from Italy to the US at the age of 21, and become Organist of St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, the foremost seat of Catholicism in the US. A New York Times profile portrayed him as an adopted New Yorker who moved in high-society circles and enjoyed ragtime and vaudeville, and he welcomed the likes of Caruso and Toscanini to his home as friends. When he died in 1943, the world-famous conductor numbered among the 1300 mourners at St Patrick’s.
Yon’s own music has a post-Romantic, mid-Atlantic flavour reflecting his background without belonging to a single ‘school’. Christmas in Settimo Vittone or Rapsodia Italiana draw on his Piedmontese heritage. The trio of large-scale organ sonatas occupying CD3 emerge from the virtuoso tradition of 19th-century keyboard writing exemplified by Liszt and translated to the organ by French contemporaries such as Guilmant and Vierne. CD1 is dedicated to a collection of 12 Divertimenti including not only the Italian-themed character pieces mentioned above but also an expansive ‘American Rhapsody’ – like a transatlantic version of Howells, perhaps, sharing its chromatic harmony with the music of Leo Sowerby – and shorter study-like pieces which exploit the full range of colours available on the organ of St Patrick’s which he had extensively renovated and updated to reflect changing tastes, rather as Pierre Cochereau did at Notre-Dame in Paris.
The most unusual piece here is the four-movement Concerto Gregoriano for organ and piano. Like Respighi’s violin concerto of the same name, the piece takes its themes from the heritage of chant and weaves them into a richly embroidered neo-Romantic structure, but with a Brahmsian grandeur and symphonic impetus which is catalysed by incisive dialogue between the two instruments.
Born in 1991, Tommaso Mazzoletti undertook postgraduate studies in organ performance at the conservatoires of Geneva and Lausanne, and the present recording was made earlier this year on the organ of Lausanne Cathedral. The organist also contributes an authoritative booklet essay on the life and career of Pietro Yon.
Pietro Alessandro Yon (1886-1943) was born at the foot of the Alps in Italy. His musical talent was soon discovered and he went to study in Turin and later in Rome with Sgambati (piano) and Renzi (organ). His fame as a brilliant organist soon spread internationally and he was offered a post as organist in Manhattan, New York, where he settled for life in 1907. Pietro met with enormous success as a concert performer, holding his first concert at the Aeolian Hall in New York in 1914. During the course of almost thirty years of feverish activity, he gave around 1500 performances, 23 of them in the famous Carnegie Hall. By 1926 he had made an outstanding name for himself, acquiring the post of Organist at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the foremost seat of Catholicism in the USA, renewing and expanding the events organized at the Cathedral. He invited the soloists of the Metropolitan Opera to perform during services. He made friends with Caruso and Toscanini, who performed his orchestral and choral works.
Yon’s extraordinary organ works are clearly inspired by the enormous possibilities of the newly built organs in the USA. They include several Sonatas, a Concerto Gregoriano, 12 Divertimenti for organ and many occasional works, showpieces and studies.
This first volume of Yon’s complete Organ Music is played on the magnificent Fisk organ of the Lausanne Cathedral, by organist Tommaso Mazzoletti, winner of the Premio Nazionale delle Arti in Rome. The full specifications of the organ are included in the booklet.