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Prelude on 'Were you there?'

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Uploaded by: Agnus_Dei (03/28/18)
Composer: Sowerby, Leo
Sample Producer: Milan Digital Audio
Sample Set: Salisbury Cathedral Father Willis
Software: Hauptwerk
Genre: Mid-20th century
Description:
Leo Sowerby (1895-1968), often called the "Dean of American church music," was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he began to compose at the age of ten. His interest in the organ began at the age of 15, he was self-taught at the instrument. He studied composition with Arthur Olaf Andersen at the American Conservatory of Music, Chicago. He spent time in France during World War 1 in the role of bandmaster. In 1921 he was awarded the Rome Prize, the first composer to receive this. He joined the American Conservatory of Music as faculty in 1924. In addition he received the 1946 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his cantata, the "Canticle of the Sun," written in 1944. In 1927 he became organist-choirmaster at St James’s Episcopal Church, Chicago, which was consecrated as a cathedral while he was there (1955). Previously, Sowerby was associate organist at Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago (1919).In 1962, after his retirement from St James’s, he was called to Washington National Cathedral to become the founding director of the College of Church Musicians, a position he held until his death in 1968. His substantial output includes over 500 works in every genre but opera and ballet. His later works, done at St James's, Chicago, and Washington Cathedral, are primarily church music for choir and organ.

"Prelude on 'Were you there?'" was published by H. W. Gray in 1956 as #825 in the famous "St. Cecilia Series," and is dedicated "For Vernon de Tar" who was a professor at the Julliard School and Organist of the Church of the Ascension in NYC.

It is an intense and moving work, with lush harmonies awash in tones that are not far from the blues or jazz. There are many accidentals, and the work calls for many changes of registration.

This piece, as well as many works by Sowerby, used to be staples of American organ literature, but it seems that these works are heard less and less.

The score is attached below, as well as photos of Sowerby, de Tar, and St. James Cathedral.
Performance: Live
Recorded in: Stereo
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