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Ikarus from Sagas

Saga no. 6 Jean Guillou (b.1930)

Jean Guillou is one of the most individual figures in contemporary French music. In the years after the second World War he studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Dupré, Duruflé and Messiaen, and then spent some time working in Portugal and Germany before returning to Paris in 1963, when he was appointed organist of the church of Saint-Eustache. Ever since the publication of his first organ works in the early 1960s, Guillou has pursued a colourful career as a teacher, as a composer, and as a sensational performer with a special flair for imaginative improvisation. He has strong, and often idiosyncratic, ideas about interpretation and organ design, which have often aroused controversy, but many of the instruments he has designed have won universal acclaim, particularly the monumental new organs in the Tonhalle, Zurich (1988) and in Saint-Eustache (1989). Guillou is devoted to the promotion of the organ as a living concert instrument, and in addition to his own compositions, he has transcribed many works from the mainstream repertoire, including pieces by Vivaldi, Liszt, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky.

Published in 1971, the set of six Sagas contains three pieces (Sagas 2, 4 and 6) that are actually written transcriptions of improvisations which Guillou had recorded onto LP a few years earlier under the title of Visions Cosmiques. The improvisations were inspired by the age of space travel (a topical theme in those days!), and the sixth Saga is entitled Icarus. A vivid reflection of the composer’s own frenetic, percussive performing style, this exciting piece is a study in octaves and repeated notes, graphically depicting the headlong flight of the hero of Greek mythology who made himself wings of wax - and flew too close to the sun.

David Gammie

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