A Norwegian master of organ improvisation on Sunday

Organ improvisation is on the programme next Sunday in Hallgrimskirkja, when Inger-Lise Ulsrud, teacher of improvisation at the Norwegian Academy of Music and head organist at the Uranienborg Church in Oslo, gives a concert. Also on the programme are lent-orientated works by J. S. Bach, Howels, Duruflé, Vierne, Reger and Mulet.

Improvising was just a few centuries ago in the capacity of every instrument player in Europe. It is reckoned that J. S. Bach himself was very adept at this, improvising whole fugues when the occasion arose. Remnants of this are the cadenzas of solo concerts, where the composer would leave space for the musician to improvise. Nowadays prewritten cadenzas are most often used.

With time, classical instrument players became foremost performers of prewritten pieces. But the tradition of improvisation has survived and thriven among organists in both France and Germany, where there is a need for it during mass. Certain parts of the mass, like the Holy Communion, have a variable length due to different numbers of church guests. Thus it is necessary for the organist to be able to improvise, say over a hymn, at different length according to circumstance.

Ulsrud has studied in Germany where there is a great emphasis placed on the versatility of the organist: Improvising, conducting, composing and singing. In Düsseldorf she took private lessons with Almut Rössler, Messiaëns good friend, since specializing in the french composer’s organ works. In 2009 she published a CD with the early organ works of Messiaën.

This is the third time Ulsrud performs in Hallgrimskirkja. The concert on Sunday February 14th starts at 5 pm and admission is 2500 ISK.