Recital: Jonathan Ryan


Jonathan Ryan, Organist
June 29, 2023 – 7:30 pm
Boston Avenue United Methodist Church

Herbert Howells (1892-1983)
Psalm Prelude Set II, No. 3: 
“Sing to the Lord a new song: play skillfully and with a loud noise”

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Partita on Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig, BWV 768

Florence Price (1887-1953)
The Goblin and the Mosquito (1951)
Adoration (1951)

Healey Willan (1880-1968)
Introduction, Passacaglia, and Fugue (1916)

Mr. Ryan is represented by Karen McFarlane Artists.

Program Notes

Despite health conditions that often curtailed his performing as an organist, Herbert Howells, widely considered one of the finest British composers of the previous century, held a number of important teaching posts, including at the Royal College of Music, where he taught until his death.  Having recovered sufficiently from the sudden, devastating death of his nine-year-old son Michael in 1935 to continue composing, the late 1930’s saw a number of choral and organ works from Howells, including Set II of Psalm Preludes completed in 1938 and published two years later.  Both Sets consist of three Preludes each with a Psalm verse in the title.  Of these six, the one which opens our program is by far the most extroverted and the only one of the six to end with the full resources of the organ – possibly in reference to “with a loud noise” from Psalm 33:3 in the title.  Resplendent with the colorful, often modal harmonies typical of Howells, this Prelude features unusually big dynamic markings as well exceptionally strong, syncopated rhythm.  Also common for Howells, a free, rhapsodic form is used.  A softer middle section is underscored by a Pedal point.  Perhaps evoking a sense of journey within the “new song”, the middle section begins with a quasi-fugue before morphing into the atmosphere-driven rhapsody so loved by Howells.

The chorale constituted a major portion of the musical life of any German Lutheran church organist in Bach’s time.  Both improvised and composed preludes on chorales were regularly performed within services.  In certain places, including the United States, this custom continues to this day.  It is no surprise then that a significant portion of J.S. Bach’s corpus of organ works is chorale-based.

Among Bach’s chorale variations for organ, Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig holds the distinction of the largest: it consists of of eleven variations after a harmonized statement of the chorale, and often lasts nearly 20 minutes.  Although the precise time frame remains unknown, Bach wrote the variations over a span of years, and eventually collected them in the present Partita.  The fact that seven of the variations, which equals one for each verse of the original chorale, are in a 4/4 time signature may suggest that they were composed at one time as a kind of set.  Whatever the case, with an extraordinary array of styles and textures, the Partita includes a bicinium as its first variation, several trios, a variation reminiscent perhaps of harpsichord writing, a Gigue-inspired variation, a penultimate and longest variation hearkening to many opening movements of cantatas with an obbligato melody in between which the chorale is heard as a cantus firmus, and, lastly, a richly harmonized statement of the chorale not unlike many final harmonizations of chorales in cantatas.

Born in Little Rock, AR, Florence Price holds the distinction of being the first African-American women to have her music performed by a major symphony orchestra.  That was her Symphony No. 1 in E Minor in 1933 by the Chicago Symphony following a compositional competition win.  The daughter of a dentist and music teacher, she graduated from the New England Conservatory with diplomas in piano and organ.  After holding teaching positions in Atlanta and Little Rock, she moved to Chicago in 1927 following racial tensions, and entered a time of greater recognition and output.  Her works include four symphonies, three concerti, and other works for orchestra, choir, voice, piano, and organ.

Her music is noted for multiple influences, including spirituals, folk tunes, African American church music, and European composition.  The later is heard primarily in the three selections heard today.  Retrospection was first entitled “An Elf on a Moonbeam,” and The Goblin and Mosquito originally written for piano (here arranged by the performer).

One of the most important figures in North American liturgical music, Healey Willan immigrated to Toronto from his native England in 1913 to teach at the Toronto Conservatory of Music (now Royal Conservatory).  In 1921, he became Organist & Choirmaster at an Anglo-Catholic Anglican church, St. Mary Magdalene, where he served with renown until his death.  With over 800 compositions to his name, Willan is often described as the dean of Canadian composers.  It is mainly for his organ and choral works that he is known today.

At approximately 18 minutes in length, the Introduction, Passacaglia, and Fugue of 1916 in E-flat Minor is the result of a challenge to Willan from a friend who stated that only a German mind could write a superb passacaglia.  Willan is known to have sent his musical theme (i.e. melody) for this Passacaglia to said friend with the inscription, “to the cause, from the effect.”  The entire work is indeed steeped in turn-of-the-previous-century German Romanticism, especially composers with a strong interest in classic forms and counterpoint such as Max Reger and Josef Rheinberger.  A free-form Introduction begins and ends in mystery with an indication from Willan to use the softest and lowest sounds of the organ.  After the opening, rhapsodic material includes the first of eight occasions Willan prescribes the high-pressure, dark colored, commanding Tuba stop of the organ.

Originally a Spanish or Italian dance form and used frequently throughout the German Baroque period, the essence of a passacaglia lies in its perpetually repeating bass line.  Over Willan’s eight measure bass line, which is first introduced alone, a kaleidoscope of eighteen variations explore the composer’s imagination and contrapuntal mastery, as well as the organ’s capability of color and texture.  After building to a dramatic climax, the eighteenth variation, marked “quasi Chorale” and in the parallel major key of E-flat Major, gently leads to the Fugue.

Having not exhausted the Passacaglia’s theme, the Fugue is based on the first half of the Passacaglia’s theme.  Like the Passacaglia, the Fugue gradually builds.  However, the Fugue’s climax is still greater, partly from the quick shift in afekt near the end: a dominant Pedal point in 3/4 time and E-flat Major marked Animato momentarily gives a glimpse of joy.  The final statement of the subject in the pedal returns to dark E-flat Minor with massive chords yielding a dense, ultimately triumphant ending in the spirit of piece’s German Romantic inspiration.

© M. Jonathan Ryan, 2023

About the Performer

Jonathan Ryan

Acclaimed by audiences and critics alike for his strong communicative skills in numerous styles, depth of musicianship, and passion, Jonathan Ryan is hailed as one of the premiere young concert organists of our time.  His command of an exceptionally large breadth of repertoire, spanning from the Renaissance to numerous solo and collaborative premieres, coupled with striking virtuosity enables the bold, imaginative programming and exceptional use of each organ’s unique capability for which he is noted.

Mr. Ryan has the rare distinction of holding six First Prize awards from major international and national organ competitions.  He most notably entered the international spotlight when awarded First Prize in the 2009 Jordan II International Organ Competition, one of the most substantial First Prize awards of any organ competition at the time.  He was additionally awarded the only auxiliary prize at the Jordan Competition, the LeTourneau Concerto Prize, given for the best performance of a newly commissioned work for organ and percussion ensemble.  Additional First Prize awards include the 2006 Arthur Poister National Organ Competition, the 2006 John Rodland Scholarship Competition, the 2004 Albert Schweitzer National Organ Competition (Young Professional Division), and the 2003 Augustana Arts-Reuter National Organ Competition.

Jonathan Ryan’s newest recording entitled Influences, recorded on the Stahlhuth-Jann organ at St. Martin’s Church, Dudelange Luxembourg, appeared in December 2015 on the independent boutique label, Acis.  It received the exceptional honor of nomination consideration in the 2017 GRAMMY® awards.  The recording features major works by Dupré and Willan, a premiere recording of Ad Wammes, and a commissioned piece by renowned English composer Philip Moore.  His début solo organ recording, A Cathedral’s Voice (Raven 941), was released in 2012 to immediate critical acclaim, including a five-star review in the London-based Choir & Organ.  Lauded for its mastery, expressivity, sensitivity, and virtuosity, it includes music ranging from Byrd and Bach to Schumann and Eben to a commission by multi award-winning young American composer Zachary Wadsworth. Mr. Ryan’s performances have also been featured on the nationally syndicated radio programs Pipedreams and With Heart and Voice.

As a recitalist, Mr. Ryan’s solo engagements have taken him to numerous prominent venues and festivals throughout the United States and Europe.  Recent performances in the UK have included St. Paul’s Cathedral London, Ripon, Southwark, and Truro Cathedrals, and a celebrity recital at St. Michael & All Angels Church, Great Torrington.  In Germany, he has performed at Leipzig’s Nicholaikirche and at international organ festivals in Hamburg, Stuttgart, Lübeck, and Konstanz.  Other European venues include the Cathédrale St-André in Bordeaux (France), and the international Spätsommer Festival in Zürich (Switzerland).  In the United States, recent engagements include the Piccolo Spoleto Festival’s prestigious Spotlight Series (Charleston SC), the inaugural organ concert series at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland CA, the Eccles Organ Festival (Salt Lake City UT), the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston TX, and recitals sponsored by the Chapters of the American Guild of Organists in Cleveland OH, Kansas City MO, Fairfield County CT, and Charlotte NC.  He also performed recitals of J.S. Bach’s monumental Clavier-Übung III in a tour on historically-based organs throughout the United States, including Stanford and Pacific Lutheran universities, St. Joseph Cathedral in Columbus OH, St. Philip Presbyterian Church in Houston TX, Pinnacle Presbyterian Church in Scottsdale AZ, Church of the Transfiguration in Dallas TX, Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland OH, and Christ Church Christiana Hundred in Wilmington DE.

Mr. Ryan is frequently invited to perform for his peers at conventions.  His solo recitals at conventions include the 2014 National Convention of the American Guild of Organists in Boston MA, three national conventions of the Organ Historical Society, and the opening recital of the 2012 Symposium on Charles Tournemire in Ft. Lauderdale/Miami FL.

Born into a musical family in Charlotte, NC, Ryan first started playing the organ at age eight.  He earned a Bachelor of Music degree with academic honors from the Cleveland Institute of Music where he studied organ, improvisation, and church music with Todd Wilson.  During his undergraduate studies, he was awarded the Henry Fusner Prize for outstanding achievement in the Cleveland Institute of Music’s organ department, and also assisted Todd Wilson at The Church of the Covenant as Student Intern in Music.   As a student of David Higgs, Ryan received a Master of Music degree from the Eastman School of Music where he also studied improvisation with William Porter and conducting with William Weinert.  Additionally, he holds the highest-ranking professional certification from the American Guild of Organists, the revered Fellow certificate, as well as the Choirmaster certificate for which he received the Choirmaster Prize.

Ryan serves as Director of Music & Organist at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Dallas TX where his passions for conducting, performing and teaching combine with his love of sacred music at the country’s second largest Episcopal church.  At Saint Michael, he led the establishment of a new chorister program for ages 4 to 18 based on the Royal School of Church Music, founded the professional Compline Choir, expanded the music staff and choral liturgies, and recently commissioned 9 works to celebrate the church’s 75thanniversary. From 2013 to 2017, he served as Associate Director of Music at Christ Church in Greenwich CT.  Ryan has previously held director, conducting and organist positions at St. John Cantius Church in Chicago IL and St. Anne Church in Rochester NY where he was additionally Artistic Director of the Music at St. Anne concert series, and University Organist at the University of Rochester.  During his two seasons as Visiting Artist at St. James Cathedral in Chicago IL, his solo organ accompaniment transcription of the Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45, performed live in concert with the St. James Cathedral Choir (Bruce Barber, conductor), was showcased on the Friday night “Music in Chicago” program of Chicago’s Classical Music Station, WFMT.  Equally at home on the conducting podium, he has conducted the premiere of numerous works for choir and instrumental ensembles, and directed and founded choirs of all ages and abilities.  In fall of 2022, he served as Guest Director of the Dallas Symphony Chorus.

For additional information, including upcoming performances and how to purchase recordings, please visit:

About the Venue

Boston Avenue United Methodist Church
1301 S. Boston Ave., Tulsa, Oklahoma

Foley-Baker Organ IV/76 (2019) (after Möller Op. 9580)
Click here to download the stoplist.