David Burchell’s prelude on the well-known hymn tune “Love Unknown” was included in An Oxfordshire Organ Book, published by the Oxford and District Organists Association. The excellent hymn tune on which it’s based was originally written by the composer John Ireland, who died in 1972.
David Burchell was organ scholar and later assistant organist at New College, Oxford, and from 1997–99 he was in charge of the music at the University Church in that city. These days he lives in Dunedin, New Zealand, where he is musical director of the City Choir, City Organist, and organ tutor at Otago University, as well as leading the music at St Joseph’s RC Cathedral.
David Burchell’s Prelude on Love Unknown
The Prelude is written in 6/8 time, and in discussion with Francis Rumsey before performing the piece Jonathan Kingston suggests that the opening section has a pastorale style, to be felt in a leisurely two beats in a bar.
The chorale melody appears in the tenor in the left hand, and Jonathan has chosen here to use a “rather nice fat flute” on the Great to bring out the tune. David Burchell himself suggests to use a Solo or Great reed or Open Diapason at this point, but the decision in the end is very much up to the performer and the character of the voices available. You’ll notice that Jonathan is playing the accompaniment on the Choir manual, with the Swell coupled.
Notice also how he does some “thumbing down” from the Great to the Choir manual, in order to play certain notes in the accompaniment more easily while holding sustained notes in the tune.
The middle section of the Prelude, in clear 2/4 (rather than 6/8) time, is marked piu mosso. Elements of the tune feature in the harmonic structure in a more fragmented style, moving between the voices, before Burchell brings back the initial 6/8 “A” theme to conclude the work. For this middle section Jonathan brings on a slightly fuller registration, using the Swell up to 4’ Principal, opening the box as the phrases rise, and tapering the dynamic as the phrases fall.
The Prelude on Love Unknown makes an ideal quiet precursor to a service, perhaps for a funeral, before Evensong, or at Passiontide.
Find more pieces in this organ tutorial series in the introduction to organ performance tutorials 2021.
I have had a passion for church organs since the tender age of 12. I own and run Viscount Organs with a close attention to the detail that musicians appreciate; and a clear understanding of the benefits of digital technology and keeping to the traditional and emotional elements of organ playing.