The organ works of Petr Eben evaluated by Jan Hage

by Jan Hage | Het ORGEL | Year 103 | (2007) | Issue 2

Jan Hage The organ works of Petr Eben evaluated
Het ORGEL 103 (2007), nr. 2, 24-34 [summary]

The Czech composer Petr Eben is seldom mentioned along with leading composers of modern organ repertoire like Messiaen, Ligeti, Kagel, Berio and Xenakis, but his organ works are among the most frequently played in recent decades. Eben sees himself as an artist who finds inspiration in suffering and translates that into compositions of a strongly spiritual color,
in which the struggle between good and evil has an important place. The need
to communicate leads him to use conventional stylistic means.

The organ, his ‘Schicksalsinstrument’ [fated instrument? instrument of fate?], has an important place in his oeuvre.

In “ Sonntagsmusik” and “Laudes” Eben reached an early highpoint in his organ works. “Faust” (1980) and “Job” (1988) are strongly programmatic.

The popularity of Eben’s music is due to the extra-musical connotations which offer the listener a frame of reference, the fairly modern, in essence traditionalistic idiom, and the large symphonic scale. The vital rhythm, spectacular virtuosity, and the colorful use of the organ make the music a gratifying vehicle for the concert organist.

His music is linked stylistically to the most popular international organ music traditions of the 20th century: the style of his music can be summarized as consisting of a mixture of the neo-classical and the French symphonic traditions. Czech folk music and church music, particularly Gregorian chant, also play a role.

The improvisatory basis of much of his work can produce music showing a great urge to communicate, but also leads to a certain loss of control.