It’s wedding season, which means an abundance of wedding gigs for musicians everywhere. These gigs often come with a scramble to find music suitable for the event and the requested instrumentation. One such novel musical instrument combination is the cello and organ.
This article explores where to find music, considerations cellists must make when playing with an organ, and favorite pieces that work well for the pairing. I also suggest where pieces can work in a ceremony.
Where to Find Music
Music written for the cello and organ can be challenging to find, so many of the pieces mentioned here were originally written for cello and piano. However, a skillful organist can craft a pedal line by reserving some left-hand notes in the piano part for the pedal or omitting the pedal altogether.
In addition, if you are working from an organ solo arrangement, simply give the cello the organ melody.
Please note that the links to purchase music given in this article are valid in the USA at the time of publication. Beyond those mentioned in this article, resources for music include Sheet Music Plus and Hal Leonard.
Playing with Organ for the First Time
For cellists playing with the organ for the first time, Rebecca Hepplewhite, cellist of the UK-based Svyati Duo, recommends choosing mostly slow music. Hearing each other can be challenging in some settings because “with the organ, the beats can be quite muddy.” In addition, rhythmic pop music and marches can be challenging to coordinate because the precision of the rhythm can be obscured by the resonance characteristic of many churches’ sanctuaries.
If the wedding party requests more upbeat pieces, consider having the organ play those pieces alone. Likewise, solo cello music can complement the duo. Who doesn’t love to hear the Prelude from the first Bach cello suite?
In addition, some organs are built with the console (where the organist plays) placed far from the pipes themselves. Other organs have antiphonal pipes placed across the room. These factors need consideration because both sightlines and hearing each other can be tricky.
Some organ consoles are mobile to some extent, while others are built into the instrument. The organist’s back may also face everyone, requiring the organist to use a mirror to see other musicians or the wedding party.
Another consideration when playing with the organ is balance. Although the organist may feel the need to play softer to avoid covering the cello, be sure to have someone listen from where the audience will be seated. The musicians often do not get an accurate feeling for the balance, especially when the pipes are far away from the players.
Certain parts of the wedding call for a substantial amount of time to be filled. These sections include the prelude or the signing of the register in traditional UK weddings. Longer pieces that may lack clear cadences fit these portions of the ceremony best when you do not need to time the music to match everyone walking down the aisle.
The mood can range from calming to exuberant. At just under three minutes, Fernand Halphen’s Prière (Prayer) sets a contemplative mood. Though slow, this piece does traverse the cellist’s fingerboard and ends in treble clef. The sheet music for organ and cello is available in a collection from Bärenreiter, and a recording of mine is below.
Continuing with prelude music, Francesco Maria Veracini’s “Largo” for cello and piano transcribes nicely to the organ. The following video will give organists an idea of one possible registration. View an excerpt here. Purchase the sheet music here. Note that this cello part is entirely in tenor clef in the arrangement for cello and piano.
Consider other public domain works, including Joseph Rheinberger’s Cantilene, also available on IMSLP, and Elgar’s Salut d’amour (sheet music available here), along with favorites such as Schumann’s Traumerei, Bach chorale preludes arranged for cello and piano, Saint-Saëns’ Prière, “Maria Theresia Von Paradis’s” Sicilienne, and Gounod’s Ave Maria.
Pieces for Walking Down the Aisle
As any musician who regularly performs at weddings knows, timing is critical when everyone (especially the bride!) walks down the aisle. One of the great qualities of Baroque music is the many possible stopping spots throughout each piece. These cadences can be vital when everyone walks down the aisle at different speeds than they did during the rehearsal.
From the Baroque era, the “Andante” from Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D Minor transcribes beautifully for cello and organ. This is one piece that I have played several times in both concerts and weddings. Organist Catie Moyer was kind enough to share a free copy of her transcription with the Cello Museum. Click here to download the score, and click here to download the cello part. Other Baroque favorites include the Largo from Vivaldi’s “Winter” from The Four Seasons and Bach’s gorgeous Arioso.
Another more modern wedding favorite is Brian Crane’s “Butterfly Waltz.” Not only is this piece serene and memorable, but it also has many cadences for flexible stopping and is simple to put together quickly. Listen to the piano and cello version below, and purchase the sheet music from the composer’s website. Consider starting later in the piece if you want the cello to play from the start.
The celebratory, upbeat feeling typically called for in a recessional lends itself well to full organ. Consider having the organist play alone or have the cello double the melody of the organ part with the understanding that the cello might not be heard if the organ is playing at full volume.
Hopefully, this list of music has been helpful to you. The pieces listed here merely scratch the surface of the music available for the organ and cello. Click here for a more comprehensive list of concert music written or arranged for cello and organ.
What are your favorite pieces for cello and organ (original or transcribed)? Please let us know in the comments.