Contrappunto in A minor - (1999)
in memory of Frank K. Owen, organist and choirmaster of St. Paul's Cathedral, Los Angeles
Frank Owen was organist and choirmaster of St. Paul's Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles, a magnificent building long since demolished by the Episcopal diocese under the short-sighted leadership of Bishop Robert Rusack to make way for a high-rise bank building of far lesser significance to the cultural heritage of the City of Los Angeles. The three sons in our family were placed under Frank Owen's musical stewardship, and we all sung together in his well-reputed men's and boys' choir for many years, Greg and I beginning as trebles, then moving on to countertenor and then to our roles as adult singers; our elder brother Gordon, served in the men's choir through the summer months as well, while the boys were given their school vacation.
This period was the beginning of an informal training in music, which I later pursued in a more structured manner, with both private lessons and university work at Los Angeles City College, Immaculate Heart College and the University of California at Los Angeles. This piece of strict counterpoint was composed to honor his memory.
The following short biography is written by his premiere organ student, Dr. William P. Crosbie, who served for many years as the organist and choirmaster for St. James Cathedral in Chicago:
Frank K. Owen was born June 6, 1902, in Manchester, England, and died December 20, 1979, in Palm Desert, California. He began his musical education at the age of four under the tutelage of his father who was Principal of the Longsight Academy of Music. At the age of eight, he became a chorister and later served as organist to churches of various denominations in England. In 1924 he came to the United States in to work as a theater organist for silent films, after the model of his teacher, Norman Cocker, Organist-Choirmaster of Manchester Cathedral. Owen was appointed Organist-Choirmaster of Christ Church, St. Paul, in 1927, and accepted the position of Organist-Choirmaster of St. Paul’s Church, Minneapolis in 1936. In 1939, he assumed supervision of music at the Breck School for Boys in addition to his work at St. Paul’s. From 1944 to 1953, Owen was Organist-Choirmaster of St. Luke’s Church, Kalamazoo, Michigan, and became Organist-Choirmaster of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Los Angeles in 1953, a position he held until his retirement in 1974. He founded and served as Headmaster to the Cathedral Choir School of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1955. In 1977, after retiring from St. Paul’s, he was appointed Organist-Choirmaster of St. Margaret’s Church, in Palm Desert, a position he held until his death. He received the degree Bachelor of Music From MacPhail College of Music and was a Fellow of the Incorporated Guild of Church Musicians. In addition to his composition, he authored “A Choirboy’s Handbook.” Frank Owen was a skilled carpenter and built six harpsichords in various styles and sizes – two of which are still in use.
The theme for this work is reminiscent of the themes of the Baroque era, for we performed much Baroque music in the vast repertoire of choral music that Frank Owen planned for us. In addition to the normal dominant relationship, there is within the theme itself the melodic minor's sub-mediant which features in the coda to the work as a cadential passage.
The opening gesture introduces the theme, already embedded into a contrapuntal texture.
After a series of tonal domain visits and returns of the theme of this "contrappunctus," the coda lingers on the sub-mediant prior to cadencing the the predictable dominant and ending gesture.
This then is dedicated to the memory of Frank Owen, organist and "our" choirmaster, with the grateful thanks for many years of music making, for his fine example, diligent and faithful work and his exquisite taste.
[ Total duration 4'46" - MP3 file size - 4.36MB ]
The score is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this organ score.
Contrappunto in A minor
In addition to this organ work in his memory, those of us who knew him also retained copies of his works, many of which were never published except by mimeographed copy for use with Owen's choirs. His best student, William Crosbie, and my brother, Gordon Bachlund, preserved copies of his work and these are available as new engravings for download and use by choirs. Please click here for Frank Owen's collected choral works.