The organ works of Naji Hakim - Thematic sources

Ich liebe diese farbenreiche Welt

The organ works of Naji Hakim - Thematic sources





A few months ago Mr Hans-Georg Vleugels has kindly invited me to compose an organ solo piece featuring «A musical journey from Beirut over Istanbul and Paris into … Hardheim! ». While considering with great interest this idea, which recalls my own history as Lebanese born living in Paris and travelling all over the world, I had the chance to be introduced, by my friend, Pastor Hanne Margrethe Tougaard, to a beautiful Danish folk song entitled: Jeg elsker den brogede verden, Ich liebe diese farbenreiche Welt. Both the melody of this song and its text became the source of inspiration of the piece on the programme of tonight’s concert. It consists in two movements: a Praeludium developing a free ornamentation of the melody in a poetical and expressive mood on the flutes and voix céleste, and a rhythmical, powerful and joyful Tanz-Toccata.


Besides the fact that this work pays a tribute to the colourful organ cases and sounds of the Vleugels organs, it punctuates philosophically the evolution of my music, rooted in my faith, dedicated to the Glory of God and the Joy of mankind, and inspired by several cultural, religious or ethnical sources.


Here are a few examples of my works classified according to their main sources of inspiration such as Gregorian chant, Maronite chant, Lutheran choral, Danish hymns, Folkloric songs, Scriptures, Poetry or Composers







The art of Tournemire and Langlais, and the teaching of the latter, constituted an elegant introduction to the melodic and rhythmic aspects of Gregorian chant as well as to its harmonic potentialities. Right from my earlier pieces, such as “Symphonie en Trois Mouvements” or “The Embrace of Fire”, the quotation or development of plain song melodies became a regular practice in my compositions until more recent pieces, such as the symphonic suite “Le Bien-Aimé” or “Salve Regina”.  


The paraphrase of the antiphon to the virgin, Salve Regina, is based on the plainsong theme (solemn tone). The Gregorian line is unchanged; it evolves slowly above an expressive harmony. The text of the prayer is underligned by the meditative, soft and peaceful character.




One could distinguish in my Lebanese musical background two main sources : the folkloric songs and the Maronite chant, the latter being the equivalent to Gregorian chant in Lebanon. Both of these have provided to me thematic material and characteristic mid-eastern melismas, scales and irregular meters. 


As an example of utilisation of Maronite song in my organ works, I would like to mention Aalaiki’ssalaam

(Variations on a Lebanese theme). This work is inspired by the tragic events that occurred in the Middle East and particularly in Lebanon, in summer 2006, and wants to be a testimony of Peace and Joy. It follows the theological and musical line of another work of mine, Die Taube

 (for tenor and string quartet) and echoes Pastor Hanne Margrethe Tougaard’s preface for this same work : “Lad Guds melodi klinge i jer og lede jeres fødder ind på fredens vej. (Let God´s melody resound in you and guide your feet into the way of peace.) Aalaiki'ssalaam, "Peace be with you" is a Marian Maronite melody developed here in a set of 7 variations. The first variation is a joyful melismatic ornamentation in contrasted modes. Variations 2 and 3 proceed by rhythmic ostinato or aksak rhythm (3+3+2) around harmonic frames of the melody; they are linked to a powerful and dark Marcia (Variation 4). An expressive harmonisation in the centre of the work (Variation 5) is followed by a joyful arpeggio. Variation 7 is articulated in three sections progressing from an initial habanera, through a tonal, rhythmic and dynamic gradation, to burst out in the brilliant and cheerful coda.




As most organists, I am familiar with the Lutheran choral, whether through Bach’s harmonisations or his choral preludes. When I became organist at the Sacré-Coeur basilica, between 1985 until my appointment at La Trinité, I had to play the organ voluntaries and accompany all the singing repertoire, including Gregorian chant, French traditional repertoire as well as French adaptation of chorals. 


My organ piece Mit seinem Geist und Gaben illustrates my use of Lutheran choral. It is based on choral Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott by Martin Luther and Psalm 46, and develops a set of eight variations. The opening movement bursts in with a toccata-like texture with overflowing joy. Variation II is an expressive ornamentation of the melody in the treble. Variation III is a harmonisation of the choral accompanied by a perpetuum mobile in the left hand, symbolising the stream evoked in Ps. 46, 5. The image of the stream is recalled in variation IV, with a gracefully flowing development of the melody. Variation V is a peaceful meditation with the melody in the left hand. By contrast the very lively variation VI figures, with its abundant arpeggios, an inextinguishable strong stream ; it culminates on a bright carillon radiant with joy. Variation VII is a contemplative choral harmonisation. The conclusive variation recalls the opening with its cheerful and dancing character.




It is thanks to my friends, Hanne Margrethe Tougaard and Flemming Chr. Hansen, respectively pastor and organist at Sakskøbing Kirke in Danmark that I became familiar with another major melodic, poetic and spiritual source: the Danish hymns. These have inspired me so far several organ works, including the Sakskøbing Præludier, paraphrasing twelve hymns and All My Founts Shall Be With You, a set of variations on the hymn “Alle mine kilder skal være hos dig”, and my Concerto Nr 4 for organ and chamber ensemble, Det strømmende og uudslukkelige” (Das Strömende und Unauslöschliche), developing among others several Danish hymns to the holy spirit.


"Det strømmende og uudslukkelige..." (The Streaming And Unextinguishable..) is a concerto for organ and chamber ensemble. The title refers to the Holy Spirit as a streaming and Unextinguishable source of eternal Life. 


The composition follows the structure of the classical concerto in three movements :

  1. Strømmende (Streaming) :  Ritmico
  2. Sorrig og glæde (Sorrow and gladness) :  Andante
  3. Uudslukkelig (Unextinguishable) : Allegro con fuoco


The opening movement, Strømmende, is based on two themes from my other works: Det strømmende... canon for two voices (2005), on a text by Pastor Hanne Margrethe Tougaard and Capriccio for violin and organ (2004). The conclusive verse of Pastor Tougaard’s text « Guds Ånd er Liv » (Spirit of God is Life) is the point de départ of the whole concerto. The theme of the Capriccio is an appeal to the ”Beloved”, to the image of God among us. The form combines the principles of variation and sonata, in contrasted textures and moods (energetic, singing, expressive, lively, humoristic).


The second movement, is based on the Danish hymn, Sorrig og glæde, folk melody (ca. 1670) on a text by Thomas Kingo (1681). The music figurates here the opposition between life on earth and eternal Life in Heaven. The different variations of this movement (expressive, ornamental, contrapuntal), draw a general ascending evolution, whether tonal or in the tempo.


The concerto gets to its climax in the dancing and joyful conclusive movement, Uudslukkelig. It is conceived as a plurithematic rondo-sonata based on Danish hymns, most of them in honour of the Holy Spirit. These include : Du, som går ud fra den levende Gud; Gud Helligånd, o kom!; Kom Gud Helligånd, kom brat; I al sin glans nu stråler solen; Se, nu stiger solen. The two themes of the opening movement are recalled in the coda. The conjunction of the organ to a chamber ensemble inspires diversity in the soloistic parts for most of the instruments.




The more time passes the more I realise that the essential musical parameter is the melody. As said Charles Gounod: “The melody, always the melody, here is the very unique secret of our art”. Even if the 20th century has been testimony of a pitiful negligence of the melodic parameter, very essence of the form, one cannot ignore the heritage of earlier centuries, and the natural need for a melodic line to shape the rhetoric. As Gregorian chant or Lutheran choral, the folkloric melodies all over the world are part of the world’s patrimony. Considering my lifetime “musical journey from Beirut over Paris into … Hardheim”, I had the chance to get acquainted with different folklores. Some of them have inspired me in my compositions, such as an Alsacian, Basque, Britton, Danish, Latvian or Lebanese.

Bagatelle. This lively and joyful piece combines the characteristics of variation and sonata form and is based on a Latvian Folk Tune.

Ouverture libanaise

Commissioned by the City of Ingolstadt, this rhapsodic piece is based on several Lebanese folkloric tunes and makes use of several mid-eastern scales and rhythms. It quotes also in its last pages the Lebanese national anthem.




Many of my works are rooted in the Holy Scriptures. Several movements are preceded by quotations of verses from the Bible, paraphrase or illustrate some of its pictures. Glenalmond Suite is one of these pieces and will also be played on tonight’s concert.


Glenalmond Suite

In the same way that the pastor has for mission to gather the community, and go out, such as the Good Shepherd, to find the sheep that has gone astray, the bell has for mission to summon the faithful to the common Assembly, to reach out for the farthest ones, to wake up the dozing ones and stimulate the indifferent. This suite is based on the Glenalmond chime. The music prolongs here the Christian symbolism of the bells to comment biblical quotations referring to the Good Shepherd. The opening movement, Strømmende (Streaming), develops the chime melody in a cantabile style, with a lively coda. In the second movement, Favnende (Embracing), the theme is articulated with ostinato figures and dark harmonic colour. The middle section, scherzando, prepares a clear diatonic recapitulation.  Smilende (Smiling) is characterized by its light texture and registration (flutes 4 and manuals alone). Jublende (Jubilating) is a more developed movement combining rondo-sonata and variation forms. 




Music is the Verb of the unspeakable. It can naturally stand by itself. It can also be a prolongation or an evocation of other sources, such as literature, poetry or paintings.



 ('Quatrains') is a symphonic suite in four movements. The title comes from the work of the Persian poet Omar Kháyyám. The initial movement, Deciso, presents all the thematic material of the work in a ternary structure in an arabesque style. The Ostinato is an ensemble of free variations around an obsessional trochaïc cell. A very rhythmical and dancing scherzo, Molto Vivace precedes the finale, Allegro agitato, vehement expression of the passion underlying the whole work. The composer proposes in epigraph for each movement a quatrain of Omar Kháyyám. There are two different manuscripts for this work: the first one was done in ink on transparent paper and the second one was done in colour, i.e. each movement was written in a different colour. Rubaiyat meaning poem in four verses, I have imposed to myself the figure 4 for the number of themes, the number of movements and the number of colours in the second manuscript.




At several moments in my compositional trajectory I had the opportunity or the inspiration to pay a special homage to composers, who have been influential on my work. These were successively, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Gershwin, Bach and Langlais.


Hommage à Igor Stravinsky

The music of Stravinsky has been a great influence to me. Although it is known that Stravinsky did not hold the organ in highest regard (''the monster never breathes!''), I have specially thought of Stravinsky when I have composed this work. It is presented in the form of triptych, with movements entitled Prélude, Danse and Final. While there are no direct quotes from the Russian composer, there are hints throughout of PetrouchkaThe Firebird, and The Rite of Spring, as well as a general imitative style in composition. Large explosive chords, driving rhythms, the colourful use of tonal resources of the organ, pandiatonicism, ostinati, and deafening silences all unite to form an invigorating opus.


Le Tombeau d’Olivier Messiaen

In 1993 I succeeded Messiaen as organist at the church of La Trinité, Paris and wrote this triptych that year and gave the first performance at my inaugural recital. It is an act of homage to the composer, since it draws on his musical techniques and even quotes from his works. Each piece is based on a quotation from St. Paul. The first is prefaced by two verses from the Epistle to the Philippians: 'Christ will be honoured in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain'. Life and Death are symbolised by two themes : for life a Russian folk song close to Messiaen's heart, and for death part of the plainchant for Easter Vespers, Ego Dormivi, et somnun cepi. The two themes are varied in alternation and with great force; dance-like passages are contrasted with free rhythms, and rich, saturated chords are releived by naked lines of melody. The second piece is much slower and gentler. The quotation from St. Paul is once again from the Epistle to the Philippians: 'in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you, making my prayer with joy, thankful for your partnership in the gospel'. There are three sections, all based on a Maronite melody from the Lebanon. The final movement is like a vibrant, fitful toccata, with brilliant passages of rapidly alternating hands and feet. It is an act of exalted praise to God the Holy Trinity. It is prefaced by two verses from St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians: 'God the Father bestowed on us his glorious grace in his Beloved; in Him we were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit'. The main theme comes from the second of Messiaen's ‘Trois Petites Liturgies de la Presence Divine', which the full organ thunders out over a tightly circling bass line about halfway through the piece. 



I wrote Gershwinesca in answer to the commission of the English piano and organ virtuoso, Wayne Marshall. The rhapsodic piece pays a tribute from beyond the oceans to George Gershwin, by recalling, in a witty and humorous rondo form, several themes of the American great symphonic jazz composer.


Bach’orama - Orgelfantasie über Themen von Johann Sebastian Bach

This organ fantasy develops several themes from Johann Sebastian Bach's works. The succession of motives inspires different metrical, contrapuntal or expressive textures generating a rhapsodic form. The royal theme from the Musical Offering followed by a fugal development of Kyrie II from B minor mass appear in the middle of the structure as climaxes to this homage.


Hommage à Jean Langlais

This symphonic fresco is homage to my great friend and master, composer and organist, Jean Langlais. The work is developed in a rhapsodic style, conjugating the principle of sonata form with the variation. The thematic and certain modal or rhythmical characteristics are inspired by the organ work of the Master of Sainte Clotilde : Évocation (from  Hommage à Rameau), Angélus (from Chants de Bretagne), free improvisation theme, theme from the 1st Movement of the Première SymphoniePrélude Modal (from Vingt-Quatre Pièces pour harmonium ou orgue), Acclamations (from Suite Médiévale), Lumen Christi (from Incantation pour un Jour Saint), Dialogue sur les mixtures (from Suite Brève), Salve ReginaVeni creatorTe DeumLavaromp ar chapeled (from Chants de Bretagne). This piece is a grateful testimony towards an artist and teacher with a blooming faith.





When I recall the genesis of my works and the compositional games to build them up, I realise that it is difficult to find out a single style or any systematic approach. To echoe Stravinskys thought ”I never understood a single note of my music, but I have felt it.”  To conclude I thank God for the wonders of his creation I have been priviledged to appreciate in my musical journey from Beirut to Hardheim. Ich liebe diese farbenreiche Welt.


Dr Naji Hakim


12 May 2008 - Copyright © 2008