There’s a short hymn by Franz Liszt called “O filii et filiae”, from his oratorio “Christus“.
It’s a light and gentle choral piece, meant to be sung by only the female members of the choir, backed by the least alarming stops of the organ. You can hear a bit of it in this MP3.
I quite like the hymn, but that’s mainly because I consider it to be the preamble to a simply excellent musical joke.
Farnam produced exactly one composition during his 45 years on this planet. That composition, published after his death but apparently played by him on numerous occasions when he was seeing if a particular organ was prone to catching fire when abused, was a Toccata on “O filii”.
“O filii” is about how Mary Magdalene finds the tomb to be empty, and so it’s all hopeful and happy. Peaceful, mellow. God wants you to buy some sandals and a nylon stringed guitar and spread the Good News.
Farnam’s Toccata is, to my mind, what happens when someone likes the chord changes in that hymn, but figures that they would be better presented at the volume of a Manowar concert and with more of an Old Testament, or possibly Norse, feel.
The Toccata’s God is more the sort of deity who, if He absent-mindedly allows you to see one trillionth of His magnificence, will force you to start banging your head on the ground as hard as you can.
The piece opens with a chord entirely suitable for the arrival of your Sun Eater out of hyperspace. And then, if anything, it gets louder.
I, for this reason, think it’s just hilarious if the choral “O filii” is followed by the Toccata. It’s a sort of cosmic Good Cop, Bad Cop routine.
But you needn’t take my word for it. Mark Quarmby, an Australian organist who’d be a hundred times better at playing keyboard instruments than me even if he’d never figured out any of that weird foot-pedal stuff, has an excellent rendition of the Farnam Toccata available for download on his Recordings page.
(I’ve taken the liberty of mirroring the MP3 here, to reduce the likelihood of all you yahoos melting down Mark’s server.)
I’ve actually met Mark Quarmby. He’s a university friend of my mother’s.
He’s an unassuming fellow. Not at all a member of the cape, beard and monocle school.
He looks like an accountant.
It’s those ones you have to watch, you know.