Letter from Professor

Rosalinde Haas

Zero degrees of separation

"Dear Friends of Selby Abbey.

For a while now I have been following Selby Abbey and the extraordinary Selby Abbey's Organ Appeal. I feel so close to your community, even though I have never been to Selby myself. I find the dedication and perseverance with which you all are pursuing the restoration of the William Hill organ inspiring.

There is a BBC news clip on YouTube, where John Scott Whiteley plays the beautiful Hill organ. And then John explains why the organ so very much needed repair. And then, Fernando Germani is mentioned. Fernando Germani, the titular organist at St Peter in Rome. He recorded a series of LPs for HMV (EMI) in Selby Abbey in the 1960s and it is wonderful that these recordings are now available on CD as a benefit for the Abbey Organ Appeal.

Fernando Germani was my teacher. I first met him when I was 16, in 1948. I had hidden behind the organ pipes in a church in Stuttgart, where he had come to play. His technique was mind boggling. Total focus on music, brilliant and elegant footwork, playing the pedal so differently from my own approach at the time, which was more that of a furious trampling animal.

After the concert I approached Maestro Germani, and self-consciously declared that I, too, can play the organ, in particular Max Reger and Bach, and that I wanted to study with him. Well, he smiled, and said, why don't you first study the piano, and come back to me once you have mastered the two Chopin Etudes in e flat major, opus 10 no. 5 and op 25 no. 9.  I was weak on the piano, but with Professor Juergen Uhde's help, I did what Maestro Germani had asked for. And so he was a quite surprised when in 1950 I turned up in Italy, in Siena, at the Academia Chigiana, and told him "Maestro, I am ready, can I show you the Chopin etudes, please. And by the way, I still want to study the organ with you!"

Rosalinde Haas (left) in 1950 with Fernando Germani (second from left).

So I recognize the dedication and perseverance that is so clearly visible in the Selby Abbey Organ Appeal, as these same principles have guided my entire life, which I have dedicated to music making and organ playing.

So from 1950 to 1958, both in Siena and at the Academia Cecilia in Rome, Germani taught me everything I know. Germani had an incredible way of playing legato. You may know that he first studied string instruments, before switching to the organ, and it shows. He taught us the concept of "cantilene", which is making the music sing.

There were many of us learning from him. In Rome I realized that he arrived in the auditorium of the Academia Cecilia at 7.30 am in the morning. So I started showing up even earlier, to get as much of his time as possible. "Sei una testa dura" he once said - "you are such a stubborn person", as I was mostly interested in Max Reger and Bach and didn't want to study the many other musical treasures that he tried to teach me. "Questa mi fa morire" - "she is killing me", in that every week I brought two new pieces I had prepared, to get his advice, and if he had extra time I always had a spare piece prepared, just in case.

I have only been to England once, for a concert tour in 1976 that took me to Westminster Cathedral, Farnborough and several other memorable places with wonderful organs. In Westminster Cathedral there was no time for me to prepare for the concert properly, and I was very fortunate that my colleague Nicolas Kynaston, who had also studied with Maestro Germani, allowed me to use his settings: I was immediately familiar with them, the common training showed through. After the concert, Nicolas invited us for a drink to a pub, and there was a musicologist, Dr Hastings, who mentioned a book by a certain Peter Krams, on the technique of pedal playing. He asked me whether by chance I knew Peter Krams, and I said, yes, he is my husband, and we both studied with Maestro Germani. In his PhD thesis Peter discusses the important influence that British organ builders have had on the technique of pedal playing, in that the radial disposition of the pedal was really invented in England. In Farnborough I was blown away by the wonderful Cavaille-Coll organ there. And I cannot wait to hear the newly renovated Hill organ at Selby Abbey in action.

Much later in my life I get a letter from D'Arcy Trinkwon. At the time I had just finished recording all of Max Reger's organ works and was about to retire as professor at the academy of music in Dusseldorf. D'Arcy had come across my recordings and was interested in exchanging notes. Just recently I watched a YouTube clip where D'Arcy plays a piece by Enrico Bossi, phenomenal footwork and pedal technique, just as Fernando Germani would have taught us.

D'Arcy and I met once after a concert, and I read that now he, together with John Scott Whiteley, will be playing at the opening concert celebrating the completion of the restoration of the Hill Organ at Selby Abbey in September 2016. So even though my husband and I won't be there with you, given that we are not traveling much any more, in spirit we will very much be there with you all: Zero degrees of separation."




Rosalinde Haas 1948

Rosalinde Haas 1957

Rosalinde Haas 2001