Fishell and Franck: Fishell’s Franck cycle concludes grandly

“The opening paragraph of Janette Fishell’s program notes for her concluding concert featuring the works for organ of Cesar Franck says a lot.

Organ pieces by this 19th century Belgian-born and then France-inhabiting composer and organist, says Fishell, are — as are those of Johann Sebastian Bach — “at the very epicenter of an organist’s artistic formation. Long before a young student understands the chromatic language that blackens even the most humble of Franck’s twelve works … he or she works diligently to stretch the hand in order to span veritable cathedrals of chords, while also reveling in the majesty of Franck’s Maestosos and the sumptuous beauty of his pliable melodies.”

Present for Fishell’s recital in Auer Hall on Tuesday evening were organ students from the Jacobs School, including some of Fishell’s own, I’m sure, as she completed her performance cycle of all composer Franck left for organists and organ devotees that were and still are to come. For the students, those astute and refreshing program notes and all those floods of musical notes Fishell drew from that marvel of an instrument, the Seward Organ, must have served as object lessons. The reading of her thoughts undoubtedly proved an education. The playing of Franck’s remarkable music must have thrilled the listeners while also way-showing the technical, physical and musical demands Franck made on those who would perform his compositions.”

Review by Peter Jacobi, for The Herald-Times, Jan 13, 2017

Franck, Complete Works for Organ – Recital 1

“Organist Fishell puts Franck’s majesty, beauty on full display. It took Janette Fishell 21 concerts spread over a period of three-plus years to display for us her mastery of and love for the organ music composed byJohann Sebastian Bach. It will take just two programs for organist Fishell to share her commitment to Cesar Franck.

One half of this latest commitment was presented Monday evening in Auer Hall. The rest will follow Jan. 10. Take note.

True it is that composer/organist/pianist/teacher Franck was far less productive as composer than his far more famous predecessor. But thisBelgian-born, then turned French musician did impressively whatever he chose to do, and that certainly includes what he created for his dearly beloved instrument, the organ. The combination of Franck and Fishell and that marvelous organ of endless capacity in Auer Hall proved illuminating and exciting.

The repertoire Fishell chose for her program 1 were Franck’s Three Pieces, written in 1878, and his Three Chorales, composed during the last year of his life, 1890. Fishell says she was drawn early to Franck’s music and that the magnetism has grown ever since. She seems to need authority over hisoutput, stating that in the organ works of Franck and Bach, there exists “the very epicenter of an organist’s artistic formation.”

Since Fishell is chair of the organ department in IU’s Jacobs School, she apparently feels a double need, meaning not just for herself but also for the department’s organ majors. They need, she explains, to understand Franck’s chromatic language and to “work diligently to stretch the hand, in order to span veritable cathedrals of chords, while also reveling in the majesty of Franck’s Maestosos and the sumptuous beauty of his pliable melodies.”

“Maestoso” refers to music the dictionary defines as “majestic, dignified, a style characterized by lofty breadth.” Fishell made sure to prove the dictionary right. What one heard was about 80 minutes of uninterrupted majesty, dignity and lofty breadth. She took commanding charge as she madepage after page after page come to life.

One wondered how many notes could be compressed into that period of time: notes from the keyboards, from the pedals, from chords, from runs and trills. Well, Fishell compressed and made magnificent music to hear out of them, of composer Franck’s pieces and chorales as he must have wanted them to be played. Adding to the inspired scores that Franck left, Fishell read the music with a depth of understanding and, one supposes, profound reverence.

While acknowledging applause and cheers at program’s end, she raised one hand in salute to the organ and, one can assume, to Cesar Franck. Atrio: score, organ, and organist. Together, they deserve high praise.”

Review by Peter Jacobi, for the Herald Times,  May 2016

Ludwigsbsbuger Kreiszeitung

ORGELSOMMER concert in Stuttgart, Germany’s Evangelische Stadtkirche, 3 August, 2016

“The demanding presentation of Reger’s Halleluja! Gott zu loben bleibe meine Seelenfreude chromatic cosmos as a powerful sound architecture, with radiant concoctions and reflective contrasts in the seven layered, structured choral stanzas was overwhelming and powerful.”

Review by Dietholf Zerweck

Seasons of Sebastian XIII Review

“Fishell sat at the organ for an hour and a half of music … and she did so, even more remarkably, as if the achievement was no struggle at all. Each of those (works) is a technical minefield, requiring consistent and exemplary virtuosity, which Fishell supplied unsparingly and unerringly. For Fishell: highest praise for her daring, her labor and her conquest. For Bach: reminders of how deep his faith, how rich his mind in musical ideas and how incredible his genius.” 2012

Homage to Bach continues with nod to foreign influences

“Bach, the organ and Fishell: They’ve become a very present triumvirate hereabouts. . . Fishell played her hour-long program masterfully and with obvious devotion. She began with Bach’s French-inspired Piece d’Orgue, BWV 572, a three-movement work of technical complexity and innovative nature that gave both the organist and the organ a workout. One heard also an intricate no-pedal, all-keyboard Fugue built on the hymn “Wir glauben all an einen Gott,” a lovely Aria in F Major, BWV 587, capturing essences of Francois Couperin, and the Italianate Prelude and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 539.

The dessert was, surprisingly, not by Bach. It was Franz Liszt’s homage to Bach, a composer he much admired and whose organ Preludes and Fugues he imposingly transcribed for piano. Fishell tackled Liszt’s Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H, written in 1855, a simply amazing display piece that literally pulls out all the stops, stomps down all the pedals and strikes all the keys, some of the time seemingly all together. For Liszt to have written it took great imagination. For him and for Fishell to have played it marks a level of virtuosity that stuns the listener.”

Review by Peter Jacobi, for the Herald-Times, September 1, 2011

Two powerful offerings tonight: Bach’s faith and Handel’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus’

Fishell has planned a series of 21 programs devoted to the organ music of Johann Sebastian Bach, programs organized under the rubric “Seasons of Sebastian,” meaning she plans to package the repertoire by the times of year that the composer wrote the music, much of it for use in church.

“Bach was an 18th century Lutheran,” says Fishell. “What he wrote was for the glory of God. So, it makes sense to me that his music be ordered by the seasons of his faith, and the concerts that focus on his music for the church will be played in area churches, as today’s will be in Trinity.”

When preludes and fugues are in the spotlight,” she adds, “the series returns to Auer Hall and our great new Fisk organ.

“I want these concerts to be a wide event, uniting the community, serving town and gown,” Fishell explains. “I am an evangelist for my instrument, and Bach is the intersection between the organ and the outside world.”

The series began in October, with the focus on Bach’s life, a recital titled “A Man for All Seasons;” it was performed in Auer.

Tonight’s concert, “Music of Longing and Joy,” shifts the emphasis to Bach’s faith and the venue to a church, Trinity.

The next, on Jan. 11, is titled “The Young Virtuoso” and returns the series to Auer. The Feb. 20 recital, “Bach’s Epiphany: All Glory Be to God on High,” will be performed at First United. And so on.

“Tonight’s concert is all about Bach’s approach to the holiday season,” says Fishell. That stretches from Advent (marking the theme, “Savior of the Nations, Come”) to Christmas (“From Heaven Above I Come”), from New Year (“In Thee Is gladness”) to the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (“To God Returning”), plus a fugue and an epilogue amidst the host of pieces.

“The music is delightful and pictorial. And with the help of the Reverend Charles Dupree, we’ve incorporated visuals as a sort of counterpoint to the music.”

Consider the zeal with which Fishell approaches the project: “I’m ready, of course, for this concert. The next two are nearly ready. In overlap, I spend six months in planning and preparing for each recital. I have to have two to three hours of practice daily and sometimes eight on weekends. The training is constant.”

She does all that while also teaching and chairing the organ department at the Jacobs School. But, she notes, “Bach was busy, too. What he produced in a hectic life is amazing. I’m humbled by what he left us. And I’m really enjoying this challenge, the playing, the reaction from the audience, the sense of connection people have with Bach.”

Review by Peter Jacobi, for the Herald-Times, December 12, 2010

Opening concert, The Seasons of Sebastian project

“Tuesday’s opener took place in Auer Hall, on that marvelous new Fisk organ. Fishell not only established once again her virtuosity but contributed extensive and provocative program notes designed to give listeners the keys toward better understanding of her project and the music she is focusing on. She referred to her own work as the “most daunting task,” in that playing the pieces “represents a monumental commitment of study, practice and physical effort. . .   Fishell’s mastery of all the material was breathtaking. The harmonic statements, the complex ornamentations, the fugal developments, the gentle interludes, the powerful climaxes, the passionate exhortations, the technical challenges to fingers and feet, the artistic spirit and spiritual aura: all were convincingly present at this opening recital.”

Review by Peter Jacobi, for the Herald Times, October 7, 2010

CHICAGO: 2006 AGO National Convention

“Janette Fishell – fabulous. The recitals that followed the worship services were the type where a recitalist’s tires hit the road, so to speak. With the services beginning the day and the recitals starting shortly thereafter, a recitalist has little or no time to warm up to reduce any performance anxiety. And yet the two recitals that morning (Fishell and Engels) were among the most well played of the convention … Janette Fishell at Holy Name Cathedral was up to the task, and played a flawless recital. Fishell plays music about which she is passionate, and her choice of program, ‘Music that Moves,’ allowed her to be just that … one could only admire her sense of skill and bravura.”

The Diapason, December 2006

“On Tuesday, we heard one of the lovely ladies of the organ world. Janette Fishell, a mature musician, plays with great sensitivity and strong, secure technique. The 1989 Flentrop (IV/117), the builder’s largest mechnical-action organ in the U.S., is an impressive work of art. Designed according to historic traditions, it uses pull-down ventils and a mechanical combination action with adjustments on the stop knobs. It has a flat pedalboard, and its larges size increases the weight of the keys. Ms. Fishell was able to overcome the obstacles, and with the help of capable assistants, achieved seamless stop changes. 

The program, entitled ‘Music that Moves – Dances and Aires for Organ,’ opened with Petr Eben’s Homage to Buxtehude, a witty parody on Buxtehude’s Prelude, Fugue and Chaconne in C. Its urgent, driving rhythms and dissonances seem to express the composer’s strong convictions and beliefs. Ms. Fishell’s reading was most convincing. Two Leipzig Chorale settings of ‘Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr’ (BWV 662 and 664) displayed the beautiful cornet and foundation stops. The trio setting was full of energy and colorful sounds. These were engaging works for an appreciative audience. 

“The commissioned piece was Frank Ferko’s Livre d’Orgue. The five short movements seemed to go by quickly. The Intrada served as an exposition for the entire set. The Basse de trompette brought smiles all around with its growly reed and calliope-like accompaniment. The fugal section, entitled ‘In Time of Warm,’ was a personal favorite. Its descriptive moods effectively described the conflict and confusion, as well as death and sadness. Perhaps this movement could have been placed before the final chorale, ‘In Time of Peace.’ The Tango for Feet was a tour de force for the performer. 

“The Alain Postlude pour l’Office de Complies was a welcome offering. Well chosen for this instrument and setting, it captured an atmosphere of serenity and peace of mind – the perfect ending for a Compline service. The Prélude et Danse fuguée, Litaize’s most famous piece to American audiences, successfully combines and contrasts the free, improvisatory style of jazz with the structural boundaries of composed music. Ms. Fishell’s rock-solid rhythmic drive allowed the fugue to both dance and sing! Thanks to the lovely lady, we heard a program of organ music that moved, danced, and delivered great ‘aires.’”

The American Organist, October 2006

Classical Voice of North Carolina

“Dr. Fishell performed with ease Petr Eben’s tricky Moto Ostinato (from Sunday Music ) before launching into works by Parisian masters Louis Vierne and Maurice Duruflé. In the “Adagio” from Vierne’s Third Organ Symphony, the organ’s foundations and voix célestes wafted through the room in a reading that exquisitely evoked pathos and made this listener lose all sense of time and space. It was wonderful to hear (Duruflé’s) “Prelude” played at a tempo that suggested a gentle breeze instead of a race against time. The concluding toccata variation, on the other hand, had all the Pentecostal wind and fire one could wish.”

November, 2005

Ann Arbor Pipings

“The New Music Festival weekend Ms. Fishell’s dynamic performance on Saturday night was top notch all the way.”

May, 2004


Velvet Revolution, Volume 1


“The first disc presents Eben’s early works, and it is his first published work – Sunday Music from 1958 – that contains Eben’s most enduringly popular piece, the moto ostinato. Here we experience it in context: the Scherzo of a very individual organ symphony riddled with angst, composed 14 years after Eben was incarcerated as a child by the Nazis. As with the pieces written in the following decades, it flies in the face of Soviet censorship with its religious connotations. Disc two contains the colourful programmatic work Faust for Organ – a bewitching flight of fantasy with its drunken songs and cruelly comic dances. On the third disc we find Job for Organ (1987): a tale of suffering, faith, and salvation. Given Eben’s earlier struggles, the attraction to the Book of Job is understandable, and perhaps what makes this – and all the music here – so effective is the way everything speaks with such emotional honesty. The musical journey is enhanced by sensitive narration of verses from the Book of Job between movements. Fishell’s superlative performances are grounded in years of collaboration with the composer, and it is hard to imagine a better vehicle for this music than the Fisk organ at Indiana University, which speaks with such clarity and authority in glowing acoustics.

By critic: Rupert Gough

More Info:

Velvet Revolution, Volume 1

Online review at Classic Music Daily

“When the Czech composer Petr Eben died in 2007, he was renowned and performed the world over as a composer for choirs and organ. Nevertheless, 15 years on, this album inaugurates the first attempt at a complete survey of his output for the organ – an output so rich and individual that it has come to define a late 20th- century sound for the instrument as characterfully as Marcel Dupré achieved some six decades earlier. Eben’s individuality as a composer may be traced in part to the influence of the environment in which he was brought up, the Renaissance town of Český Krumlov. This background shaped his humanist mission for art, a conviction arising perhaps from his wartime internment at the concentration camp in Buchenwald. Nevertheless, a deep faith also burns within large-scale cycles such as Job, which battles with matters of life and death in a richly chromatic language, evidently informed by the composer’s own formidable gifts as an improviser. Alongside Job, the first volume of this projected integrale presents the monumental Faust cycle for organ, which tells the story of Goethe’s antihero in nine vividly illustrative pieces, including an Easter chorus, a drinking song, a Witches’ Sabbath and finally a sublime epilogue. Eben first came to international attention as an organ composer with the Laudes composed in 1964: the stern, archaic and magnificent quality of these hymns has proved adaptable to organs across the world and interpretations by countless organists. 

In Janette Fishell, Eben’s music for organ finds a supremely dedicated interpreter of international experience and technical finish. As professor of organ at Indiana University, she is recognised as a leading scholarly authority on Eben’s organ music, the subject of her doctoral dissertation; she produced the first study of his organ works in English. Subtitled ‘Velvet Revolution’, this complete survey will be illustrated by a series of online films about Eben’s life and work; Fishell supplies authoritative annotations to her own performances on this album, which will make essential listening for all students and enthusiasts of 20th-century organ music.”

Velvet Revolution, Volume 1

Longlisted for the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik

 Named one of the best and most interesting new keyboard releases of the last quarter of 2022, it was recognized for its artistic quality, repertoire value, presentation and sound quality.Read More:

Velvet Revolution, Volume 1

Online review in Orgel Nieuws (in Dutch)

Velvet Revolution, Volume 1

Journal für die Orgel”, issue 2/2023

Marcel Dupré Complete Organ Works

Music Teachers.Co.UK Online Journal, September 2001

“The B Major (Prelude and Fugue, Opus 7, No. 1) is handled with great panache … I am impressed with the greater degree of clarity in (Fishell’s) performance. Similarly, her reading of the F minor (Prelude and Fugue, Opus 7, No. 2) provides a greater sense of space in the prelude … a greater degree of clarity is also achieved in her reading of the G Minor Prelude and Fugue (Opus 7, No. 3).”

Eben: Organ Anthology

American Record Guide, March/April 1996

“… Fishell has done an invaluable service to Eben and new listeners by presenting this short sampler. Her performance is first-rate; she has an intrinsic feel for Eben’s music and an obvious joy in performing it. Her use of the Casavant organ of St. George’s Episcopal Church, Nashville, is without flaw. A truly enjoyable recording.”

But What Do I Do With My Feet? The Pianist’s Guide to the Organ

“Of course, it isn’t a substitute for proper lessons from a qualified organ teacher, nor is it a complete ‘method’ … however, for a pianist who is dragooned into service as an organist, who does not have access to a teacher, it is invaluable in keeping one from making a musical fool of oneself. Refinements can come later.” 

 “Very helpful. This book made it quick and easy for me to learn.”