Victor Togni studied with masters of the European organ tradition of the twentieth century including; Marcel Dupré, Rolande Falcinelli, Fernando Germani, Jean-Jacques Grunenwald, Jean Langlais, and Olivier Messiaen. Like many young organ students of the French tradition, Victor studied repertoire and the art of improvisation. However, it was the art of improvisation and the use of Gregorian chant that resonated with him in the most powerful and communicative way. The development of his improvisatory skill through study led him to consider moving to North America.
In addition to Victor’s skill in the art of improvisation, composition was of interest to him and before he died he completed one organ work, Five Liturgical Inventions (solo organ), an unaccompanied choral work, Alleluia!, and the mass setting, A Parish Mass (CBW II). There are also numerous sketches, some of which were destroyed by the composer and some of which are extant.
- A Parish Mass shows his skill in emulating the Gregorian chant style with a revised English text in a practical liturgical form. A revised version of the mass has been published in St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica Hymnal “with Angels and Archangels”.
- The short sacred choral work Alleluia! was published posthumously and has since been recorded and is in the repertoire of many Canadian choirs.
- The Five Liturgical Inventions are based on the chants of Jesu Dulcis-Verbum Supernum, Ave Maria, Adoro te devote, Laudate Dominum, and Alleluia. In 2015, a memorial edition of the Five Liturgical Inventions was published by Counterpoint Music out of Toronto, Ontario.
He started the sketches for these pieces while in Switzerland in 1962-63. He finished them after he returned to Canada from his studies. They had just been submitted for print shortly before the accident which took his life. Gregorian chant was always very close to his heart and he often improvised on Gregorian themes after his recitals, so it would not be a surprise that he would weave melodies around these wonderful chants of the church. The last movement of the Five Liturgical Inventions, the Alleluia, came out of an improvisation. The Choir school graciously helped with the editing after the accident and they were published posthumously.
His son Peter- Anthony recall some of his favourite repertoire:
When he first came to Toronto to play, the organ scene there was very much an English one. My dad was an exotic bird. He improvised! He played early Italian including Frescobaldi, in addition to works of Soler, Bach (most of which he recorded live to tape for the CBC at St. Michael’s) and contemporary music. He loved the music of Tournemire, Langlais, Dupré, Vierne (to a degree), and the music of his teacher, Grunenwald. My father always included improvisations on a given theme as part of his recitals.
During his short life, Victor touched many people but perhaps his improvisation is his greatest legacy. He had the ability to play what was not there and this came out best in his improvisations. His ideas were fully formed, technically sound, lyrical, and he played so very musically. The heart of who he was is in his improvisations. His genius could be found in the colour of his registrations. He had the philosophy of performing in a particular order; for self, for friends and for audience. Experiencing his improvisations could, if you were open to it, change your life.
Building on this legacy, in 2019 John Paul Farahat, D.M.A. (Director of Music & Principal Orgainst at St. Basil’s Church, Toronto) completed his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Toronto with his studies. The result of several years of research, John Paul’s doctoral dissertation Precomposed & Extemporized: Rediscovering the Life and Improvisatory Work of Canadian Organist Victor Togni (1935 – 1965) connects Togni to his European teachers, including Jean-Jacques Grunenwald, Jean Langlais, Olivier Messiaen, Marcel Dupré, Rolande Falcinelli, Jeanne Demessieux, and Fernando Germani. The text catalogues hundreds of previously unpublished archival documents, providing a full-length biography, as well as several reconstructed improvisations from historical tapes. Additionally it provides an in-depth analysis of the musical language and improvisatory forms of Togni’s Five Liturgical Inventions and improvisations as they related to his unfinished organ improvisation method book.
In 2015, a two-disc set of historical recordings was released consisting of both performance pieces and improvisations recorded in Switzerland, Canada and the United States. They include the improvisation on two themes by Persichetti that were presented at the Philadelphia International Improvisation competition in 1964, and Victor’s last recital from St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto in 1965. These memorial discs are available for purchase by contacting us.
Memorial Concert 2005
On May 27th 2005, the year of Victor’s 70thbirthday, there was a memorial tribute to Victor graciously organized and inspired by Gordon Mansell, and held at Toronto’s historic St. Basil’s Church. A graduate of St. Michael’s Choir School Gordon, as a young student, was inspired by the colours of Victor’s playing and has since had a life-long career in music. The evening featured spirited and passionate performances by William O’Meara, William Wright and Gordon, along with the Senior Choir from St. Michael’s Choir School, directed by Brian Rae and Jerzy Cichocki. The evening concluded with a performance and improvisation by Peter-Anthony Togni. The concert was reviewed by Peter Daly for the June 2005 edition of the RCCO – Toronto Bulletin. The concert as a whole and the incredible attendance of long time friends, colleagues and supporters was deeply touching and overwhelming to both myself and family members – for those who could attend and Victor’s family in Africa.
“The response to the gala was immediate and unequivocal: this was a concert to remember!” – Peter Daly