All Thoughts Fly

A CD copy of the album 'All Thoughts Fly' by Anna von Hausswolff.

In childhood I came to connect the sound of church organs with feelings of chilly discomfort, boredom and alienation. I should know better than to harbour continued prejudice against this kind of instrument, but those early associations have proven hard to shake off. The doleful onset of a traditional hymn-tune is still liable to provoke feelings of disquiet, but when a pipe-organ is used to play less conventional material, I have found I can enjoy it rather better.

A case in point is the album All Thoughts Fly by the Swedish composer and musician Anna von Hausswolff, released in 2020 but only very recently added to my shelves. It comprises seven solo instrumental pieces played by von Hausswolff on a church organ in her native Gothenburg, with some additional electronic manipulation apparently applied thereafter. The resultant music combines elements of the austerely minimalistic and of doomy drone, with plaintive lyricism.

The album cover photo was taken in ‘Sacro Bosco’, a sculpture-garden in Italy commissioned by a grieving nobleman after his wife’s death. Its title is a translation of an inscription (ogni pensiero vola) carved into the statue there of the underworld god Orcus, a “punisher of broken oaths”. Pensiero (I’ve been told) can translate, in certain contexts, not just as ‘thought’ but more specifically as ‘preoccupation’ or ‘anxiety’ – I’ve wondered whether the inscription could be interpreted in that light.

Another church organ performance I’ve grown to love is Irene De Ruvo’s rendition of Sweelinck’s Fantasia Chromatica on a 17th-Century Italian instrument.