About this Recording
8.553924 - KREBS: Organ Works
English 

Johann Ludwig Krebs (1713-1780)
Organ Works Vol. 1

The most distinguished of Johann Sebastian Bach's pupils, Johann Ludwig Krebs was born in Buttelstedt in 1713, the eldest son of a musician, Johann Tobias Krebs. The latter, serving as organist at Buttelstedt before moving to similar employment at the Michaeliskirche in Buttstädt, had for two years travelled twice a week to Weimar for lessons with Johann Gottfried Walther, organist from 1707 at the church of St Peter and St Paul, and with Walther's kinsman, Johann Sebastian Bach. Johann Ludwig had his early lessons from his father and was able, in 1726, to enter the Thomasschule in Leipzig, where Bach had moved in 1723 as Cantor. The boy continued his studies there for the next nine years, finally leaving to enter the university, where he was still available for performance in the collegium musicum under Bach's direction. He was also able to help his former teacher in music at the Thomaskirche, particularly, it has been suggested, in the aftermath of Bach's dispute with the Rector of the Thomasschule over the appointment of a competent prefect. In 1735 Bach had provided his pupil with a testimonial, recommending him as a musician of distinction, a player of the keyboard, violin and lute and a proficient composer. Two years later Krebs was appointed organist at the Marienkirche in Zwickau. In 1744 he moved to Zeitz as castle organist and finally, in 1755, after failure to succeed Bach in Leipzig on the latter's death in 1750, settled at Altenburg as organist at the court of Prince Friedrich of Gotha-Altenburg. He retained this position until his death in 1780.

Krebs was highly regarded by his contemporaries as an organist and as a composer. His style reflects that of his teacher, modified at times by the developments of the second half of the century. At the same time he did much to preserve works by Bach that he copied, both as a pupil and in subsequent years. A later writer recalled Bach's play on his pupil's name and his own, with the words einzigen Krebs im Bache (the only crayfish [Krebs] in the stream [Bach]). His younger brothers had also been pupils of Bach at the Thomasschule, but did not choose to follow careers in music, preferring academic life. The three sons of Johann Ludwig, however, continued the family tradition, one succeeding his father as court organist at Altenburg.

The Toccata et Fuga in E major, with the initial direction Praeludio con discrezione, starts, as certain of Bach's toccatas had done, with an extended passage for the pedals alone, after which the manuals enter with a sequence over a sustained pedal note, proceeding through various changes of key to a grandiose conclusion. The following fugue is introduced by the alto voice, followed in an overlapping answer by the tenor. The third voice is provided by the pedals, with an overlapping entry in the top voice. The texture unwinds in traditional Baroque form, with varied entries of the subject, inversions and moments of relative repose over sustained pedal notes.

The G minor Ach Gott, erhör mein Seufzen (‘Ah God, hear my sighs’) offers a more modern and chromatic introduction, over which the chorale melody is introduced in a single melody-line, proceeding in the same way until the final resolution into the expected G major chord.

Sei Lob und Ehr dem höchsten Gut (‘Praise and honour to the highest Good’), in F major, is included in the second part of the Clavierübung by Krebs, announced in 1753 and advertised on its title page as containing various preludes and variations on church songs suitable for performance on the organ or clavier. Following the practice of this collection, the work is in three parts, starting with a Praeambulum on the chorale, followed by a tricinium, a three-voice working of the chorale melody in 9/8 metre. Finally the chorale is heard alio modo, in another version, in a direct statement of the hymn, with a figured bass.

Again following the precedent of Bach, Krebs opens his Toccata in A minor over a sustained pedal note, before the pedals are allowed their necessary solo display. A second section in C major soon modulates, with a final section for the manuals only leading to concluding chords. The Fuga has an extended subject, stated first in the soprano, answered in the alto, to appear again in the tenor and finally, with the pedals, in the bass. A passage of display leads to the return of the original key and subject, but there are further transformations of the material before the final return of the subject on the pedals.

Allein Gott in der Höh' sei Ehr' >(‘To God alone on high be honour’), in G major, opens the first book of the Clavierübung, announced in 1752. Again for manuals only, it starts with a Praeambulum in which triplet figuration generally predominates. This leads to a Fughetta, a little three-voice fugue. In the second of the three sections, the chorale melody is heard over a moving bass, to return in plainer form in the figured bass version in conclusion.

Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten (‘Fantasia on: Who only lets dear God prevail’), in A minor, is the second chorale version of the first book of the Clavierübung and follows a similar tripartite pattern. The Praeambulum starts with a subject, echoed in canon by the lower of the two parts. The chorale is heard in clearer form against a semiquaver bass in a bicinium, before its due return in full harmony.

The Fantasia sopra: Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele (‘Fantasia on: Be joyful, O my soul’), in G major, offers a three-voice introductory passage, before the entry of the first phrase of the chorale, ornamented. The section is repeated, leading to a variation of the introduction and further entries of the decorated chorale melody, phrase by phrase.

The Trio in E flat major, one of two in this key, is in the form familiar from Bach, with three interwoven melodic lines for two manuals and pedals. The two manuals provide opportunities both for passages in thirds and sixths and for antiphonal writing, as one answers the other. The final section, in a Vivace 3/8 metre, suggests a fugal exposition in its opening, with a recurrent and characteristic subject.

The B minor Ach Herr mich armer Sünder (‘Ah Lord, me a poor sinner’) presents the chorale melody over a continuing and closely woven contrapuntal texture. The melody is heard in the pedals at the start and the pedals again prefigure the second phrase. After its appearance in the upper part the first section is repeated. The same procedure is followed at first in the second half, to be replaced by a less precise foreshadowing of the melody, as it makes its way to a modal ending, harmonized with the dominant of B minor, F sharp major.

The impressive Praeludium in C major starts in the style of a toccata or fantasia. The opening manual display leads to a passage for solo pedals, after which the work goes on its grandiose way. The following Fugue, in 12/8 metre, has a relatively extended subject, stated first by the alto and answered in the soprano. The pedals have the next entry, to be answered by the tenor. The easily recognisable subject returns in various guises, as the fugal texture is worked out.

Keith Anderson


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