About this Recording
8.553926 - REGER, M.: Organ Works, Vol. 1 - 10 Pieces for Organ / Preludes and Fugues (B. Haas)
English 

Max Reger (1873- 1916)

Max Reger (1873- 1916)

Organ Works Volume 1

 

Ten Pieces for Organ, Op. 69

Preludes and Fugues I Op. 85, Nos. 1 -3

 

The Viennese critic Max Graf’s earliest impressions of Max Reger are characteristic. 'In so many ways he reminded one of a thick-set German student, who drank from morning until night, and wrote colossal fugues with three subjects... he resembled a nervous and incoherent Bach, producing music as incessantly as he smoked thick cigars!’ Reger remains one of the foremost composers of organ music of the twentieth century and, by universal consent, a true master of the instrument, heir to the traditions of Johann Sebastian Bach.

 

Maximilian Johann Baptist Joseph Reger was born in Brand, Bavaria, on 19th March 1873, the son of Joseph and Philomena Reger. He received his earliest musical instruction from his father, an amateur oboist and double-bass player, a schoolmaster by profession, and author of a harmony textbook once widely used throughout the German school system. When he was eleven he was placed under the supervision of Adalbert Lindner, town organist of Weiden. Lindner's kindly, but discriminating and musically enlightened tutelage introduced the young Reger, who, with his father's help, had already rebuilt a discarded organ at home, to the works of the Viennese classical masters and, most important, to the defining influence of Bach, whom Reger would continue to idolize throughout his career. Formative encounters with Wagnerian music-drama at the 1888 Bayreuth Festival were no less decisive, and Reger's apprentice compositions gave notice of his intent to forge a lasting reconciliation between the structural principles of the Baroque era, and the unprecedented harmonic freedom of late German Romanticism.

 

These influences were further developed during studies with Hugo Riemann in Sonderhausen, Thuringia. Reger's forthright championship of Riemann's philosophy of functional harmony (Beitrage zur Modulationslehre, 1903) inspired his own radical and independent theories, from which Riemann later distanced himself.

Nevertheless, their association was crucial to Reger's continuing development in the vanguard of musical modernism.

 

Following a period of military service in Wiesbaden, during which his health was irretrievably damaged by the onset of dipsomania, Reger spent a period of recuperation at his family home in Weiden, before moving to Munich in 1901. Now widely regarded as a controversial figure in German music, with his championship of 'absolute music', he provoked strong criticism, notably with his Violin Sonata, Op. 72, and Sinfonietta, Op. 90, conflict exacerbated by an acrimonious dispute with the critic Rudolf Louis.

 

Many other works in various genres followed, though Reger came to give ever increasing attention to organ music. His Three Pieces for Organ, Op 7, had appeared in 1894, and the Suite, Op 16 of 1896 earned the admiration of Brahms. Reger now saw the organ as 'a concert instrument of the very finest class', and though a lifelong Catholic, he entered unreservedly into the great German Lutheran organ tradition, as evidenced by his mighty setting of the Chorale Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott, subject of his Fantasia, Op. 27, written in 1899. The

Munich years also saw Reger's marriage to Elsa von Berken, and additions to the household in the shape of two adopted daughters, Lotti and Christa, to whom the composer was tirelessly devoted.

 

Max Reger's appointment to professor of composition and director of music at the University of Leipzig in 1907 brought confirmation of his position as a composer of significance, a distinguished conductor and performer, as well as a teacher and academic of outstanding intellectual gifts. Leipzig, however, had not been the first city to accord him academic honours; 1906 had brought an honorary doctorate from Jena University, and Reger marked the occasion with one of his finest works, the monumental setting of Psalm 100, Op 106.

 

That Reger's organ works gained rapid recognition was due in no small part to the pioneering advocacy of Germany's most celebrated organist at the turn of the century, Karl Straube (1873-1950), the composer's exact contemporary and one of his most robust supporters. Straube, Leipzig's Thomaskantor from 1904 unti11923, gave the first performances of many of Reger's organ works, and of several of the finest of them, including the Fantasia, Op 27 and the Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue, Op 127, which were dedicated to him.

 

In 1911 Reger accepted the post of Music Director to Duke Georg II of Saxe-Weimar. He conducted the legendary Meiningen Court Orchestra until its dissolution following the Duke's death in 1911. Reger's finest orchestral scores, among them the Symphonic Prologue to a Tragedy, Op 108, and the Four Tone-Poems after Arnold Bocklin, Op 128, were composed for the renowned Meiningen Orchestra. Reger spent his remaining years in Jena, where he was able to renew his interest in writing for the organ. Here he wrote a series of works including

Thirty Short and Easy Chorale Preludes, Op 135a, Nine Pieces for Organ, Op 129, and his last organ composition, the Seven Pieces, Op 145, of 1916. Max Reger died on 10th May 1916 of congestive heart failure, having returned from a concert tour only the previous day.

 

Reger's Ten Pieces for Organ, Op 69, were written in 1903, and were first performed by Walter Fischer in Berlin on 4th March 1904. Several pieces from the set, published in Leipzig in 1903 in two volumes, were 'recorded' by Reger himself, using the newly developed Welte-Mignon player organ system. As Dr. Gwilym Beechey's authoritative account suggests, the individual pieces are conceived on a more lavish scale than those of the Opp 59 and 65 sets, and several were clearly intended to be performed in tandem; these include the Prelude and Fugue in E minor (Nos. 1 and 2 of Volume I), the magnificent Toccata and Fugue in D major, and the Prelude and Fugue in A minor, Nos. 6 and 7 and Nos. 9 and 10 respectively of Volume II. The D major Fugue offers a striking theme worked out using stretto and inversion techniques, whilst the last piece in the set, the Fugue in A minor, displays a certain kinship with the B flat minor Fugue of the second book of Bach's 48 Preludes and Fugues. Reger's fugue, based on the principles of the seventeenth century Ricercar, is in five parts, with no secondary fugal subject, and a modestly proportioned final stretto. The remaining pieces are of varied origin and idiom, and include a delightful Moment Musical in D major, No 4, and an eloquent Romanze in G minor, No 8. The Four Preludes and Fugues, Op 85, of which the first three are included on this recording, date from 1904. The organist Wolfgang Dallmann gave the first performance in December of that year, and the first published edition by Peters appeared in 1905. In common with Reger's Twelve Pieces, Op 80, which were composed at much the same time, the Op 85 Preludes and Fugues clearly show their composer's devotion to seventeenth and eighteenth century constructional techniques, and it has been suggested that their comparatively straightforward style affords what is arguably the best possible introduction to the world of Max Reger's organ music.

 

In the first fugue, the principal subject is treated to simple inversion, while both the F major and E minor examples are double fugues of intricate beauty and compelling intellectual majesty. Though Paul Pisk suggests that Reger's frequent ‘juxtapositions of distant keys invoke an iridescent harmonic idiom’, often within a bewilderingly chromatic sound-world, the astounding contrapuntal genius of his works for organ reveals a greater truth about his ideals and attainments. As Reger would surely have been proud to admit, no other late Romantic composer was so singularly nor so profoundly influenced by the timeless legacy of Johann Sebastian Bach himself.

 

Michael Jameson

 

 


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