About this Recording
8.557338 - REGER, M.: Organ Works, Vol. 6 - Introduction, Variations and Fugue on an Original Theme / 6 Trios (Welzel)
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Max Reger (1873-1916): Organ Works Volume 6
Chorale Fantasia on ‘Alle Menschen müssen sterben’, Op. 52, No. 1
Six Trios, Op. 47
Introduction, Variations and Fugue in F sharp minor on an Original Theme, Op. 73

Max Reger owed his earlier interest in music to the example and enthusiasm of his father, a schoolmaster and amateur musician, and his early training to the town organist of Weiden, Adalbert Lindner. Reger was born in 1873 at Brand in the Upper Palatinate, Bavaria. The following year the family moved to Weiden and it was there that he spent his childhood and adolescence, embarking on a course of training as a teacher when he left school. Lindner had sent examples of Reger’s early compositions to his own former teacher, Hugo Riemann, who accepted Reger as a pupil, at first in Sondershausen and then, as his assistant, in Wiesbaden. Military service, which affected Reger’s health and spirits, was followed by a period at home with his parents in Weiden and a continuing series of compositions, in particular for the organ, including a monumental series of chorale fantasias and other compositions, often, it seems, designed to challenge the technique of his friend Karl Straube, a noted performer of Reger’s organ music.

In 1901 Reger moved to Munich, where he spent the next six years. His position in musical life was in some ways an uneasy one, since he was seen as a champion of absolute music and as hostile, at this time, to programme music, to the legacy of Wagner and Liszt. He was successful, however, as a pianist and was gradually able to find an audience for his music. The period in Munich brought the composition of his Sinfonietta, of chamber music, and of fine sets of keyboard variations on themes by Bach and Beethoven, followed in later years by his well-known variations on a theme by Mozart.

1907 brought a change in Reger’s life, when he took the position of professor of composition at the University of Leipzig, at a time when his music was reaching a much wider public. This was supported by his own distinction as a performer and concert appearances in London, St Petersburg, the Netherlands, and Austria, and throughout Germany. In 1911 he was invited by the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen to become conductor of the court orchestra, an ensemble established by Hans von Bülow and once conducted by Richard Strauss, at the outset of his career. Reger held this position until the beginning of the war, when the orchestra was disbanded, an event that coincided with his own earlier intention to resign. He spent his final years based in Jena, but continuing his active career as a composer and as a concert performer. He died in Leipzig in May 1916 on his way back from a concert tour of the Netherlands.

The music of Max Reger has a special position in organ repertoire, and he is regarded by many as the greatest German composer of organ music since Bach. A Catholic himself, he nevertheless drew on Lutheran tradition and the rich store of chorales, the inspiration for chorale preludes, chorale fantasias and other works. The esteem in which his organ compositions were held even in his own time owed much to the advocacy of Karl Straube, also a pupil of Riemann and from 1902 organist at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig.

Reger wrote his Chorale Fantasia on ‘Alle Menschen müssen sterben’, Op. 52, No. 1, (All men must die) in 1900, dedicating it to Julius Smend, then Professor of Theology at the University of Strasbourg, a pioneer in the study of earlier Lutheran music and a leading figure in research into the use of music in the Protestant liturgy. With an Introduction marked at first Assai agitato e molto espressivo (vivace), there is almost at once a reminder of Bach’s Durch Adams Fall (Through Adam’s fall), with the characteristic interval of a descending seventh, an aural representation of the Fall of Adam that is to recur. The characteristically dense chromatic figuration leads to the chorale melody, the score including the words of the first verse. The melody itself is shared by manuals and pedals, appearing first in the tenor register, then the bass, continuing in the soprano, followed by the pedals again and completed in the tenor. A dramatic interlude leads to more elaborate figuration with the third verse of the chorale, Jesus ist für mich gestorben (Jesus died for me), marked pppp and again shared by varying registers, manuals and pedals. A shorter episode is followed by a version of the melody with the words of the sixth verse superscribed, O Jerusalem, du schöne, ach wie helle glanzest du! (O Jerusalem, thou beautiful, how bright thou shinest!). The intervening episode again leads to a dramatic dynamic climax before the chorale, with the words of the seventh verse, Ach, ich habe schon erblicket (Ah, I have often seen this great glory), is heard in left-hand octaves, amid elaborate surrounding figuration. The fantasia mounts to a climax for the final words ‘mit der goldnen Ehrenkrone steh ich’ (with the golden crown of glory I stand), with a concluding apotheosis.

The Six Trios for Organ, Op. 47, were published in 1900. The set opens with a Canon in E major, an Andante with the lower voice answered at the fourth by the upper, with a steady bass pattern for the pedals. There follows a lively D minor Gigue, marked Vivacissimo and treated contrapuntally, with two repeated sections. The third trio is an A minor Canzonetta marked Andantino and in predominantly four-part texture and ternary form. Marked Vivacissimo, the A major Scherzo offers immediate contrast, framing an A minor trio section.

The fifth trio is an E minor Siciliano, marked Andantino and in the characteristic rhythm suggested by its title. The set ends with a C minor Fugue, its Vivace subject interrupted by a descending octave in contrasting registration. This provides a technically assured conclusion to pieces that are never less than pleasing.

Dedicated to Karl Straube, Reger’s Variations and Fugue on an Original Theme, Op. 73, was written in 1903. An extended and immensely demanding work, it opens with an Introduction, chromatic and concentrated in its organ textures and contrasts of timbre. This fades to the softest dynamic before the theme appears as a gentle Andante. The extended variations that follow are of contrasting complexity, with a prophetic stretching of the bounds of tonality, before the final gentle choralelike version of the theme. In the fugue, marked Vivacissimo, the four voices introduce the thematically derived subject in the order alto, soprano, tenor and bass, the whole culminating in a massive dynamic climax over a dominant pedal-point.

Keith Anderson


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