|About this Recording
8.553927 - REGER, M.: Organ Works, Vol. 2 - Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue in E Minor / 9 Organ Pieces / Choral Preludes (Lohmann)
Max Reger (1873-1916)
Johann Baptist Joseph Maximilian Reger was born in Bavaria in 1873 and died in Leipzig, at the age of 43, in 1916. Although he has been described recently as a musical descendant of Brahms, in his own time, he was often criticized as a subversive revolutionary. In his rôles as teacher, performer, conductor and composer, Reger always achieved great professional success, and, as a composer of organ music, he is considered the most important German composer since Bach.
The monumental Introduction, Passacaglia und Fugue in E minor, Op. 127, was written during April and May, 1913 to fulfill a request from the city of Breslau. Originally the capital of Silesia in the twelfth century, Breslau was under Habsburg, and then Prussian rule, until passing to Poland in the aftermath of World War II. It is now known as Wroclaw. The year 1913 saw the completion of Breslau's Jahrhunderthalle, built to commemorate the centennial of the anti-Napoleonic revolt. The organ, built for this hall by the firm of Wilhelm Sauer of Frankfurt/Oder, was one of the largest instruments in the world with 15,000 pipes and 200 stops, spread over five manuals. Reger's commission specified a large work for organ and orchestra, much like the Festliches Praeludium, Op. 61, by his friend Richard Strauss (also written in 1913 for the inauguration of the enormous Rieger organ in the Vienna Konzerthaus). Reger's involvement with other orchestral projects at this time, however, most notably, the Böcklin Suite, Op. 128, and the Ballet-Suite, Op. 130, may have dictated the simplification of these requirements, and the resulting work for organ alone. There was an interval of eight years between Op. 127, in 1913, and his last major organ work, the Second Suite in G Minor, Op. 92, in 1905. As with many of Reger's previous organ pieces, Op. 127 was written for, and dedicated to, Karl Straube (1873-1950). Like Reger, Straube had been a pupil of Hugo Riemann in Wiesbaden. From the moment of his first meeting with Reger in 1898, Straube became a staunch advocate of the composer's music, his musical advisor, and his closest friend. Straube served as organist at the Willibrordi-Kirche in Wesel from 1897 to 1903, and then took the prestigious position of organist, and later Kantor of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. He also became an organ teacher at the Leipzig Conservatory in 1907. Reger considered Karl Straube to be the greatest organist in Germany and by far the best interpreter of his organ works. Several impressive concerts were planned for the opening celebrations of the Breslau hall, including an all-Bach organ recital by Straube, and a full-scale performance of the massive Symphony No. 8 ("Symphony of a Thousand") by Gustav Mahler. On 24th September, 1913, Straube gave a recital, which featured the first performance of Reger's Op. 127, as part of a programme which included works by Byrd, Banchieri, Zipoli, Liszt, Buxtehude, Pachelbel and Franck Critical reaction to the première was mixed. While certain critics found the work strange and highly dissonant, others were impressed by Reger's mature style, with his effortless command of strict counterpoint, and his "wild" exploratory harmonies. Everyone complained about the work's excessive length. (If contemporary accounts are correct, Straube's performance required forty minutes!)
The Introduction, Passacaglia und Fugue, Op. 127, opens with a massive, chordal flourish, which introduces the work's principal unifying motif: a descending chromatic scale. Through a seemingly endless process of motivic transformation and sequential repetition, this motif is identifiable in nearly every bar that follows. In addition to small-scale motivic detail, there is a large-scale progression from the rhapsodic excesses of the five-page Introduction, with its passionate outbursts and textural shifts, to the intellectual rigors of an overpowering, sixteen-page double-fugue. Between these extremes of musical structure, stands the passacaglia – a clear, precise form (26 variations, each exactly eight bars long), yet not entirely strict.
The set of Nine Organ Pieces, Op. 129, seem to have been written as an act of recreation, during a much needed vacation at Kolberg an der Ostsee, at the end of summer, 1913. At this time, the organ was only peripheral to Reger's varied, and seemingly perpetual, professional activities. He still retained his professorship in composition at the Leipzig Conservatory, travelling there often to meet with students. In 1911, he became Hofkapellmeister to Duke Georg in Meiningen, which involved programme planning and exhausting concert tours with the excellent court orchestra. His recital schedule took what little time was left. Reger played or conducted in 106 concerts during the 1912/13 season alone. It is all the more incredible that he found the energy to produce several substantial orchestral works, including the Konzert im Alten Stil, Op. 123, the Römiseher Triumphgesaug, Op. 126, and the Ballet-Suite, Op. 130.
Op. 129 bears a dedication to the composer's close friend Hans von Ohlendorff, himself an organist and the guardian of Reger's two adopted daughters. In this set, the colossal Regerian style is stripped bare to show the essential creative act of composition in miniature. The Toccata (No. 1 – Grave, in D minor), merely twenty-five bars long, is an improvisatory sketch based on contrasting motifs that vaguely recall the Introduction to Op. 127. Less noteworthy is the Fugue (No. 2 – Molto sostenuto), which suffers from lack of rhythmic contrasts and incessant chromaticism. The subject appears briefly in inversion, and is combined briefly with a secondary subject. Strict imitation prevails in the Kanon (No. 3 – Poco sostenuto, in E), where an intricate melody in the right hand follows itself one octave lower, and one half beat later in the left. A lowest voice is reserved for the pedals, reminiscent of the organ trio sonatas of J.S. Bach. In the lovely Melodia (No. 4 – Larghetto, in B flat), the strictures of counterpoint are relaxed, forming a compact, charming homophonic masterpiece in simple ABA form. The Capriccio (No. 5 – Poco vivace, in G
minor) unfolds in perpetual motion. Single-voice, broken chord figures are tossed back and forth from one manual to another with fearless abandon, while an asymmetrical and rather ominous tune makes its appearance in longer note values in the bass. While it is tempting to suggest works by Widor or Vierne as possible models here, certain similar piano pieces by Schumann are much closer to Reger's musical heritage. The clever Basso ostinato (No. 6 – Molto sostenuto, in G minor), presents a completely new treatment of its tiny two-measure theme every two bars. A broad arch-form, which emerges over the course of forty-two bars, is clearly defined in terms of rhythm, texture, harmonic complexity, and dynamics. Following a very unsettled Intermezzo (No. 7, in F minor – Adagio), which alternates between 3 and 4 beats per bar with constant changes of timbre between three manuals, there comes a tidy little Praeludium (No. 8 – Quasi grave) and Fuge (No. 9 – Grave, both in D minor). The Praeludium begins with motoric, string-like, broken-chord figures, and ends with a dramatic cadence in B major. In contrast, the little Fugue unfolds very quietly, never growing beyond the simple quaver and crochet rhythms of it, plaintive subject.
In September 1914, Reger turned his attention to liturgical music with his Op. 135a: Thirty Little Chorale Preludes (on the most common chorales). Although raised a Catholic, Reger became acquainted with Protestant chorales as a student, and returned to them often as a source of inspiration. In a letter to Straube, he described this set as "very, very easy", and "childishly simple". In contrast to the enormous chorale-based fantasias written as concert works, beginning with Op. 27 (Ein teste Burg) in 1898, these short, elegant settings in four or five parts are intended for practical use by church organists. In the first ten chorales, the unadorned tunes appear in the soprano voice in all but No. 5 (Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott), where it sounds in the bass, played by the pedals. In Nos. 3 (Alles ist an Gottes Segen), 4 (Aus tiefer Not), 6 (Eins ist not!), 8 (Es ist gewißlich an der Zeit) and 9 (Freu dieh sehr), simple echo effects are achieved through the use of alternating registrations and keyboards. In some instances, the pedal line disappears and is marked ad libitum.
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