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8.554544 - LISZT: Organ Works, Vol. 1
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Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Works for Organ, Volume 1

Born at Raiding, in Hungary, in 1811, the son of Adam Liszt, a steward in the service of Haydn’s former patrons, the Esterházy Princes, Franz Liszt had early encouragement from members of the Hungarian nobility, allowing him in 1822 to go to Vienna, for lessons with Czerny and a famous meeting with Beethoven. From there he moved to Paris, where Cherubini refused him admission to the Conservatoire, as a foreigner. Nevertheless he was able to impress audiences by his performance, now supported by the Erard family, piano manufacturers whose wares he was able to advertise in the concert tours on which he embarked. In 1827 Adam Liszt died, and Franz Liszt was now joined again by his mother in Paris, while using his time to teach, to read and benefit from the intellectual society with which he came into contact. His interest in virtuoso performance was renewed when he heard the great violinist Paganini, whose technical accomplishments he now set out to emulate.

The years that followed brought a series of compositions, including transcriptions of songs and operatic fantasies, part of the stock-in-trade of a virtuoso. Liszt’s relationship with a married woman, the Comtesse Marie d’Agoult, led to his departure from Paris for years of travel abroad, first to Switzerland, then back to Paris, before leaving for Italy, Vienna and Hungary. By 1844 his relationship with his mistress, the mother of his three children, was at an end, but his concert activities continued until 1847, the year in which his association began with Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, a Polish heiress, the estranged wife of a Russian prince. The following year he settled with her in Weimar, the city of Goethe, turning his attention now to the development of a newer form of orchestral music, the symphonic poem, and, as always, to the revision and publication of earlier compositions.

It was in 1861, at the age of fifty, that Liszt moved to Rome, following Princess Carolyne, who had settled there a year earlier. Divorce and annulment seemed to have opened the way to their marriage, but they now continued to live in separate apartments in the city. Liszt eventually took minor orders and developed a pattern of life that divided his time between Weimar, where he imparted advice to a younger generation, Rome, where he was able to pursue his religious interests, and Pest, where he returned now as a national hero. He died in 1886 in Bayreuth, where his daughter Cosima, widow of Richard Wagner, lived, concerned with the continued propagation of her husband’s music.


While Liszt was one of the greatest pianists of his time, his skill on the organ was relatively limited by his lack of fluency in the use of the pedals. Nevertheless in Weimar he took a particular interest in the instrument. The city organist there since 1830 had been Johann Gottlob Töpfer, who had acquired a considerable level of expertise in the technical construction of the instrument, through the poor condition in which he had originally found the organ in the Herder Church. With his published work on the craft of organ-building, the first of which appeared in the early 1830s, he won a reputation as a leading authority on the subject. In the previous decade in Weimar he had collaborated with Johann Friedrich Schulze, an important organ-builder from Paulinzella, who was later responsible for the installation of an instrument in Bremen Cathedral, in changes to the defective Weimar organ under the influence of Töpfer’s mathematical theories on organ construction. Liszt’s association with Töpfer, who was twenty years his senior, brought a relationship with some of the latter’s pupils, also students of Liszt, notably Alexander Wilhelm Gottschalg, who later became court organist in Weimar, his colleague Christian Bernhard Sulze, and Alexander Winterberger, who gave the inaugural recital on the Ladegast organ of Merseburg Cathedral in 1855, including Liszt’s Fantasia and Fugue on the Chorale ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam’ in his programme. The organ that the Weissenfels builder Friedrich Ladegast had installed at Merseburg was then the largest in Germany, with 81 stops and four manuals. It was this instrument that inspired Liszt to write his Prelude and Fugue on the Name of BACH, a work given its first public performance at Merseburg by Winterberger. The organ itself, which followed the romantic tendency in organ-building influenced by Töpfer and put into practice in Germany by Schulze, appealed to Liszt through the varied and innovative possibilities of tone colour that it offered.

Liszt also explored, with Gottschalg, other organs in the neighbourhood of Weimar, while in Hungary he had access to two smaller instruments belonging to Count Széchényi at Nagycenk. For his own use in Pest he had a pianoforte-harmonium, an instrument with two manuals, one with the mechanism of a piano and the other a divided harmonium keyboard, allowing different registration and volume in the left-hand and right-hand half.

The Prelude and Fugue on the Name of BACH was written in 1855 and revised in 1870. Liszt also made versions of this massive work for the piano. It is based on a motif drawn from the letters of the name of Bach in German notation, B (B flat) – A – C – H (B natural), with intervals of a particularly chromatic kind. Dedicated to Winterberger, it was apparently intended for the inauguration of the new organ in Merseburg Cathedral, but in the event first played there a year later. It has been suggested that the work is more in the nature of a fantasia, including a fugue during its course. It opens with the BACH motif repeated on the pedals and these notes or a transposed version of them return again and again in different figuration and harmonies. The Fugue itself is preceded by a short Andante section, restrained in dynamics, after the full chords that have proclaimed the name of Bach immediately before it. The fugal subject starts very softly in the bass register and is marked misterioso, the motif initially transposed. It is answered a fifth higher, with the third entry following in a higher register and a fourth in the lowest register, but not, as might have been expected, on the pedals. From then onwards the work unwinds, shifting from key to key, varied in figuration, but always dominated by the pervasive motif on which it is constructed. As it nears its close there is a long pedal trill and the motif is stated in great chords, Maestoso, grave, followed by a curious accelerando, marked, at least, in the first version. The music slows to announce again, in the softest dynamic, the motif, followed by an impressive and grandiose ending.

Evocation à la Chapelle Sixtine. Miserere d’Allegri et Ave verum Corpus de Mozart (Evocation at the Sistine Chapel) was written in 1862, after Liszt had moved to Rome. It was conceived, presumably, for piano, but the organ version is contemporaneous, as is a version for orchestra. Liszt also arranged the work for piano duet. The form is that of a fantasia with alternating sections. The first is based, very freely, on the setting of the Miserere by Gregorio Allegri that had long been the exclusive property of the Sistine Chapel choir but had been written out from memory by Mozart, when he heard the work on a visit to Rome as a boy. Mozart’s Ave verum, written in the year of his death, provides a contrast in the second section, marked Andante con pietà. The Miserere is further elaborated in a third section and the work ends with the simplicity of the Ave verum. Here, Liszt explained, human anguish is answered by the infinite mercy of the Almighty.

Liszt wrote a set of six piano pieces under the title Consolations and these were published in 1850. Two at least he arranged for organ, Consolation in D flat major and the second of the two Consolations in E major here included. The first of the latter, marked Allegretto, a version of the sixth of the original set, is thought to have been transcribed by someone else, as others of the set were. All three, in transcription, make pleasing and relatively undemanding additions to organ repertoire.

In 1863 Liszt withdrew from Rome. Saddened first by the death of his son Daniel in 1859 and now by the death of his daughter Blandine, he took refuge in the relatively remote monastery of the Madonna del Rosario on Monte Mario, an hour’s journey away from the city. Here he lived in conditions of great simplicity, his principal home for the next few years. In July he was visited in his retreat by Pope Pius IX, for whom he played, on the defective upright piano he had at his disposal, the first of his two Franciscan Legends, St Francis preaching to the birds. Liszt had a long affinity with the Franciscans, whose habit he was to wear two years later in Pest. His father had spent time in the Franciscan novitiate and Liszt was always made welcome by members of the order when he returned to Hungary. 1862 had seen the composition of the choral and orchestral Cantico del Sol di San Francesco d’Assisi, a theme from which found a place in the new work. The Cantico itself was transcribed for organ in 1880. The song of the birds, suggesting the inspiration of Messiaen, is ideally captured by the organ, quietened by the solemn preaching of the saint, who is surrounded by them, as he stands in a field by the side of the road, holding them spellbound by his words.

The variations Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen (Weeping, Lamenting, Sorrows, Fear) are built on the bass of the first movement of Bach’s cantata of the same name and the similar bass line of the Crucifixus of the Mass in B minor. The work, which followed a prelude of 1859 derived from the same cantata, may be seen as a response to the death of Blandine in September 1862 after child-birth. Liszt designed the variations for piano, dedicating the work to Anton Rubinstein, and transcribed the work for organ in 1863. The chromatic bass theme is heard in the introduction and then in a whole series of variations, all dominated by the grieving, descending contour of the theme. The work ends in resignation to the will of God with the final chorale Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan (What God does, that is well done).

Keith Anderson

The Great Organ of the Cathedral of St Peter in Bremen

Since the fourteenth century an organ was said to have been in regular use in Bremen Cathedral, but the oldest instrument of which we have knowledge was installed at the beginning of the sixteenth century, when the North nave was completed. This is reported to have been repaired in 1596 by Cornelius and Michael Slegel from Zwolle and in 1630 by the Bremen organ-builder Johann Siborch. In the course of the second half of the seventeenth century the organ became so defective that it needed constant attention and in the end had to be rebuilt. Since there was no longer an organ-builder living in Bremen, a three-manual instrument was ordered from Arp Schnitger in Hamburg and installed in the West end of the cathedral. With its fifty stops, including two sixteen-foot and two eight-foot Principals, it was one of the largest and finest organs in North Germany and around the year 1800 it was praised by the Abbé Vogler as one of the best.

In the nineteenth century the Schnitger organ, which needed constant repairs through defects in the West end of the cathedral, fell a victim to the musical taste of the period. Wilhelm Friedrich Riem, who was cathedral organist from 1814 to 1857, began his period of tenure by setting about the rebuilding of the instrument, adding romantic stops and achieving a stronger basic colouring. This rebuilding was not entirely satisfactory, since a good supply of wind was not guaranteed and the work of the organ-builder Otto Biesterfeld was not particularly well carried out. A new instrument with 61 stops was installed in 1849 in the West gallery of the cathedral, built by the organ-builder Johann Friedrich Schulze from the Thuringian town of Paulinzella. The sound of this new instrument with four 32-foot stops, of which two were in the manuals, ten sixteen-foot stops, five of them in the manuals, and a Quinte in the pedals, must have been overpowering and was described by the Lübeck organist Jimmerthal as ‘almost overwhelming’. The Schulze organ had a short life. A report in 1893 found major defects in the wind-chest and bellows and continuing worm damage to all the wooden parts of the instrument, caused by the effect of the weather with the building work started in 1889 on the tower side of the cathedral. At the same time the organist wanted a mechanical organ, an instrument with ‘modern’ traction. In the course of the extensive restoration work in the cathedral carried out by Max Salzmann the Schulze organ was replaced by a pneumatic instrument built by Wilhelm Sauer. The organ casing of 1849 and one stop, the 32-foot Contrabass, were incorporated in the new instrument.

Today the Cathedral of St Peter has three organs, the great organ by Wilhelm Sauer, the Bach organ by Van Vulpen Bros, and the positive organ by Gottfried Silbermann. On 10th November 1893 Wilhelm Sauer, from Frankfurt-am-Oder, submitted an estimate for a three-manual organ with 63 stops. The contract was signed the following January and the instrument was installed on 1st November 1894 and dedicated as Wilhelm Sauer’s Opus 951 on 2nd December, with a recital by the cathedral organist Eduard Nössler. In 1905 the instrument was enlarged by the addition of a fourth manual with seventy speaking stops. The console was moved to the middle of the organ gallery. Changes in 1925 and 1926 came to a climax in 1939 on the occasion of the 26th Bach Festival, when the organ was rebuilt and further enlarged to include 98 stops. The old pipe-work was largely retained, while almost the whole Streicherchor was removed.

After damage in the Second World War the instrument was definitively altered again in 1958, with electric traction, changes in the disposition of stops and the replacement of the fine neo-Gothic organ casing with an unimaginative open display of the pipe-work. The substructure of the 1849 casing was retained and the columns separating the pipe compartments disappeared under plywood cladding.

Plans for the restoration of the Sauer organ date back to the early 1980s. After a great deal of discussion the contract for the restoration, reconstruction and enlargement was given to the company of Christian Scheffler from Frankfurt-am-Oder. It was agreed that the Sauer organ should be restored as a four-manual electro-pneumatic instrument with the original stops, with some enlargement, as the builder thought fit, and the retention of some stops from the 1920s and 1930s.

The present number of speaking stops is 98, with Glockenspiel and pedal transmission making a hundred. The interior structure of the organ brought back the arrangement typical of Sauer, all the pipes now stand on pneumatic cone-chests and the switch over from electric to pneumatic is effected with a pneumatic damping arm. The neo-Gothic casing of the earlier instrument was reconstructed and placed over the present quire. The restoration of the original Sauer organ was completed in the autumn of 1996. 

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