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8.555905 - REGER, M.: Organ Works, Vol. 4 - Chorale Fantasia on Wie schon leucht uns der Morgenstern / Organ Pieces (J. Still)
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Max Reger (1873-1916): Organ Works • 4

Max Reger (1873-1916): Organ Works • 4

Chorale Fantasia on „Wie schön leucht uns der Morgenstern“

Organ Pieces, Op. 59, Nos. 7-9 and 10-12       

Introduction and Passacaglia in F minor, Op. 63        

Chorale Fantasia on „Halleluja! Gott zu loben, bleibe meine Seelenfreud’!“


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’s Chorale Fantasia on Wie schön leucht uns der Morgenstern, Op.40, No.1 (How brightly shines the morning star), written in 1899, opens with an imposing Introduction gradually diminishing until the chorale melody appears in the tenor part of the texture, with accompanying elaboration from the right hand and the pedals. The second verse of the chorale, appearing in the same part as a cantus firmus, has a triplet accompaniment, briefly varied, and leading to a dynamic climax that subsides rapidly before the third verse, marked Adagio con espressione, the melody in dotted rhythm in the upper part. The pedals in divided octaves have the cantus firmus in the Allegro vivace fourth verse, the great dynamic climax of which, at the words Ewig soll mein Herz ihn loben (Ever shall my heart praise him), is quickly hushed. The words of each verse are included in the score and largely suggest the form the music is to take. A fugue follows, developing until the appearance of the chorale melody, to the words of a fifth verse, in fact the sixth of the original chorale, proclaimed in the pedals, and then in triumphant chords in the upper register, Singet, springet, jubilieret, triumphieret, dankt dem Herren! (Sing, leap, be joyful, triumph, thank the Lord!).


The seventh of the Twelve Organ Pieces, Op.59, of 1901, the E minor Kyrie eleison, develops from the opening motif, itself seemingly suggested by the Kyrie of the Mass Cunctipotens genitor. It is followed by the D major Gloria in excelsis, which starts with a grandiose chordal statement of the plainchant Gloria of the same Gregorian Mass. The opening section leads to a fugato, leading, through triplet rhythms, to the Gregorian melody once more. There is a second fugato, in which the plainchant returns in the pedals, before ascending to the upper part, ending in full chordal exultation. The ninth of the set, the D flat major Benedictus, makes less immediate and overt allusion to any Gregorian source, although the Sanctus of Cunctipotens genitor suggests at least the opening intervals. This too leads on to a fugato, diminishing in a final Adagio.


The Introduction and Passacaglia in F minor was written for the new Sauer organ at Schönberg in 1900. After a relatively short Introduction, a call to attention, the Passacaglia ground is heard on the pedals, followed by a series of variations of mounting intensity. As the work draws to a close, with the usual exaggerated dynamic directions that Reger favoured, suggestions rather than directions to a performer, the ground is heard more forcefully in the pedals, with rhythmically divided octaves and then in the form of an ascending melodic minor scale, bringing to an end a remarkable reworking of a traditional form.


The tenth of the Twelve Organ Pieces, Op.59, the   F sharp minor Capriccio, marked Prestissimo assai, has all the variety of dynamics and registration that might be expected, its course interrupted by a moment of gentle relaxation before the original impetus resumes. It is followed by the B flat major Melodia, marked Andante (un poco con moto), which provides an immediate contrast in mood and is broadly in ternary form, with a short central section. The group ends with the A minor Te Deum in which the Gregorian melody is announced unambiguously at the start. This, in one way or another, forms the basis of the piece, leading to two fugato sections and the final climax.


Reger’s Chorale Fantasia on Hallelujah! Gott zu loben, bleibe meine Seelenfreud’!, Op.52, No.3 (Alleluiah! May the praise of God remain my soul’s joy!) was written in 1900. It starts with an impressive introduction, where it may be recalled that the composer claimed that, whatever the difficulty of his music for the performer, there was not a single superfluous note. The opening passage proceeds in the manner of a toccata, leading to the first verse of the chorale in the pedals. The second verse has this cantus firmus played by the left hand, and the third verse, with the chorale melody continuing in the same part, is accompanied by triplet rhythms in the right hand. For the fourth verse, marked Allegro vivace, the melody is in the upper part, and in the fifth, marked Andante sostenuto, it passes from the upper part to the tenor, and, in the sixth verse, to the alto. The following fugue, marked Allegro brillante e vivace, takes its brilliant course until the seventh verse of the chorale is heard on the pedals, set against the fugal subject. The chorale ascends to the upper voice as the work moves forward to a final apotheosis.


Keith Anderson

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