About this Recording
8.570454 - REGER, M.: Organ Works, Vol. 9 - Variations and Fugue on Heil, unserm Konig Heil / 12 Pieces, Op. 65: Nos. 1-6 / Chorale Preludes (Still)
English  German 

Max Reger (1873–1916)
Organ Works Vol. 9
Variations and Fugue on the English National Anthem
Twelve Organ Pieces, Op. 65, Nos. 1 to 6
Chorale Preludes
Chorale Fantasia: Straf mich nicht in deinem Zorn, Op. 40, No. 2


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.

It was perhaps in 1900 that Reger wrote his Variationen und Fuge über ‘Heil unserm König Heil’/Variations and Fugue on The English National Anthem, a piano duet arrangement of which is dated 17 January 1901, suggesting that the composition for organ had already been written before that date. It is possible that the work was written at the suggestion of the publishers, Aibl, and perhaps to mark the sixtieth birthday of the German Dowager Empress Victoria, eldest daughter of Queen Victoria of England, in 1900. The fact that the published title was in both German and English seems to indicate at the very least some connection with the English royal family. The Variations start with a brief introduction, after which the theme is heard, with a running accompaniment, leading to an Andante in which the theme appears in the pedals. The fugal subject appears first in the soprano, answered in the alto, followed by the tenor and finally the bass on the pedals. The fugal texture develops with greater complexity and rapider figuration until the final Maestoso culmination of the theme.

The Twelve Pieces, Op. 65, dedicated to Paul Homeyer, organist at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, date from 1902. The first of the set, Rhapsodie, in C sharp minor, is marked Molto espressivo, agitato e con moto and proposes a motive in its first bars, which is to return in various forms in a characteristically chromatic and complex texture. This leads to a climax and a sudden hush, a passage marked pppp over a sustained pedal, until the original tempo is resumed, moving forward again to a dynamic climax, before the final diminuendo and pppp chord. The second piece, Capriccio, in G major, marked Prestissimo assai, is based on a descending motive, heard at the start. The rapid first section is followed by an Andante con moto, offering a brief respite, before the return of the Prestissimo. The gentle Pastorale in A major that follows is marked Allegretto (Vivace), its character indicated in its 6/8 metre. The fourth piece, Consolation, in E major. has the tempo indication Andante sostenuto (ma non troppo) and the subsidiary marking sempre espressivo. The first section gradually unwinds, leading to an Allegro and a dynamic climax, before the original mood and pace is restored in the closing bars, over a tonic pedal. Improvisation, in A minor and marked Vivacissimo, starts with a passage for the pedals. Fugal texture is introduced in a passage marked Andante, before the return of the original tempo, introduced by the pedals. The Andante returns, before the emphatic conclusion. The sixth piece, a Fugue, in A minor and marked Andante con moto, proposes the subject first in the tenor, answered in the alto, followed by the soprano and finally the pedals in the bass. Like the other pieces, it presents a challenge to the performer.

Reger wrote a number of less elaborate organ pieces to which he gave no opus numbers. A number of these appeared as supplements to various publications, and the chorale prelude on Es kommt ein Schiff geladen (There comes a ship laden), an advent hymn, first appeared in October 1905 with the Monatschrift für Gottesdienst und kirkliche Kunst. The chorale melody, Andante con moto, is played by the left hand. Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (How brightly shines the morning star) appeared first in 1909 in a collection for the United Protestant Evangelical Church of the Palatinate. The melody is in the upper part. The chorale prelude on O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (O head bloody and wounded) was published in 1905 in a collection of organ music for concert and church use. Marked Langsam, the melody is heard in the uppper part. O Traurigkeit o Herzeleid (O sadness, O bitter pain) was apparently written in 1893 in Wiesbaden and published the following year as a supplement for the Allgemeine Musik-Zeitung. It is a work of greater complexity than the preceding three chorale preludes and less obviously suited to ordinary church use, intended, as Reger’s correspondence suggests, as an example of his potential as a composer. Christ ist erstanden von dem Tod (Christ has risen from the dead), marked Ziemlich langsam, doch nie schleppend (Tolerably slow, but never dragging), an Easter chorale, dates from 1901. The prelude was one of the pieces Reger provided for the Monatsschrift für Gottesdienst und kirkliche Kunst, therefore intended for church use. The group of chorale preludes without opus number included here ends with Komm süßer Tod (Come, sweet death), with its melody from J.S.Bach. The relatively complex chorale prelude appeared first in 1894 as a supplement to Augener’s The Monthly Musical Record, perhaps again intended as an example of Reger’s work as a composer.

Reger’s Fantasia on the Chorale ‘Straf mich nicht in deinem Zorn’, Op. 40, No. 2, (Punish me not in thy wrath), was written at Weiden in September 1899 and first performed in Brno in May 1900 by the Breslau organist Otto Burkert. A technically demanding work, it was dedicated to the organist and composer Paul Gerhardt, a former pupil of Homeyer. There is a brief introduction before the first verse of the chorale appears, marked pppp and Andante sostenuto (ma non troppo), the melody at first in the upper part, then continued by the left hand, surrounded by increasingly elaborate accompanying figuration. The second stanza has the melody in the pedals, continued on the manuals in the middle register. The third verse, Quasi allegro vivace, has the melody in the tenor, accompanied by semiquaver figuration above and below, with the fourth verse, now Andante and softer, still in the tenor. The fifth verse, Un poco più mosso, varies the melody, in the upper part, and the sixth presents the melody in octaves on the pedals and then in the tenor register, with reminscences of the opening introduction, which provides a motivic link throughout. The chorale theme returns to the upper part in the seventh verse, marked Allegro, as the work builds to a climax, the earlier dynamic contrasts now replaced by a final ffff sempre in a composition calling for a high degree of virtuosity.

Keith Anderson

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