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8.572466 - REGER, M.: Organ Works, Vol. 11 - Chorale Preludes, Op. 79b / 12 Pieces, Op. 80: Nos. 1-6 and 9-12 (H.-J. Kaiser)
English  German 

Max Reger (1873–1916)
Organ Works, Volume 11


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 Twelve Pieces, Op. 80, were published in two parts, the first in 1902, dedicated to the Berlin organist and teacher Friedrich Grunicke, and the second volume in 1904, dedicated to the Breslau organist Otto Burkert. The opening E minor Praeludium, is marked Con moto (Andante) and is in 6/8. The outer sections of the piece are accompanied by a repeated figure on the pedals, while at its centre is a fugal section. The second piece, an E minor Fughetta, has the tempo direction Andante con moto and is again in 6/8. The short subject appears first in the alto, answered by the soprano, followed in turn by the tenor and the pedals. Two further elements are explored in a central section, before the return of the original subject. The third piece, Canzonetta, marked Andante (quasi Adagio) and in 4/8, is in the key of G minor. At its centre is a G major Più mosso that makes considerable use of triplet figuration. In D minor, the fourth piece, Gigue, is marked Vivacissimo and is in the expected metre of 6/8. The subject is introduced by the left hand, answered in the right, and followed by the pedal entry. Ave Maria, marked ppp with the tempo direction Larghetto is gently meditative, sempre espressivo. It builds up to a dynamic climax, quasi ff, before the original mood is restored. The first book ends with a G minor Intermezzo, marked Vivace and in 6/8, its outer sections forming a framework for a short central passage in which tension is relaxed.

The first two pieces of the second volume, Scherzo and Romanze are included in Volume 8 of the present series (Naxos 8.570455). The ninth piece, an F minor Perpetuum mobile, is marked Vivacissimo and is in 2/4. It is based on a short motive, heard on alternate manuals, with the concomitant dynamic contrasts. It mounts to a climax, fff, over a sustained pedal, to diminish in pace and volume to a final ppp. The tenth piece, a D major Intermezzo, marked Andante, is in alternating metre, 3/4 followed by 2/4. The volume ends with an A minor Toccata and Fugue, the former in quadruple metre and marked Vivacissimo, opening with characteristic figuration in five bars for the pedals alone. The Toccata, very much in the spirit of Bach, ends over a dominant and then a tonic pedal. The Fugue, Allegro vivace, starts with the subject in the alto, answered in the soprano, followed by the tenor and then the pedals. This contrapuntal display makes a fitting and impressive end to the whole volume.

Published in 1904, Reger’s Thirteen Chorale Preludes, Op. 79b, were written between 1900 and 1903 for two publications, the Blätter für Haus- und Kirchenmusik (Leaves for House and Church Music) and Monatzeitschrift für Gottesdienst und Kirchliche Kunst (Monthly Publication for the Divine Service and Church Art). These pieces have, therefore, a practical church use. Ach Gott, verlaß mich nicht (Ah God, forsake me not) presents the chorale melody in the upper part. The well known Lutheran hymn Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (A firm stronghold is our God) gives the melody, in 6/4, in the pedals, ending with steadfast pedal octaves. Zwingli’s hymn Herr, nun selbst den Wagen halt (Lord, now hold the carriage thyself) has the melody in the left hand. It is followed by Morgenglanz der Ewigkeit (Come thou bright and morning star), the melody in the upper part, a hymn taken from the 1704 Halle Geistreiches Gesangbuch. Martin Luther’s Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin (With peace and joy I journey thither), adapted from the Nunc dimittis, keeps the chorale melody in the pedals. Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende (Who knows how near my end), a seventeenth-century Lutheran hymn, keeps the chorale melody in the upper part, and Klopstock’s Auferstehn, ja auferstehn wirst du (Arise, yes you shall arise), set by Mahler in his Second Symphony has the melody in the pedals, with a fairly lively triplet accompaniment. The Easter Christ ist erstanden von dem Tod (Christ is risen from the dead) has a slightly more elaborate texture, with the melody in the top part. It is followed by Christus, der ist mein Leben (Christ, who is my life), marked Etwas langsam, which keeps the chorale melody in the right hand, with a relatively busy accompanying figuration in the left hand and the pedals. A second version of Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin has the chorale in the top part, accompanied by a solid and wide-ranging pedal part and rapider figuration in the left hand. The very familiar Nun danket alle Gott (Now thank we all our God), a hymn by Martin Rinckart, written to mark the centenary of the Augsburg Confession in 1630, opens with imitative textures, over which the chorale melody appears, with a particularly busy pedal part below. This leads to a second version of Herr, nun selbst den Wagen halt, the melody heard first in the upper part, followed in canon by the pedals. The collection ends with Paul Gerhardt’s Warum sollt ich mich denn grämen (Why should I then grieve?), the chorale melody ben marcato in the top part, with the pedals in canon.

Keith Anderson

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