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8.572908 - REGER, M.: Organ Works, Vol. 15 - 52 Easy Chorale Preludes: Nos. 16-35 / Monologe: Nos. 1-4 / Postludium in D minor (Rübsam)
Max Reger (1873–1916)
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 and 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 return 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.
The twelve organ pieces of varying complexity that constitute Monologues, Op. 63, were issued in three volumes in 1902. The first set of four pieces was dedicated to the Hanover organist Hermann Dettmer. The first of these, a Prelude, marked Allegro con moto and in C minor, is an impressive and monumental work, characteristic of Reger in its chromatic writing, and including a relaxation of tension in a an episode contrasted in key and mood. It is followed immediately by a four-voice Fugue, marked Con moto, in C major and in 12/8, its subject introduced in the tenor, followed in turn by alto, bass and finally soprano entries, and displaying the contrapuntal mastery that was a mark of Reger’s style. The third piece, a G minor Canzona, marked Andante con moto, con espressione, provides an element of contrast, including a rapider section, before the return of the opening material. The first volume ends with an A minor Capriccio, opening with an initial figure echoed in an imitative entry by the left hand. There is again contrast in a Quasi meno mosso passage, before the more forceful mood of the opening section returns.
The 52 Easy Chorale Preludes on the most common Protestant Chorales, Op. 67, were written in 1902 and 1903 and first published in Leipzig in the latter year. The three volumes present the chorale preludes largely in the alphabetical order of the chorales on which they are based. The second volume, containing twenty chorale preludes, is dedicated to the organist and composer Hermann Robert Frenzel, and starts with a prelude on the chorale Ich dank dir, lieber Herre (I thank thee, dear Lord). In 12/8 and marked Ziemlich lebhaft (Quite lively) it introduces the melody in the upper part. The chorale itself, the work of the sixteenth-century Basel schoolmaster Johannes Kolrose, is associated with morning prayer. Ich will dich lieben, meine Stärke (I will love thee, my strength) takes the melody of a chorale published in Frankfurt in 1738 by Telemann’s pupil there, Johann Balthasar König. With an accompanying texture in 12/8, the melody is given to the pedals until the final bars, where it is shared by other parts, over a tonic pedal. The lively eighteenth prelude, Jerusalem, du hochgebaute Stadt (Jerusalem, thou lofty city) takes a melody from the Coburg Kapellmeister Melchior Franck, published in 1663. The chorale theme appears in the upper part, in a lively semiquaver texture. Jesu Leiden, Pein und Tod (Jesus’ suffering, pain and death) provides a gentler contrast, with its melody, by the early seventeenth-century Weimar cantor Melchior Vulpius (Fuchs) again in the upper part. Jesus, meine Zuversicht (Jesus, my sure defence), similarly marked Langsam, uses a melody by the prolific seventeenth-century Berlin cantor Johann Crüger, played by the right hand. Jesu, meine Freude (Jesus, my joy) has its melody, by Crüger, in the left hand, slowly stated, with accompanying semiquaver figuration varied by the introduction of triplets. Komm, o komm, du Geist des Lebens (Come, O come, thou spirit of life), with its melody by Crüger, offers a rapider figuration to the upper part melody. The alphabetical series continues with Lobt Gott, ihr Christen alle gleich (Praise God, ye Christians, all together), a Christmas chorale with a melody published in 1554 in a work by the Bohemian cantor Nicolaus Hermann, entrusting the melody to the pedals. Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren (Praise the Lord, the mighty King of Creation), the well-known setting of a hymn by Joachim Neander, published in 1665 in the Stralsund Gesangbuch, has its melody in the pedals, ending with a cadential passage over a tonic pedal note. Mach’s mit mir, Gott, nach deiner Güt’ (Do with me, God, according to thy goodness) treats the melody by Johann Hermann Schein, published in 1628, with some freedom in a meditative setting. Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht (My Jesus, I leave thee not) has a melody by the Zittau-based musician Andreas Hammerschmidt, published in 1658, and played by the left hand in the tenor register in a gently moving 12/8 texture. Nun danket alle Gott (Now thank we all our God), among the best known of all Lutheran hymns, uses a melody attributed to Crüger and presented in the upper voice of a lively setting. Nun freut euch, lieben Christen (Now rejoice, ye dear Christians) uses Luther’s well-known hymn, presented by the left hand in a fast-moving chorale prelude. Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (Now come, saviour of the gentiles), its melody and text adapted by Luther form the Latin Veni, salvator gentium, presents the theme gently in the upper part. O Gott, du frommer Gott (O God, thou good God) uses the 1679 melody by Ahasuerus Fritsch in a tranquil 12/8 setting. O Jesu Christ, meines Lebens Licht (O Jesus Christ, light of my life) entrusts the 1650 melody by Samuel Scheidt to the pedals, and in O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig (O Lamb of God, guiltless), Luther’s version of the Agnus Dei, the melody is in the upper part O, Welt, ich muß dich lassen (O world, I must leave thee) uses the melody of Heinrich Isaac’s Innsbruck, ich muß dich lassen, given by Reger in the upper part of his chorale prelude, which softly echoes phrase endings on the choir organ. Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele (Deck thyself, O dear soul) follows with its Crüger melody again in the upper part. The volume ends with Seelenbräutigam (Bridegroom of the soul), with a melody by the Jena Kapellmeister Adam Drese, presented in the tenor register, its phrase endings softly echoed, as the piece slowly unwinds.
Reger’s Postludium in D minor, written in 1903 and without opus number, makes a suitable conclusion to the present volume both in form and in title.
Rockefeller Memorial Chapel: The E. M. Skinner Organ (Opus 634)
Built with the Chapel itself in 1928, Rockefeller Chapel’s regal organ is one of four University organs of the American organ-builder E. M. Skinner (the others being at Yale, Princeton, and Michigan). These organs are considered among the finest examples of 20th-century Romantic organs built in America. Rockefeller’s organ, Opus 634, was unveiled at a recital by Lynnwood Farnam, reportedly to a crowd of over 2,500 admirers, on 1 November 1928.
In the Rockefeller organ, Skinner fully invested his genius for realizing a full orchestral sound, with a complete collection of voices and many soft ethereal effects. Many of the large pipe scales, which are necessary to achieve a full sound in a building the size of the Chapel, are no longer built and thus cannot be found in contemporary organs. The original Chapel organ included four manuals, and had 6,610 organ pipes in 108 ranks; since its 2008 restoration, it now has 8,565 pipes in 132 ranks. Its bay of pipes, located in the Chapel chancel, is a work of art in itself and is an integral element of the interior architecture of Rockefeller. In addition to the chancel organ located at the front of the chapel, Skinner installed a gallery organ in the upper balcony of the Chapel, to accompany the gallery choir. The organs can be played independently or as one, using either console.
As a young man during the late nineteenth century, Ernest M. Skinner dropped out of school after failing a course in Latin and sought work in the music industry. While singing as a tenor in a Pennsylvania church, he was introduced to his first pipe organ, a hand-blown one, which he described as a clumsy instrument. During the next 20 years of his life he sought to correct this clumsiness by introducing a self-playing pipe organ with the ability to emulate all the sounds of a symphony orchestra. By the late 1920s, Skinner had virtually succeeded in his creation, influenced by French and English organ makers, in particular the Willis Company of England. Skinner pipe organs could successfully play literature from all eras, including the works of Bach as well as orchestral transcriptions, popular during the early twentieth century.
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