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8.572909 - REGER, M.: Organ Works, Vol. 16 - 3 Pieces, Op. 7 / Schule des Triospiels (Barthen)
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.
Reger dedicated his Three Organ Pieces, Op. 7, to the Dutch-born organist and composer Samuel de Lange, head of the Stuttgart Conservatory. Written in 1892–93, during the final years of Reger’s studies with Riemann, now at Wiesbaden, the pieces reflect Reger’s increasing interest in Bach and mark the beginning of his association with the publisher, Augener. The Prelude in C major is thoroughly imbued with the spirit of Bach, and lacks the chromaticism that was to be a feature of Reger’s later writing. The Fugue in C major has a long and highly characteristic subject, followed by idiomatic contrapuntal treatment and occasional excursions into toccata-like textures. The second piece is a Fantasia on ‘Te Deum laudamus’, based on the plainchant, the opening of which is quoted in the score, its final episode promising a full-blown fugue. The concluding Fugue in D minor is an elaborate double fugue, its relatively short first subject followed by a subject with rapider figuration, the two subjects finally combined, after a section of free display and a brief passage of recitative.
Johann Sebastian Bach wrote his set of Two-Part Inventions in 1723, towards the end of his time as court composer at Cöthen, a position that he was to leave that year in order to take the less distinguished post of Cantor at St Thomas’s School in Leipzig. The Inventions were seemingly written for the training of his eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. Reger and his friend Karl Straube used these pieces as the basis of a set of studies in trio-playing, a form exemplified by Bach in his own set of organ trio sonatas. Here, and in Reger and Straube’s studies, there is complete independence between the three parts, the two hands and the pedals. In the arranged version the right hand plays the original upper part and the pedals the original lower part, with a contrapuntal part added for the left hand. The original keys are maintained, avoiding remoter keys with more than four sharps or flats. Fingering is included for the two manuals in the published version, with appropriate markings for the pedals.
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 third volume, which opens with Nos. 36, 37 and 38, is dedicated to Hermann Gruner. The first of these three, Sollt’ ich meinem Gott nicht singen (Am I not to sing to my God), takes a melody by the seventeenth century Hamburg violinist and composer Johann Schop, which is given to the pedals in Reger’s chorale prelude, with lively imitative writing for the manuals, the melody briefly passed to the right hand upper part in a central section and in conclusion. Straf’ mich nicht in deinem Zorn (Punish me not in thy anger) takes a melody, known in the seventeenth century as a dance tune and used by a number of contemporary composers, giving it a slow setting, the melody in the left hand briefly shared with the right. The third of the chorale preludes included here is Valet will ich dir geben (I will bid thee farewell), a melody by the Fraustadt cantor Melchior Teschner, published in a five-part setting in 1614. The hymn is given to the upper part, with softer phrases used in echoed imitation.
Seven bars in length, Reger’s Prelude in C minor, WoO VIII/6, was jotted down during the course of a visit to Adalbert Lindner in Weiden on 22 August 1900, while his host went to fetch lemonade (hence its nickname, Limonadenpräludium). It is followed here by a Fugue in C minor, written in the same year, in the manner of Bach and apparently abridged for inclusion in a practical collection of organ pieces for church use edited by Johann Adam Troppmann. Reger’s Prelude and Fugue in D minor, WoO IV/10, was first published in 1902 in the periodical Die Musik-Woche. The Prelude, with its dynamic contrasts, is followed by a four-voice Fugue.*
Reger’s apt transcription of J.S.Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 913, dates from 1902, transforming a keyboard work written relatively early in Bach’s career.
* For fuller information on Reger’s organ compositions without opus number see: Max Reger: Orgelwerke ohne Opuszahl, ed. Michael Kube, Henle Verlag
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¹ Inventory of the organ pipes is taken from the Sauer-Organ
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