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ClassicsOnline Home » REGER, M.: Organ Works, Vol. 14 - 5 Easy Preludes and Fugues / 52 Easy Chorale Preludes: Nos. 1-15 (Still)
Reger’s contrapuntal mastery has earned him the accolade of the greatest German composer for organ since Bach. Though a Catholic he drew on Lutheran traditions as can be heard in his Easy Chorale Preludes, Op 67. Totalling 52 in number, in three volumes, the first fifteen are performed here by Josef Still, one of Reger’s most critically admired contemporary champions, whose performance in Volume 9 of this series (8.555905) was dubbed ‘utterly compelling’ by Gramophone. He also performs the Five Easily Performable Preludes and Fugues, Op 56 which, through their demands, belie their laconic title.
Max Reger (1873–1916)
Organ Works • 14
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 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 Five Easily Performable Preludes and Fugues, Op 56, are dedicated to the writer Richard Braungart. The title is deceptive, as these pieces make their own technical demands on any performer. The first of the two published volumes include the first two preludes and fugues. The Prelude in E major, marked Andante, presents a melody in the upper part, supported by a steady bass figuration on the pedals, and a less prominent accompanying part in the left hand. The texture becomes fuller before the return of the principal melody, with more elaborate accompanying figuration, now in the right hand. The Fugue in E major is marked Allegretto, its subject announced in the alto, answered in the soprano, followed by the tenor, while the bass entry on the pedals is augmented. The Fugue ends with a dominant pedal. The Prelude in D minor is marked Vivace and in 6/8, opening over a prolonged tonic pedal, and bringing answering phrases and more lyrical episodes as it proceeds. The Allegrissimo Fugue in D minor, in 3/8, has its subject in the alto, followed by the tenor, soprano and bass. Its chromatic writing is characteristic of the composer and leads to a contrapuntal climax and a final dominant pedal before the D major ending.
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 choral preludes largely in the alphabetical order of the chorales on which they are based. The first volume of fifteen chorale preludes is dedicated to the Munich organist and composer Johann Georg Herzog, one of the leading organ virtuosi of his day and an important figure in the reform of Protestant church music in Germany; his pupils at the Munich Conservatory, opened in 1846, included Riegel, Greit and Rheinberger. The first chorale prelude, Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr! (Only to God on high be glory), is based on a hymn of 1522 by Nikolaus Decius, a monk turned Protestant preacher. The melody is derived from the Latin Easter chant for the Gloria and is here given to the pedals. The lively Alles ist an Gottes Segen (All depends on God’s blessing) has its melody in the left hand, accompanied by triplet figuration above and below. The melody is from the Nuremberg organist Johann Löhner’s Der Geistlichen Erquick-Stunden, revised in 1691. Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir (Out of the depths I call to thee), marked Sehr langsam, gives the melody to the pedals. Martin Luther’s paraphrase of Psalm 130 and melody appear in the 1524 Nuremberg Achtliederbuch. Aus meines Herzens Grunde (From the depths of my heart) has its melody, taken from the 1598 work of the Hamburg pastor David Wolder, in the upper part, with an elaborate accompanying texture. Christus, der ist mein Leben (Christ, who art my life) gives freer treatment to the melody of 1609 by the prolific Lutheran composer Melchior Vulpius, here marked Sehr langsam. It is followed by the well-known hymn of Martin Luther Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott (A stronghold is our God), the melody making its definitive appearance in the pedals, foreshadowed by the contrapuntal introduction on the manuals and marked Sehr lebhaft. Dir, dir, Jehovah, will ich singen (To thee, thee, Jehovah, will I sing) is based on a chorale attributed to J. S. Bach, the melody here in the upper part. It is followed by Erschienen ist der herrlich’ Tag (The glorious day has dawned), using a melody, here in the pedals and derived from Gregorian Easter chant by Nikolaus Herman, a contemporary of Martin Luther. Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend’ (Lord Jesus Christ, turn towards us) is in a lively 12/8, its melody, from the Dresden Cantionale Germanicum of 1628, largely in the upper part. Es ist das Heil uns kommen her (Salvation has come to us), with its upper part melody drawn from the 1524 Achtliederbuch, leads to Freu’ dich sehr, o meine Seele (Rejoice greatly, O my soul), which introduces the melody, a tune of secular derivation published in the Geneva Psalter of 1551, in the left hand. Gott des Himmels und der Erden (God of heaven and of earth) introduces the melody, by Heinrich Alberti, nephew and pupil of Heinrich Schütz, in the right hand. Herr, wie du willst, so schick’s mit mir (Lord, ordain what thou wilt for me) has its melody, from the 1525 Strasburg Deutsch Kirchenamt, in the upper part. It is marked Etwas langsam. Hans Leo Hassler’s melody, in the upper part of the prelude on Herzlich tut mich verlangen (I sincerely hope for a blessed ending), is more familiar in its Bach Passion setting as O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (O sacred head, now wounded). Lively triplet rhythms dominate Jauchz, Erd’ und Himmel, juble! (Rejoice, earth and heaven), its melody, from Melchior Vulpius, in the pedals.
The third of the easily performable Preludes and Fugues, has a Prelude in G major, marked Andante, with Reger’s usual chromatic writing. The five-voice Fugue introduces the subject in ascending voices, before the entry of the bass in the pedals. It is in 2/1 and marked con moto. Prelude and Fugue No 4 in C major has largely semiquaver figuration in the Prelude, marked Allegro. The Vivo Fugue presents its extended fugal subject in the right hand, the left following with the fugal answer, capped by the pedal entry in a three-voice structure. The last of the set, the Prelude and Fugue No 5 in B minor, starts with a Quasi Adagio and proceeds to a four-voice Fugue, which, with its inversions of the subject, demonstrates yet again Reger’s contrapuntal mastery.
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