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ClassicsOnline Home » German Organ Music, Vol. 1
GERMAN ORGAN MUSIC VOLUME 1
Organ music of the German-speaking countries is vast and varied, and more
than anywhere else in Europe, it reached considerable complexity by the early
15th century. This repertory reflects the complex development of large, fixed
organs, about which few generalizations can be made, as well as the more uniform
evolution of smaller forms of organs. Among these was the portative, a small
portable organ blown by a pair of bellows operated by one of the player's hands.
Capable of performing only one part, this was a "monophonic"
instrument used mainly in ensembles with other instruments and singers in the
performance of polyphonic music. Somewhat larger and more or less stationary was
the positive. It employed bellows that were operated by a second person,
enabling the organist to use both hands so that several notes might be played
simultaneously on a chromatic keyboard. Both these smaller types of organ
employed flue pipes, while reed pipes were used in a third type, the regal.
(There are many depictions of these small organs; a famous one can be found on
the altar painting by Jan van Eyck at St. Bavo in Ghent). Towards the end of the
Middle Ages, many tonal and mechanical features of the smaller organs were
incorporated into the resources of the full-sized church Orgelwerk. This was a
decisive step towards the modern organ: the organ came to be regarded as a
composite of several instruments of various capabilities and functions, its
resources controlled from several different keyboards. By the end of the
fifteenth century, the organ had attained a form that does not differ
principally from the instrument as it is today. Organ building in Germany
continued much in the style of this instrument, eventually embodying the
Werkprinzip concept in which an organ could be altered or enlarged simply by
adding new divisions. Thus the famous Totentanz organ of Lübeck (destroyed in
1942) expressed, in its four divisions, the distinctive attributes of four
separate periods: the Great organ, the late fifteenth century; the Choir organ,
the mid-sixteenth century; the Brustwerk, the early seventeenth century, and
lastly, completed in the mid-eighteenth century, was the towering Pedalorgan.
This accumulative approach is quite typical of all the extant old northern
European organs. They are composites, constantly rebuilt, often altered in
compass, and none of them remotely resembles its original state.
In 1490, Adam von Fulda, a monk from the heart of Germany, wrote that wind-produced music spoke to the human character, while violins merely aroused
passion. As humanism developed in southern Europe, the violin became the
favourite instrument there, because of its ability to express intimate emotions,
but with its majestic sonorities and great volume of tone, the organ aroused a
mood of devotion; its personal characteristics erased, it freed the listener
from subjective intrusions into contemplation of the divine; its solemnity was
thought to convey a spiritual mood with more dignity than the passionate and
sensuous violin. In Northern countries, where the Reformation did not make a
clear break with medieval transcendentalism, the cultural environment preserved
much of the tradition of past centuries. Eminently suited for religious worship,
this vox dei ex machina developed at an unrelenting pace everywhere north of the
Alps, from the French border in the West to Russia and the frontiers of Orthodox
Christianity in the East. From the simple liturgical "mixture" organ
with its favourable balance of partial tones that sounded all al once, the organ
builders passed on to sonorous solo stops -that is, rows of pipes, each row
imitating the timbre of a particular wind instrument, though the contrasting
neutral ground colour of the diapasons was seldom abandoned. With the pedal
keyboard commanding an independent division of stops with very wide range, the
organ eventually matured into the powerful instruments of the Baroque, whilst
such growth was stunted in Spain, England, and Southern France. In Italy,
particularly, where the violin became the favourite instrument, its development
took on a different character.
We know a great deal about German organ building, design and performance.
There exists a profusion of technical and didactic works from the
early-fifteenth century onwards, and many composers were also experts in organ
construction. The second volume of Michael Praetorius' work on music (Syntagma
musicum), called De organographia, of 1618-1620, gives us detailed information
about the instruments of his day, with a very thorough treatment of the organ.
It attests to the prominent position given the organ in the performance of
polyphonic music which reached a highpoint in Germany in Praelorius' lifetime.
From the time when Praelorius' discourse appeared, until after the lime of J.
S. Bach, German organs underwent many transformations and were substantially
improved; equalizing double bellows, a wind gauge controlling the wind pressure,
and bowed pipes like the gamba were introduced. Among the most important names
in German organ building were members of the Scherer and Schnitger families in
the northern region, and, in the south, the Silbermann family of Alsace whose
organs were esteemed by J. S. Bach. The art of organ building was never static
and the old organs of Hamburg, Lüneburg and Lübeck - that served Scheidemann,
Böhm, and Buxtehude, respectively - were repaired, modified, and augmented many
times. The organ at Büren an der Aare in Kanton Bern, Switzerland, heard in
this recording, is an excellent example of how an instrument was constantly
refined. Originally built in 1770 by Johann Conrad Speisegger in a beautiful
rococo case by Samuel Niklaus Diwy, it was rebuilt and enlarged in 1862 by
Weber, in 1907 by Goll, and in 1930 by Schäfer. In 1970 Metzler rebuilt it
again to include a new Rückpositiv division in the style of Silbermann.
The invention of pedals by the late fourteenth century is indicative of the
special consideration that composers gave to the lower range of music in playing
inner tenor or cantus firmus lines, in taking over one of the voice parts and
therewith enhancing the contrapuntal possibilities. Double pedaling became a
common practice -even music in four parts was possible with the use of the heels
and arch of the foot.
It was in keeping with the growing importance of temperament (the wilful
alteration of the musical scale so that a player could transpose into more
remote keys without the necessity of retuning his instrument) that methods were
devised to construct keyboards with two separate keys, respectively sounding A
flat and G sharp. Although the beginnings of mean-tone temperament had been
achieved in the thir1eenth century and afforded a bearable solution to the
"out-of-tuneness" of harmonic orientation inherent in the "black
keys", this was a limited solution produced by shortening the fifths.
However, it imparted a most agreeable, pure character to the music as long as
the modulations were confined, and was used, side-by-side with many other
unequal temperaments, well into the nineteenth century.
The slow evolution toward the total integration of the black keys the
semitones - into a system of tuning keyboard instruments so that a player could
proper I y transpose into all distant keys did not occur before the early
eighteenth century. The Saxon organist, Andreas Werckmeister (1645-1706), did
not invent equal temperament, but his pamphlet, published in 1691, demonstrated
a tuning method that had a profound practical effect on many composers,
including Bach. Johann Kaspar Ferdinand Fischer, Kapellmeister at the Baden
court, wrote his cyclical work under the title Ariadne musica (1715). (In
Greek mythology, Ariadne, the Cretan princess, reveals to Theseus, her lover,
the way out through the king's labyrinth -the labyrinth here being the tangle of
tonalities). The work contained a set of twenty fugues with their preludes in
nineteen different keys (omiting five keys) and is an important precursor of
Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier. The three organs heard in the set, as
presently recorded, display different unequal tuning methods. Though these
"recipes" are based on precise mathematical calculations, their subtle
differences are readily perceptible to the natural ear. They were, after all, as
Werckmeister himself indicated, wrought through trial and error and individual
It was Gottfried Silbermann (1683-1753) who, in responding to the
predominantly melodious music of the Gallant Age rather than the mystical
profundity of Bach's polyphony, introduced certain departures from the typical
baroque organ. Following French taste, generally, he reduced the number of reed
and pedal stops, and established a new function of the mixtures based on a
scientific knowledge of overtones propounded by Jean-Philippe Rameau. Though his
tonal concept lost some of its contrapuntal dimension, he nonetheless built
instruments that were elegant, mellifluous, and eminently suited to the music of
The German organ, however, entered an aberrative phase of over-mechanization
when its resources were expanded in direct emulation of the rapid development of
the instruments of the orchestra. Placing considerable emphasis on crescendo
devices and imitative effects, some organ builders (Georg Joseph Vogler, for
example) abandoned the basic organ quality of the rich diapasons almost
Fortunately, the great classical tradition of German organ building was
brought to America. In rural regions of Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Texas, there
remains today strong evidence of an anachronistic legacy: "romantic"
organs eminently suitable for the performance of contrapuntal music. Organ
builders were among the largest ethnic throng ever to settle in the New World,
as did Johann Georg Pfeffer, who arrived in America from Stetten in 1854 with
his Alsatian wife. The powerful instruments that he built throughout the
Archdiocese of St. Louis are a unique American phenomenon in their amalgamation
of German voicing principles with the growing influence of English organs.
An important outgrowth of early twentieth-century musicology was the
construction of an organ following the descriptions in Praetorius' treatise of
1618 under the guidance of a prominent German musicologist, Wilibald Gurlitt, in
1921. This event rekindled a passionate interest in the construction methods of
the Baroque organ, leading to an international revival movement (Orgelbewegung).
Its effect has lasted to the present day - though not always with favourable
result. It did, however, give a new lease on life to authentic organ art. Many
great new instruments were built according to historic Werkprinzip concepts and
the restoration of important old organs was completed. A central German figure
in this activity alter World War II was the late Hamburg builder, Rudolf von
Beckerath, whose apprentice, Fritz Noack, has established himself as a worthy
heir and leading promulgator of the classical organ tradition in America.
1994 Joseph Payne
The present collection of German music opens with a Prelude and Fugue and a
chorale prelude on Vater unser im Himmelreich by Dietrich Buxtehude, a
composer and organist of Danish birth whose career from 1668, until his death in
1707, was spent largely in Lübeck, where he was heard by both Bach and Handel.
He is a figure of the greatest importance in the generation before Johann
Michael Praetorius, born about the year 1571 in Creuzburg, whose treatment of
Vater unser im Himmelreich is included, represents a still earlier
generation of musicians active in the Lutheran tradition. He is widely known for
his encyclopedic Syntagma musicum and more popularly for the transmission
of a number of well known hymn melodies. The chorale included is one of a group
of eight such compositions that survive.
Among the most important early composers and performers of the North German
organ school is Heinrich Scheidemann, a pupil of Sweelinck, who, for much of his
career, was organist at the Catharinenkirche in Hamburg, a position once held by
his father. His chorale arrangements include an early version of the Vater
Georg Böhm was from 1698 until his death in 1733 organist at Lüneburg. He
had a close association with the Bach family and seems to have influenced the
young Johann Sebastian Bach, who attended school in Lüneburg for three years.
His treatment of the Vater unser, with variations of the chorale over a
repeated bass, shows French influence in its ornamentation.
Born, it is thought, perhaps in the 1650s or even later, Johann Kaspar
Fischer first appears in surviving records in 1692. He was Hofkapellmeister to
the Margrave of Baden and continued in the service of the ruling family until
his death in 1746. His Ariadne musica neo-organoedum, published in 1702,
makes interesting use of new possibilities brought about by changes in systems
of tuning. His Preludes and Fugues here show something of South German
influence, as might be expected.
The name of Johann Georg Albrechtsberger is well known as one of the teachers
of Beethoven in Vienna, in 1793 appointed Kapellmeister at the Cathedral of St.
Stephen in Vienna, a position secured for him by Mozart, as he lay dying. A
prolific composer, his keyboard works include an unusual Prelude and Fugue
for Four Hands, intended, it seems, for organ or pianoforte.
Of French birth, Georg Muffat was of remoter Scottish ancestry, but always
considered himself German. He was employed from 1678 by the Archbishop of
Salzburg and from 1690 until his death in 1704 Kapellmeister to the Bishop of
Passau. A composer and organist, he published in 1690 his Apparatus
musico-organisticus, which includes toccatas on the twelve church tones, of
which the Toccata duodezima is, clearly, the twelfth.
The name of Carl Czerny is better known as that of the composer of a series
of technical piano studies that remain of importance. Born in Vienna in 1791, he
was a pupil of Beethoven and the teacher of Liszt, and among the great pianists
of his time. The Prelude and Fugue in A minor is a rarity among an
immense number of compositions, many for the pianoforte.
A pupil of Mozart, Johann Nepomuk Hummel was born in Pressburg (the modern
Bratislava) in 1778 and succeeded Haydn as Kapellmeister to the Esterhály
family. Known particularly as a pianist, in the tradition of Molart, he wrote a
variety of works for other instruments, operas, incidental music, cantatas and
songs. His organ Prelude in A flat, with two Fugues, was published
posthumously in 1839, two years after his death.
1994 Keith Anderson
Fritz Noack, 1991 Recorded on 17 September 1993
Joseph Payne was born in 1941 on the Chinese-Mongolian border, the son of
British missionary parents. He received his earliest musical training as a
cathedral chorister in England, and in Switzerland where he lived for several
years before emigrating to the United States. He studied at Trinity College and
Hartt College of Music and was a pupil of Raymond Hanson, Noretta Conci,
Fernando Valenti, Clarence Walters, and Wanda Landowska.
Based in Boston, where he has lived since 1965, he has taught at several
major American universities and now appears throughout the world, performing
over sixty concerts a year on the harpsichord and organ. His many recordings
include the world-première recording of the 33 Neumeister chorale-preludes
attributed to J. S. Bach and re-discovered at Yale University in 1984. He has
received grants and awards from the Lowell Institute at Harvard University and
the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has produced The Bach Connection,
and other syndicated series for radio which have been heard coast-to-coast
throughout North America.
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German Organ Music, Vol. 1