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ClassicsOnline Home » KREBS: Organ Works
Johann Ludwig Krebs
Organ Works Vol. 1
The most distinguished of Johann Sebastian Bach's pupils, Johann Ludwig
Krebs was born in Buttelstedt in 1713, the eldest son of a musician, Johann
Tobias Krebs. The latter, serving as organist at Buttelstedt before moving to
similar employment at the Michaeliskirche in Buttstädt, had for two years
travelled twice a week to Weimar for lessons with Johann Gottfried Walther,
organist from 1707 at the church of St Peter and St Paul, and with Walther's
kinsman, Johann Sebastian Bach. Johann Ludwig had his early lessons from his
father and was able, in 1726, to enter the Thomasschule in Leipzig, where Bach
had moved in 1723 as Cantor. The boy continued his studies there for the next
nine years, finally leaving to enter the university, where he was still
available for performance in the collegium musicum under Bach's direction. He
was also able to help his former teacher in music at the Thomaskirche,
particularly, it has been suggested, in the aftermath of Bach's dispute with
the Rector of the Thomasschule over the appointment of a competent prefect. In
1735 Bach had provided his pupil with a testimonial, recommending him as a
musician of distinction, a player of the keyboard, violin and lute and a
proficient composer. Two years later Krebs was appointed organist at the
Marienkirche in Zwickau. In 1744 he moved to Zeitz as castle organist and
finally, in 1755, after failure to succeed Bach in Leipzig on the latter's
death in 1750, settled at Altenburg as organist at the court of Prince
Friedrich of Gotha-Altenburg. He retained this position until his death in
Krebs was highly regarded by his contemporaries as an organist and as a
composer. His style reflects that of his teacher, modified at times by the
developments of the second half of the century. At the same time he did much to
preserve works by Bach that he copied, both as a pupil and in subsequent years.
A later writer recalled Bach's play on his pupil's name and his own, with the
words einzigen Krebs im Bache (the only crayfish [Krebs] in the
stream [Bach]). His younger brothers had also been pupils of Bach at the
Thomasschule, but did not choose to follow careers in music, preferring academic life. The
three sons of Johann Ludwig, however, continued the family tradition, one
succeeding his father as court organist at Altenburg.
The Toccata et Fuga in E major, with the initial direction Praeludio
con discrezione, starts, as certain of Bach's toccatas had done, with an
extended passage for the pedals alone, after which the manuals enter with a
sequence over a sustained pedal note, proceeding through various changes of key
to a grandiose conclusion. The following fugue is introduced by the alto voice,
followed in an overlapping answer by the tenor. The third voice is provided by
the pedals, with an overlapping entry in the top voice. The texture unwinds in
traditional Baroque form, with varied entries of the subject, inversions and
moments of relative repose over sustained pedal notes.
The G minor Ach Gott, erhör mein Seufzen (‘Ah God, hear my
sighs’) offers a more modern and chromatic introduction, over which the chorale
melody is introduced in a single melody-line, proceeding in the same way until
the final resolution into the expected G major chord.
Sei Lob und Ehr dem höchsten Gut (‘Praise and honour to the highest Good’), in F
major, is included in the second part of the Clavierübung by Krebs,
announced in 1753 and advertised on its title page as containing various
preludes and variations on church songs suitable for performance on the organ
or clavier. Following the practice of this collection, the work is in three
parts, starting with a Praeambulum on the chorale, followed by a tricinium,
a three-voice working of the chorale melody in 9/8 metre. Finally the
chorale is heard alio modo, in another version, in a direct statement of
the hymn, with a figured bass.
Again following the precedent of Bach, Krebs opens his Toccata in
A minor over a sustained pedal note, before the pedals are allowed their
necessary solo display. A second section in C major soon modulates, with a
final section for the manuals only leading to concluding chords. The Fuga has
an extended subject, stated first in the soprano, answered in the alto, to
appear again in the tenor and finally, with the pedals, in the bass. A passage
of display leads to the return of the original key and subject, but there are
further transformations of the material before the final return of the subject
on the pedals.
Allein Gott in der Höh' sei Ehr' >(‘To God alone on high be honour’), in G major,
opens the first book of the Clavierübung, announced in 1752. Again for
manuals only, it starts with a Praeambulum in which triplet figuration
generally predominates. This leads to a Fughetta, a little three-voice fugue.
In the second of the three sections, the chorale melody is heard over a moving
bass, to return in plainer form in the figured bass version in conclusion.
Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten (‘Fantasia on: Who only lets dear God prevail’),
in A minor, is the second chorale version of the first book of the Clavierübung
and follows a similar tripartite pattern. The Praeambulum starts
with a subject, echoed in canon by the lower of the two parts. The chorale is
heard in clearer form against a semiquaver bass in a bicinium, before
its due return in full harmony.
The Fantasia sopra: Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele (‘Fantasia on:
Be joyful, O my soul’), in G major, offers a three-voice introductory passage,
before the entry of the first phrase of the chorale, ornamented. The section is
repeated, leading to a variation of the introduction and further entries of the
decorated chorale melody, phrase by phrase.
The Trio in E flat major, one of two in this key, is in the form
familiar from Bach, with three interwoven melodic lines for two manuals and
pedals. The two manuals provide opportunities both for passages in thirds and
sixths and for antiphonal writing, as one answers the other. The final section,
in a Vivace 3/8 metre, suggests a fugal exposition in its opening, with
a recurrent and characteristic subject.
The B minor Ach Herr mich armer Sünder (‘Ah Lord, me a poor
sinner’) presents the chorale melody over a continuing and closely woven
contrapuntal texture. The melody is heard in the pedals at the start and the
pedals again prefigure the second phrase. After its appearance in the upper
part the first section is repeated. The same procedure is followed at first in
the second half, to be replaced by a less precise foreshadowing of the melody,
as it makes its way to a modal ending, harmonized with the dominant of B minor,
F sharp major.
The impressive Praeludium in C major starts in the style of a
toccata or fantasia. The opening manual display leads to a passage for solo
pedals, after which the work goes on its grandiose way. The following Fugue,
in 12/8 metre, has a relatively extended subject, stated first by the alto
and answered in the soprano. The pedals have the next entry, to be answered by
the tenor. The easily recognisable subject returns in various guises, as the
fugal texture is worked out.
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KREBS: Organ Works