BOHM: Chorale Partitas / Preludes and Fugues (Christiaan Teeuwsen) (Naxos: 8.5558.57)
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Georg Böhm (1661-1733)
Organ Works, Volume 1
Georg Böhm was born in Hohenkirchen, near Orhrdruf in Thuringia, in 1661. His early musical training was from his father, who was a schoolmaster and organist in Ernstroda and, from 1660, in Hohenkirchen. After the death of his father in 1675 he continued his education at the Lateinschule in Goldbach until 1678, when he moved to the Gymnasium at Gotha. In 1684 he matriculated at the University of Jena. By 1693 he was in Hamburg, where, by 1697, three of his children had been baptized. Very little is known regarding his employment, musical or otherwise, during these years, but it was here that he seems first to have been exposed to French musical style in the works of Kusser, a pupil of Lully, who directed many French and Italian works at the opera. In 1698 the organist Christian Flor died, and the position of organist of the Johanniskirche in Lüneburg became available. Böhm applied for this important appointment and was the unanimous choice, holding this position until his death in 1733. In 1704 he sought to augment his income by seeking a further position as organist at the Marienkirche, instead of which he was granted an increase in salary. In 1711 he wrote a setting of the Passion according to St Luke, now lost, for the city council, and in 1729 and 1730 composed a number of funeral cantatas, which have not survived, although cantatas for other occasions are preserved.
It was in Lüneburg that it is possible that the twelve-year-old Johann Sebastian Bach, at school in near-by Ohrdruf from 1700 to 1702, may have visited him. Whether Böhm actually taught Bach or not is not certain, but it is clear that Böhms works, particularly the compositions based on chorales had a strong influence on Bachs writing in later years. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Johann Sebastians second son, later referred to Böhm as his fathers teacher.
In his free compositions Böhm follows North German forms, alternating fantasias with conservative fugal writing and dance movements. The Prelude and Fugue in C major, after the opening flourish, offers an extended passage for the pedals, followed by Italian cori spezzati statements. The four-voice fugue, as in the case of so many in this period, is based on a simple dominant-octave relationship, yet Böhm is still able to surprise with bold key changes and dramatic false cadences, ending with a typical toccata-passaggio conclusion.
Böhms genius is best seen in the chorale partitas. The form, an innovation by Böhm, is a by-product of the seventeenth-century secular Partita fused with the sacred Chorale Variation. This new form generally presents the cantus firmus, on which the work is based, in its original form, and most often in the soprano voice. Such diverse works demand highly colourful and contrasting registers of the organ, to be heard independently, or in duo. Ach wie nichtig, ach wie flüchtig (Ah! How empty! Ah! How fleeting!) starts with the chorale itself, followed by seven variations.
The Prelude in F major is modelled on the form of the French overture of Lully, with a stately introduction in dotted rhythm leading to a fugal section also in dotted rhythms.
The chorale variations on Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend (Lord Jesus Christ turn towards us) start with a versus in a lilting dotted 3/2. The second versus offers a lower running accompaniment figure, against which the chorale melody appears in an upper part, followed by a third with the varied melody over a largely chordal accompaniment, a fourth with elements of canonic imitation between the upper parts, a fifth with a running upper part and a final sixth versus in which parts enter in quasi-fugal imitation.
The Prelude in D minor is perhaps one of Böhms earliest works with its five part form reminiscent of Buxtehude, prelude, fugue, toccata middle section, fugue and concluding toccata. The prelude opens with a passage for pedals alone and is followed by a short fugal section. The toccata central section is relatively short, leading to a further, more extended fugal section and a final toccata-like passage.
The chorale variations on Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten (He who lets only beloved God rule) present the chorale itself in an ornamented form. The six following variations lead to a final brief Adagio followed by a compound rhythm Presto.
Böhm left two chorale preludes on Christ lag in Todesbanden (Christ lay in the bonds of death). The second of these, in a form familiar from Buxtehude, its first section repeated, introduces a version of the chorale melody in one voice after another, an imitative procedure followed as the work proceeds.
Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele (Rejoice greatly, O my soul) presents the chorale in relatively simple form, followed by a variation with the melody at first principally in the alto voice. A more elaborate version moves on to one in which the chorale melody is once more in the alto voice, leading to four variations in rapider notes. This is succeeded by a variation in 12/8, a return to the original metre and a version in a compound 6/4 rhythm, marked by strong chords.
Almost indistinguishable from the Buxtehudian type of chorale prelude, Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her (From heaven above I hither come) is introduced by three voices in imitation, before the appearance of the chorale melody in longer notes in the upper part. The second of the two chorale preludes on Vater unser im Himmelreich (Our Father, Who art in heaven) is presented in more elaborate and extended form, an elegant and poignant interpretation of the text, perhaps the model for Bachs Erbarm dich.
The Prelude, Fugue and Postlude in G minor is the finest example of Böhms free compositions. In three sections, the Praeludium consists of a series of chords which move from low to high register, creating dramatic and stately crescendo effects. The Fugue is reminiscent of a French classic fugue, and the Postlude is based on a descending repeated arpeggio motif. Spitta characterizes this work as expressive of a mood so deep, so melancholy, a dreaming and revelling in bitter sweet harmonies, such as only a German is capable of.
Based on notes by Christiaan Teeuwsen
Reil Organ, Bovenkerk
Ingebruikname: 27 mei 1999
Praestant 8' Discant dubbel
Praestant 4' Discant dubbel
Koppel Hoofdwerk - Bovenwer