Organ Works Vol. 2
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Max Reger (1873-1916)
Organ Works Volume 2
Introduction,Passacaglia and Fugue in E minor, Op. 127
Nine Organ Pieces, Op.
129; Choralvorspiele, Op. 135a, Nos. 1-10
Johann Baptist Joseph Maximilian Reger was born in Bavaria in 1873 anddied in Leipzig, at the age of 43, in 1916. Although he has been describedrecently as a musical descendant of Brahms, in his own time, he was oftencriticized as a subversive revolutionary. In his r??les as teacher, performer,conductor and composer, Reger always achieved great professional success, and,as a composer of organ music, he is considered the most important Germancomposer since Bach.
The monumental Introduction, Passacaglia und Fugue in E minor,Op. 127, was written during April and May, 1913 to fulfill a request from thecity of Breslau. Originally the capital of Silesia in the twelfth century,Breslau was under Habsburg, and then Prussian rule, until passing to Poland inthe aftermath of World War II. It is now known as Wroclaw. The year 1913 sawthe completion of Breslau's Jahrhunderthalle, built to commemorate thecentennial of the anti-Napoleonic revolt. The organ, built for this hall by thefirm of Wilhelm Sauer of Frankfurt/Oder, was one of the largest instruments inthe world with 15,000 pipes and 200 stops, spread over five manuals. Reger'scommission specified a large work for organ and orchestra, much like the FestlichesPraeludium, Op. 61, by his friend Richard Strauss (also written in 1913 forthe inauguration of the enormous Rieger organ in the Vienna Konzerthaus).
Reger's involvement with other orchestral projects at this time, however, mostnotably, the Bocklin Suite, Op. 128, and the Ballet-Suite,Op. 130, may have dictated the simplification of these requirements, and theresulting work for organ alone. There was an interval of eight years betweenOp. 127, in 1913, and his last major organ work, the Second Suite in GMinor, Op. 92, in 1905. As with many of Reger's previous organ pieces, Op. 127was written for, and dedicated to, Karl Straube (1873-1950). Like Reger,Straube had been a pupil of Hugo Riemann in Wiesbaden. From the moment of hisfirst meeting with Reger in 1898, Straube became a staunch advocate of thecomposer's music, his musical advisor, and his closest friend. Straube servedas organist at the Willibrordi-Kirche in Wesel from 1897 to 1903, and then tookthe prestigious position of organist, and later Kantor of the Thomaskirche inLeipzig. He also became an organ teacher at the Leipzig Conservatory in 1907.
Reger considered Karl Straube to be the greatest organist in Germany and by farthe best interpreter of his organ works. Several impressive concerts wereplanned for the opening celebrations of the Breslau hall, including an all-Bachorgan recital by Straube, and a full-scale performance of the massive SymphonyNo. 8 ("Symphony of a Thousand") by Gustav Mahler. On 24thSeptember, 1913, Straube gave a recital, which featured the first performanceof Reger's Op. 127, as part of a programme which included works by Byrd,Banchieri, Zipoli, Liszt, Buxtehude, Pachelbel and Franck Critical reaction tothe premi?¿re was mixed. While certain critics found the work strange and highlydissonant, others were impressed by Reger's mature style, with his effortlesscommand of strict counterpoint, and his "wild" exploratory harmonies.
Everyone complained about the work's excessive length. (If contemporaryaccounts are correct, Straube's performance required forty minutes!)
The Introduction, Passacaglia und Fugue, Op. 127, openswith a massive, chordal flourish, which introduces the work's principalunifying motif: a descending chromatic scale. Through a seemingly endlessprocess of motivic transformation and sequential repetition, this motif isidentifiable in nearly every bar that follows. In addition to small-scalemotivic detail, there is a large-scale progression from the rhapsodic excessesof the five-page Introduction, with its passionate outbursts andtextural shifts, to the intellectual rigors of an overpowering, sixteen-pagedouble-fugue. Between these extremes of musical structure, stands the passacaglia- a clear, precise form (26 variations, each exactly eight bars long), yetnot entirely strict.
The set of Nine Organ Pieces, Op. 129, seem to have been writtenas an act of recreation, during a much needed vacation at Kolberg an derOstsee, at the end of summer, 1913. At this time, the organ was only peripheralto Reger's varied, and seemingly perpetual, professional activities. He stillretained his professorship in composition at the Leipzig Conservatory,travelling there often to meet with students. In 1911, he became Hofkapellmeisterto Duke Georg in Meiningen, which involved programme planning andexhausting concert tours with the excellent court orchestra. His recitalschedule took what little time was left. Reger played or conducted in 106concerts during the 1912/13 season alone. It is all the more incredible that hefound the energy to produce several substantial orchestral works, including theKonzert im Alten Stil, Op. 123, the Romiseher Triumphgesaug, Op.
126, and the Ballet-Suite, Op. 130.
Op. 129 bears a dedication to the composer's close friend Hans vonOhlendorff, himself an organist and the guardian of Reger's two adopteddaughters. In this set, the colossal Regerian style is stripped bare to showthe essential creative act of composition in miniature. The Toccata (No.
1 - Grave, in D minor), merely twenty-five bars long, is animprovisatory sketch based on contrasting motifs that vaguely recall the Introductionto Op. 127. Less noteworthy is the Fugue (No. 2 - Moltosostenuto), which suffers from lack of rhythmic contrasts and incessantchromaticism. The subject appears briefly in inversion, and is combined brieflywith a secondary subject. Strict imitation prevails in the Kanon (No. 3 -Poco sostenuto, in E), where an intricate melody in the right hand followsitself one octave lower, and one half beat later in the left. A lowest voice isreserved for the pedals, reminiscent of the organ trio sonatas of J.S. Bach. Inthe lovely Melodia (No. 4 - Larghetto, in B flat), the stricturesof counterpoint are relaxed, forming a compact, charming homophonic masterpiecein simple ABA form. The Capriccio (No. 5 - Poco vivace, in G
minor) unfolds in perpetual motion. Single-voice, broken chord figuresare tossed back and forth from one manual to another with fearless abandon,while an asymmetrical and rather ominous tune makes its appearance in longernote values in the bass. While it is tempting to suggest works by Widor orVierne as possible models here, certain similar piano pieces by Schumann aremuch closer to Reger's musical heritage. The clever Basso ostinato (No.
6 - Molto sostenuto, in G minor), presents a completely new treatment ofits tiny two-measure theme every two bars. A broad arch-form, which emergesover the course of forty-two bars, is clearly defined in terms of rhythm,texture, harmonic complexity, and dynamics. Following a very unsettled Intermezzo(No. 7, in F minor - Adagio), which alternates between 3 and 4 beatsper bar with constant changes of timbre between three manuals, there comes atidy little Praeludium (No. 8 - Quasi grave) and Fuge (No.
9 - Grave, both in D minor). The Praeludium begins with motoric,string-like, broken-chord figures, and ends with a dramatic cadence in