PACHELBEL: Organ Works (Wolfgang Rubsam) (Naxos: 8.554380)
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Organ Works Vol. 1
Johann Pachelbel is widely known for his Canon and Gigue forthree violins and basso continuo, a composition that has now undergonearrangement after arrangement. Organists, at least, remain familiar with thequantity of music he wrote for the instrument on which he was a distinguishedperformer. Born in 1653 in Nuremberg, he is the leading representative of theSouth German school of organ music in the generation before that of JohannSebastian Bach, a prolific composer of a body of work that is of significancein itself, apart from any influence it may have had on later musicians.
Pachelbel benefited from a sound general education and when theinability of his father to support him compelled his withdrawal after one yearfrom study at the university in Altdorf, he was able to continue with ascholarship at the Regensburg Gymnasium Poeticum, taking extracurricular organlessons from a pupil of Johann Kaspar Kerll, the latter a pupil of Carissimiand perhaps of Frescobaldi in Italy. In 1673 Pachelbel became assistantorganist at St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, where Kerll now held the positionof principal organist. Whether Pachelbel was actually a student of Kerll ornot, he was clearly influenced by his association with a leading musicianfamiliar with the Italian style. Four years later he moved to Eisenach as courtorganist, leaving the following year, during a period of court mourning, andtaking up the position of organist at the Protestant Predigerkirche in Erfurt,under the strict professional rules of that establishment. The period of twelveyears spent at Erfurt brought association with the Bach family as godfather toJohann Sebastian's sister Johanna Juditha and as the teacher of his brotherJohann Christoph, to whose house in Ohrdruf Johann Sebastian moved after theearly death of his parents.
In 1690 Pachelbel moved to Stuttgart as court organist, escaping, afterthe French invasion of 1692, to serve as town organist at Gotha. In 1695 thedeath of the existing incumbent allowed him to return to Nuremberg as organistat St Sebald, the principal church in the city. By this stage in his career heenjoyed a considerable reputation as a performer and composer and this new andfinal appointment was offered to him by invitation not through the usualcompetition. He retained the position until his death in 1706.
Pachelbel's Praeludium in D minor starts with a theme inthe pedals, then imitated on the manuals, repeated in a related major key andfollowed by a passage of impressive chords and arpeggios. A passage largely insequence leads to a section of chords and a solemn conclusion.
The first of the five works based on chorales here included uses Komm,Gott Schopfer, heiliger Geist ('Come, God Creator, Holy Ghost'), MartinLuther's translation of the Venite, Creator Spiritus. In ErfurtPachelbel had been instructed to provide a carefully prepared prelude to thechorale to be sung by the congregation and thereafter to accompany each verse.
This organ chorale, a prelude of this kind, takes the hymn melody as its cantusfirmus, the basis of a four-?¡part texture.
The modal Fantasia in G minor, one of six such works, islargely chordal in texture, as suspension follows suspension in unusual shiftsof harmony. The Toccata in C major opens with an extended passage oversustained pedal notes, over which the opening figure is developed.
In Gott der Vater wohn uns bei ('God the Father dwells with us')Pachelbel takes as his source a version by Luther of a popular German hymn orLeise, adding three voices to the cantus firmus in a relativelyextended work.
Four further Toccatas, in G minor, E minor, C minor and C majorrespectively, from the sixteen in existence, offer examples of the form, withan element of drama in the curious modulations of the work in E minor and apedal note foundation for the Toccatas in C minor and C major, asupper parts weave a unified texture above.
Pachelbel left three Ricercares, examples of an older form inwhich imitation plays a strong part. The Ricercar in C minor proposes anascending chromatic subject, other parts entering in imitation, as the subjectis duly inverted and explored, with livelier figuration in the last section, asthe later subject is finally combined with the first, both also in inversion.
The Ricercar in F sharp minor, a less usual key, follows asimilar pattern in its inversions and imitations of the brief opening subjectand second thematic material treated in the same way. The two subjects andtheir inversions are intricately combined in conclusion.
Three of Pachelbel's 26 surviving fugues are here included. The first,one of a dozen in C major, proposes a cheerful subject, echoed by otherentering parts as the work develops. The Fugue in D minor ischaracteristic again of the developing form. The subject descendschromatically, with a contrasting countersubject, duly explored. The Fugue inD major is based on a livelier subject and demonstrates the basic unityof the form.
The Chaconne is a Baroque variation form in which an ostinato bass,with its consequent harmonies, serves as the foundation of a series of shortvariations. Pachelbel's Ciacanain F minor is based on four descending notes in the bass, above whichinventive variations appear, effective in their contrasting figuration. Thesecond example, from the six in existence, the Ciacona in D minor, followsa similar pattern, based on a different ostinato, testimony toPachelbel's interest and skill in variation forms.
Three final works arebased on Christmas chorales. The first of these, Gelobet seist du, JesuChrist ('Praised be thou, Jesus Christ'), is again a three-part choraleprelude based on the chorale as cantus firmus, a hymn derived by Lutherfrom earlier German popular tradition. Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich ('Theday that is so joyful') is an example of a so-called combination?¡-form, inwhich an opening prelude-fugue is followed by a section based on the chorale asa cantus firums. Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her ('From Heaven on high Icome'), adapted by Luther from the biblical account of the birth of Christ, isbuilt on the chorale melody in longer notes in the pedals.