Max Reger (1873-1916): Organ Works 4
Chorale Fantasia on ,,Wie schon leucht uns der Morgenstern\
Organ Pieces, Op. 59, Nos. 7-9 and 10-12
Introduction and Passacaglia in F minor, Op. 63
Chorale Fantasia on ,,Halleluja! Gott zu loben, bleibe meineSeelenfreud'!"
Max Reger owed his earlier interest in music to the exampleand enthusiasm of his father, a schoolmaster and amateur musician, and hisearly training to the town organist of Weiden, Adalbert Lindner. Reger was bornin 1873 at Brand in the Upper Palatinate, Bavaria. The following year thefamily moved to Weiden and it was there that he spent his childhood andadolescence, embarking on a course of training as a teacher when he leftschool. Lindner had sent examples of Reger's early compositions to his own formerteacher, Hugo Riemann, who accepted Reger as a pupil, at first in Sondershausenand then, as his assistant, in Wiesbaden. Military service, which affectedReger's health and spirits, was followed by a period at home with his parentsin Weiden and a continuing series of compositions, in particular for the organ,including a monumental series of chorale fantasias and other compositions,often, it seems, designed to challenge the technique of his friend KarlStraube, a noted performer of Reger's organ music.
In 1901 Reger moved to Munich, where he spent the next sixyears. His position in musical life was in some ways an uneasy one, since hewas seen as a champion of absolute music and as hostile, at this time, toprogramme music, to the legacy of Wagner and Liszt. He was successful, however,as a pianist and was gradually able to find an audience for his music. Theperiod in Munich brought the composition of his Sinfonietta, of chamber music,and of fine sets of keyboard variations on themes by Bach and Beethoven,followed in later years by his well-known variations on a theme by Mozart.
1907 brought a change in Reger's life, when he took theposition of professor of composition at the University of Leipzig, at a timewhen his music was reaching a much wider public. This was supported by his owndistinction as a performer and concert appearances in London, St Petersburg,the Netherlands, and Austria, and throughout Germany. In 1911 he was invited bythe Duke of Saxe-Meiningen to become conductor of the court orchestra, anensemble established by Hans von B??low and once conducted by Richard Strauss,at the outset of his career. Reger held this position until the beginning ofthe war, when the orchestra was disbanded, an event that coincided with his ownearlier intention to resign. He spent his final years based in Jena, butcontinuing his active career as a composer and as a concert performer. He diedin Leipzig in May 1916 on his way back from a concert tour of the Netherlands.
The music of Max Reger has a special position in organrepertoire, and he is regarded by many as the greatest German composer of organmusic since Bach. A Catholic himself, he nevertheless drew on Lutherantradition and the rich store of chorales, the inspiration for chorale preludes,chorale fantasias and other works. The esteem in which his organ compositionswere held even in his own time owed much to the advocacy of Karl Straube, alsoa pupil of Riemann and from 1902 organist at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig.
Reger's Chorale Fantasia on Wie schon leucht uns derMorgenstern, Op.40, No.1 (How brightly shines the morning star), written in1899, opens with an imposing Introduction gradually diminishing until thechorale melody appears in the tenor part of the texture, with accompanyingelaboration from the right hand and the pedals. The second verse of thechorale, appearing in the same part as a cantus firmus, has a tripletaccompaniment, briefly varied, and leading to a dynamic climax that subsidesrapidly before the third verse, marked Adagio con espressione, the melody indotted rhythm in the upper part. The pedals in divided octaves have the cantusfirmus in the Allegro vivace fourth verse, the great dynamic climax of which,at the words Ewig soll mein Herz ihn loben (Ever shall my heart praise him), isquickly hushed. The words of each verse are included in the score and largelysuggest the form the music is to take. A fugue follows, developing until theappearance of the chorale melody, to the words of a fifth verse, in fact the sixthof the original chorale, proclaimed in the pedals, and then in triumphantchords in the upper register, Singet, springet, jubilieret, triumphieret, danktdem Herren! (Sing, leap, be joyful, triumph, thank the Lord!).
The seventh of the Twelve Organ Pieces, Op.59, of 1901, theE minor Kyrie eleison, develops from the opening motif, itself seeminglysuggested by the Kyrie of the Mass Cunctipotens genitor. It is followed by theD major Gloria in excelsis, which starts with a grandiose chordal statement ofthe plainchant Gloria of the same Gregorian Mass. The opening section leads toa fugato, leading, through triplet rhythms, to the Gregorian melody once more.There is a second fugato, in which the plainchant returns in the pedals, beforeascending to the upper part, ending in full chordal exultation. The ninth ofthe set, the D flat major Benedictus, makes less immediate and overt allusionto any Gregorian source, although the Sanctus of Cunctipotens genitor suggestsat least the opening intervals. This too leads on to a fugato, diminishing in afinal Adagio.
The Introduction and Passacaglia in F minor was written forthe new Sauer organ at Schonberg in 1900. After a relatively shortIntroduction, a call to attention, the Passacaglia ground is heard on thepedals, followed by a series of variations of mounting intensity. As the workdraws to a close, with the usual exaggerated dynamic directions that Regerfavoured, suggestions rather than directions to a performer, the ground isheard more forcefully in the pedals, with rhythmically divided octaves and thenin the form of an ascending melodic minor scale, bringing to an end aremarkable reworking of a traditional form.
The tenth of the Twelve Organ Pieces, Op.59, the F sharp minor Capriccio, markedPrestissimo assai, has all the variety of dynamics and registration that mightbe expected, its course interrupted by a moment of gentle relaxation before theoriginal impetus resumes. It is followed by the B flat major Melodia, markedAndante (un poco con moto), which provides an immediate contrast in mood and isbroadly in ternary form, with a short central section. The group ends with theA minor Te Deum in which the Gregorian melody is announced unambiguously at thestart. This, in one way or another, forms the basis of the piece, leading totwo fugato sections and the final climax.
Reger's Chorale Fantasia on Hallelujah! Gott zu loben,bleibe meine Seelenfreud'!, Op.52, No.3 (Alleluiah! May the praise of Godremain my soul's joy!) was written in 1900. It starts with an impressiveintroduction, where it may be recalled that the composer claimed that, whateverthe difficulty of his music for the performer, there was not a singlesuperfluous note. The opening passage proceeds in the manner of a toccata,leading to the first verse of the chorale in the pedals. The second verse hasthis cantus firmus played by the left hand, and the third verse, with thechorale melody continuing in the same part, is accompanied by triplet rhythmsin the right hand. For the fourth verse, marked Allegro vivace, the melody isin the upper part, and in the fifth, marked Andante sostenuto, it passes fromthe upper part to the tenor, and, in the sixth verse, to the alto. Thefol