Max Reger (1873- 1916)
Organ Works Volume 1
Ten Pieces for Organ, Op. 69
Preludes and Fugues I Op. 85, Nos. 1 -3
The Viennese critic Max Graf's earliest impressions ofMax Reger are characteristic. 'In so many ways he reminded one of a thick-setGerman student, who drank from morning until night, and wrote colossal fugueswith three subjects... he resembled a nervous and incoherent Bach, producingmusic as incessantly as he smoked thick cigars!' Reger remains one of theforemost composers of organ music of the twentieth century and, by universal consent,a true master of the instrument, heir to the traditions of Johann SebastianBach.
Maximilian Johann Baptist Joseph Reger was born in Brand, Bavaria, on 19th March 1873, the son of Joseph and Philomena Reger. Hereceived his earliest musical instruction from his father, an amateur oboistand double-bass player, a schoolmaster by profession, and author of a harmonytextbook once widely used throughout the German school system. When he waseleven he was placed under the supervision of Adalbert Lindner, town organistof Weiden. Lindner's kindly, but discriminating and musically enlightenedtutelage introduced the young Reger, who, with his father's help, had alreadyrebuilt a discarded organ at home, to the works of the Viennese classicalmasters and, most important, to the defining influence of Bach, whom Regerwould continue to idolize throughout his career. Formative encounters withWagnerian music-drama at the 1888 Bayreuth Festival were no less decisive, and Reger'sapprentice compositions gave notice of his intent to forge a lastingreconciliation between the structural principles of the Baroque era, and theunprecedented harmonic freedom of late German Romanticism.
These influences were further developed during studieswith Hugo Riemann in Sonderhausen, Thuringia. Reger's forthright championshipof Riemann's philosophy of functional harmony (Beitrage zur Modulationslehre,1903) inspired his own radical and independent theories, from which Riemannlater distanced himself.
Nevertheless, their association was crucial to Reger'scontinuing development in the vanguard of musical modernism.
Following a period of military service in Wiesbaden,during which his health was irretrievably damaged by the onset of dipsomania,Reger spent a period of recuperation at his family home in Weiden, beforemoving to Munich in 1901. Now widely regarded as a controversial figure inGerman music, with his championship of 'absolute music', he provoked strongcriticism, notably with his Violin Sonata, Op. 72, and Sinfonietta,Op. 90, conflict exacerbated by an acrimonious dispute with the criticRudolf Louis.
Many other works in various genres followed, though Regercame to give ever increasing attention to organ music. His Three Pieces forOrgan, Op 7, had appeared in 1894, and the Suite, Op 16 of 1896earned the admiration of Brahms. Reger now saw the organ as 'a concertinstrument of the very finest class', and though a lifelong Catholic, heentered unreservedly into the great German Lutheran organ tradition, asevidenced by his mighty setting of the Chorale Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott,subject of his Fantasia, Op. 27, written in 1899. The
Munich years also saw Reger's marriage to Elsa von Berken,and additions to the household in the shape of two adopted daughters, Lotti andChrista, to whom the composer was tirelessly devoted.
Max Reger's appointment to professor of composition anddirector of music at the University of Leipzig in 1907 brought confirmation ofhis position as a composer of significance, a distinguished conductor andperformer, as well as a teacher and academic of outstanding intellectual gifts.
Leipzig, however, had not been the first city to accord him academic honours;1906 had brought an honorary doctorate from Jena University, and Reger marked theoccasion with one of his finest works, the monumental setting of Psalm 100,Op 106.
That Reger's organ works gained rapid recognition was duein no small part to the pioneering advocacy of Germany's most celebratedorganist at the turn of the century, Karl Straube (1873-1950), the composer'sexact contemporary and one of his most robust supporters. Straube, Leipzig's Thomaskantor
from 1904 unti11923, gave the first performances of many of Reger's organworks, and of several of the finest of them, including the Fantasia, Op 27
and the Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue, Op 127, which werededicated to him.
In 1911 Reger accepted the post of Music Director to DukeGeorg II of Saxe-Weimar. He conducted the legendary Meiningen Court Orchestrauntil its dissolution following the Duke's death in 1911. Reger's finest orchestralscores, among them the Symphonic Prologue to a Tragedy, Op 108, and the FourTone-Poems after Arnold Bocklin, Op 128, were composed for the renowned MeiningenOrchestra. Reger spent his remaining years in Jena, where he was able to renewhis interest in writing for the organ. Here he wrote a series of worksincluding
Thirty Short and Easy Chorale Preludes, Op 135a, NinePieces for Organ, Op 129, and his last organ composition, the SevenPieces, Op 145, of 1916. Max Reger died on 10th May 1916 of congestiveheart failure, having returned from a concert tour only the previous day.
Reger's Ten Pieces for Organ, Op 69, were writtenin 1903, and were first performed by Walter Fischer in Berlin on 4th March1904. Several pieces from the set, published in Leipzig in 1903 in two volumes,were 'recorded' by Reger himself, using the newly developed Welte-Mignon playerorgan system. As Dr. Gwilym Beechey's authoritative account suggests, theindividual pieces are conceived on a more lavish scale than those of the Opp59 and 65 sets, and several were clearly intended to be performed intandem; these include the Prelude and Fugue in E minor (Nos. 1 and 2 ofVolume I), the magnificent Toccata and Fugue in D major, and the Preludeand Fugue in A minor, Nos. 6 and 7 and Nos. 9 and 10 respectively of VolumeII. The D major Fugue offers a striking theme worked out using strettoand inversion techniques, whilst the last piece in the set, the Fugue in A minor,displays a certain kinship with the B flat minor Fugue of the secondbook of Bach's 48 Preludes and Fugues. Reger's fugue, based on theprinciples of the seventeenth century Ricercar, is in five parts, withno secondary fugal subject, and a modestly proportioned final stretto. Theremaining pieces are of varied origin and idiom, and include a delightful MomentMusical in D major, No 4, and an eloquent Romanze in G minor, No 8. TheFour Preludes and Fugues, Op 85, of which the first three are included onthis recording, date from 1904. The organist Wolfgang Dallmann gave the firstperformance in December of that year, and the first published edition by Petersappeared in 1905. In common with Reger's Twelve Pieces, Op 80