WALTHER: Organ Works, Vol. 2
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Johann GottfriedWalther (1684-1748)
Organ Works, Vol. 2
Johann Gottfried Walther occupied an important position in Thuringianmusical life in the first half of the eighteenth century. Many facts aboutWalther are well-?¡known: he was a distant relative of J.S. Bach; he occupiedthe post of organist at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Weimar, from1707 until his death, during the time that Bach himself worked in the sametown; Walther was employed to teach composition to Bach's employer, Prince JohannErnst of Weimar; and Walther was best-known as the author of the firstcomprehensive dictionary of music in the German language.
Walther was born in Erfurt where he received early musical training fromJohann Bernhard Bach, organist of the Kaufmannskirche. In 1702 Walther obtainedhis first organist post at the church of St. Thomas in his home city. Walthertravelled to meet important musicians and to learn more about music, goingfirst to Frankfurt am Main and Darmstadt in the autumn of 1703. The followingautumn he went to Magdeburg and made a particularly significant visit toHalberstadt, where he met Andreas Werckmeister, one of the most distinguishednames in German music at that time, an organist and a noted writer of majorworks on music theory. Werckmeister was very sympathetic to the young Walther,presented him with a gift, and subsequently corresponded regularly and sent himmusic including the keyboard works of Buxtehude. In Halberstadt Walther alsovisited his friend Johann Graff, an organist who had been a student of JohannPachelbel in Erfurt. In 1706 he went to Nuremberg to study with Pachelbel'sson, Wilhelm Hieronymus, whom he had known during their childhood together inErfurt.
Walther briefly studied philosophy and law at the University of Erfurtbefore he decided to devote all of his energies to music, and he continued hismusical training briefly with Johann Heinrich Buttstett, organist of thePredigerkirche in Erfurt, a post previously held by Johann Pachelbel.
In 1721 Walther was asked to join the court orchestra of Duke WilhelmErnst in Weimar as Hof-?¡musicus. Much of Walther's career centered on hisduties as organist and his instruction of many private students. As a composerhe wrote sacred vocal music, numerous chorale preludes and other organ music.
Particularly significant for his continuing impact on music history was hisenergetic pursuit of musical knowledge and his collecting of a remarkablelibrary of music and books on music.
Despite standing in Bach's shadow as a composer, no less a figure thanJohann Mattheson placed Walther among the greatest organists of his time. Aftergiving pride of place to Handel and Bach, Mattheson named as the greatorganists of his time 'Bohm in L??neburg, Callenberg in Riga, Clerambault in Paris,Green in London, Hoffmann in Breslau, K??ntze in L??beck, L??beck in Hamburg,L??ders in Flensburg, Rameau formerly in Clermont, Raupach in Stralsund,Rosenbusch in Itzehoe, Pezold in Dresden, Stapel in Rostock, Vogler and Waltherin Weimar, etc. etc. etc.'
Walther was a typical Thuringian church organist of his time, one whocomposed his repertoire as well as collected the manuscripts of works by othercomposers. If Walther had accomplished nothing else in his life, we wouldremember him as a copyist of organ works by J.S. Bach and Buxtehude. Waltherstated in a letter of August 6th, 1729 that he had obtained a collection ofBuxtehude's works 'from Werckmeister and from Buxtehude's own autographs inGerman tablature.'
Great numbers of pieces are magnificently preserved in Walther's hand inseveral large manuscripts. Even seen within a tradition of such collections,these are amazing and comprehensive manuscripts that include works by Bohm,Bruhns, Bustyn, Kauffmann, Johann Ludwig Krebs, Johann Tobias Krebs, Leyding,L??beck, Johann Pachelbel, Reincken, Telemann, Weckmann, and an important groupof French composers including Dandrieu, d'Anglebert, Clerambault, Dieupart,Leb?¿gue, Laroux, Marchand, and Nivers.
Much of the work composed by Walther is based on chorales, as one wouldexpect of an organist working in Thuringia in the eighteenth century. In one ofhis letters, Walther explained that he did not compose cantatas because it wasnot his job. However, he said, "I have much more reason, as organist, to applymyself to preludes on the chorales." About chorale variation sets, Waltherdescribed (in the Musicalisches Lexicon, 1732) the chorale partitas ofPachelbel as having been written "at a time when there was a raginginfection" of such works. Indeed, his output of chorale preludes isprodigious, running to some 222 movements.
The arrangements of concerti by other composers, especially Italian,were perhaps commissioned by Walther's famous pupil, Prince Johann Ernst whobrought back such music following his studies at the University of Utrecht.
There apparently was in Germany at this time considerable fascination with theItalian concerto literature. These concerti belong to a group of thirteenconcerti which Walther transcribed for the organ J.S. Bach also transcribedconcerti during his time in Weimar, and perhaps the two composers made anexercise of such transcriptions, re-working material, transposing, andre-writing as necessary in order to convey something of the string idiom of theoriginals.