Rodney Gehrke, Organist
Praeludium in E-minor
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750)
Contrapunctus I from “Die Kunst der Fuge,” BWV 1080
Prelude, Largo and Fugue in C major, BWV 545
Von Gott will ich nicht lassen, BWV 658
Trio super: Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr, BWV 664
Vater Unser In Himmelreich
Hymn: Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott
Johann Sebastian Bach
Chorale Prelude: Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott, BWV 720
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809 – 1847)
Prelude and Fugue in G Major, Opus 37, No. 2
Johann Sebastian Bach
Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565
The short-lived Nicolaus Bruhns was a favored student of Dieterich Buxtehude. His E minor Praeludium is a late example of a genre perfected by Buxtehude, who left us many more such pieces: a multi-sectioned work alternating brilliant and often surprising passages in the stylus phantasticus (fantasy style) with sections of fugal counterpoint. The rhetorical devices in such works have been compared to those of extended sermons of the period. Two special sections stand out in this piece: one is marked “harpeggio” and reflects Bruhns abilities as a violinist: he could have played the manual part on his violin and accompanied himself on the organ pedals! The second fugue section features a dramatic silence in the fugue subject itself, taking advantage of reverberation times in resonant churches.
One of the great works of musical art ever composed is Bach’s Art of Fugue, compiled in the last decade of his life, preserved in two primary sources emanating from Bach himself—an early manuscript version and a posthumous print. Much controversy and confusion has accompanied the work over the centuries, mainly due to two issues: the printed form of the work is in “open score” (individual staves for each voice part), meaning the performing forces are not clearly indicated. Also, a massive Fuga a 3 soggietti (fugue with three subjects, none of which is the main theme of the set) was left incomplete. Scholar Davitt Moroney has published a deﬁnitive edition, asserting that the harpsichord is the ideal instrument, and he includes a compelling conclusion of the great ﬁnal fugue (others have offered conclusions as well) incorporating the main subject of the collection. Today’s movement, the ﬁrst in the collection, while displaying Bach’s characteristic didactic intensity, is also extremely beautiful and includes two unexpected, dramatic silences before the end. A ﬁnal pedal point begs the question: Did Bach perhaps see the organ as the ideal instrument for the collection?
Bach composed several C Major prelude-and-fugue sets. BWV 545 went through a particularly rich development process. To the original prelude, Bach added several opening and concluding toccata measures. In another source the piece is found in B-flat Major. He also in one source added the slow largo movement from his ﬁfth trio sonata (BWV 529), the version heard today in the form prelude-trio-fugue, though it is possible he intended the trio to follow the fugue. The fugue itself is a concise alla breve movement of great power.
Bach spent a good portion of the last decade of his life gathering earlier works into cohesive collections, usually expanding them (such as the Mass in B Minor and the second book of the Well-Tempered Clavier), and improving them. From the so-called Leipzig Collection of organ chorales (also known as the Great Eighteen Chorale Preludes), we hear “Von Gott will ich nicht lassen” and “Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr.” Since we have copies of early versions of these pieces as well as Bach’s improvements, we are offered an unusual peek into Bach’s compositional workshop. In “Von Gott” Bach reworked the detail (notes, rhythms, harmonies) a great deal. The piece is particularly rich in its harmonic language, set in the remote key (for the time) of F Minor. The end is especially poignant and beautiful, its ﬁnal chord a serene F Major. “Allein Gott” is one of two chorale settings in the collection in which Bach only uses the hint of the chorale melody to form a brilliant trio setting (similar to the fast movements of his six trio sonatas, BWV 525 – 530). Toward the end, Bach presents the ﬁrst two phrases of the chorale melody in longer notes in the pedal to conclude the work.
Georg Böhm was organist on the fabulous, still extant 16th-century organ in Lüneburg’s Johanniskirche. He is credited with bringing the French style into German organ music, thanks to his contact with the French musicians active in the nearby court of Celle. Recent research has conﬁrmed that the young Bach, who was a student at Lüneburg’s Michaelisschule, also studied with Böhm. “Vater unser” is one of Böhm’s most beautiful chorale settings, incorporating French ornaments in the solo voice over repeated left-hand chords supported by a pulsing pedal part.
Preparations for the celebration of 500 years since the Protestant Reformation in 1517 are well underway around the world. A key ﬁgure in the Reformation was Martin Luther, born in Eisleben some 140 kilometers from Meißen. His hymn “Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott,” is presented here as it has been sung in churches since 1529. Bach’s setting of the same hymn (BWV 720) was probably composed for the rededication of the organ at Mühlhausen’s St. Blasiuskirche, whose rebuilding was overseen by Bach though he had left the post for the court chapel of Weimar. Manual and stop indications, extremely rare in Bach’s music, ﬁt the stoplist of the rebuilt organ, in particular the opening left-hand 16' Fagott and right-hand Sesquialtera as well as the Pedal Posaune ﬁrst heard halfway through the piece. The fragmentary structure of the piece gives the effect of youthful improvisation so typical of the brilliant Bach.
Mendelssohn’s most important organ works include six sonatas (originally entitled “voluntaries” as they were prepared for an English publisher) and three prelude-fugue pairs. The G Major work combines a sweetly Romantic, lilting prelude in 6/8 time with an alla breve fugue that works out the subject in classic fashion. Two long pedal points add great harmonic interest.
Bach’s most famous work, the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, displays thrilling passagework in the opening and closing sections surrounding an extended fugue, reminding us of the Bruhns Praeludium. Clearly an early work, probably written around the time of his 4-month visit to Buxtehude in 1705, its authorship has been questioned, since only one manuscript (a student’s copy) from Bach’s time exists. No matter: It deserves its reputation as one of the most exciting pieces of music ever written. Its opening gesture is instantly recognizable.
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