Programme notes: 1723 ‘Bach’ organ, Störmthal

The 1723 ‘Bach’ organ, Störmthal, Leipzig, Germany
Wednesday 15 June 2016

Andrew Benson-Wilson

And then came Bach
Composers with Central German connections in the years before Bach.

Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654)             Benedicamus à 6 Voc.
Michael Praetorius (1571-1621)       O Lux Beata Trinitas
Mathias Weckmann (1616-1674)     Praeludium a 5 voce

Georg Böhm (1661-1723)                  Christe, der du bist Tag und Licht
Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706)         Ciaconna in F
Walther (1684-1748)                          Mach’s mit mir, Gott, nach deiner Güt

J S Bach (1685-1750)
Concerto in D (after Allesandro Marcello)
Jesus, meine Zuversicht (BWV 728)
Fantasia & Fugue in C minor (BWV 537)

The music in this evening’s recital explores music written by composer from Central Germany in the period leading up to Johann Sebastian Bach, finishing with three pieces by Bach himself.

Samuel Scheidt was born in Halle and studied in Amsterdam, returning to Halle as Court organist, and then organist to the three main city churches. His short, but monumental Benedicamus à 6 Voc was intended to be played at the end of a major service. The subtitle Modus Pleno Organisation Pedaliter means for full organ with pedals. In fact, the pedals play two separate lines, with the hands playing a further four voices. It is the last piece in his three-volume Tabulatura Nova of 1624.

Michael Praetorius was born in Thuringia. After study in Frankfurt he worked in Wolfenbüttel and in the Saxon Court in Dresden, where he worked with Schütz. His prelude on the Trinity chorale O Lux Beata Trinitas comes from his 1611 Hymnodia Sionia. The chorale melody is heard in long notes in the bass, below a pair of imitative voices. Just after it breaks into triple rhythm, Praetorius includes an English folk melody that was also used by William Byrd.

Mathias Weckmann was also born in Thuringia, and studied in Dresden with Schütz and in Hamburg with another pupil of Sweelinck. He worked in Denmark, Dresden, and Hamburg, as organist of the Jacobikirche. His Praeludium a 5 is a flamboyant work that seems to have been based on the chorale Allein Gott in der Höh sei Her, the theme of which appears in the two related fugue subjects. They are enclosed by exciting opening and closing Toccata sections.

The next three pieces are closer to JS Bach’s time. Georg Böhm was a major influence on the young Bach while he was a schoolboy in Lüneburg. He was born in Thuringia, and knew several members of the Bach family. He worked in Lüneburg as organist of the Johanniskirche. His Chorale Partite on Christe, der du bist Tag und Licht are in an unusual form. The 2-part opening has an ornamented version of the chorale in the upper voice below a jovial bass line. The extended central section starts off as a fugue, but soon develops into a large-scale fantasia with several sections, ending in a triple time dance. The final part has the theme in the pedals, beneath soaring manual voices.

Johann Pachelbel was born in Nuremburg and studied in Altdorf and Regensburg. He then worked at the Vienna Stephansdom where he was influenced by Italian composers, at Eisenach and Erfurt before returning to Nuremburg. He was also influenced by the music of North German composers such as Buxtehude, and was a friend of several members of the Bach family. His gentle Ciaconna in F unfolds over a four-note repeated bass line.

Johann Gotfried Walther was a contemporary and cousin of JS Bach. He was born in Erfurt and worked in Weimar as Court and City organist. He transcribed many Italian concertos for organ, which influenced Bach’s own similar compositions. His five variations on the chorale Mach’s mit mir, Gott, nach deiner Güt are in a more traditional form than Böhm’s Partite. The last two variations are particularly jovial.

Johann Sebastian Bach needs no introduction. His transcription of Italian concertos for organ or harpsichord are mostly from Vivaldi, but also include this three-movement Concerto in D based on a Oboe Concerto by Allesandro Marcello. It was probably written a few years before he moved to Leipzig. The central Adagio is clearly influenced by Vivaldi.

The little chorale prelude on Jesus, meine Zuversicht comes from the Klavierbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach, written in 1723, the same year as Bach gave the opening recital on the Störmthal organ, with Anna Magdalena present.

It seems likely that in that same year, Bach also composed his important Fantasia & Fugue in C minor. This powerful work is unusual in that, unlike most of Bach’s ‘two-movement’ organ pieces (which were usually put together well after his death), the Fantasia and the Fugue are intrinsically linked together. The Fantasia opens with a distinctive and mournful interval of a minor sixth over a pedal point, which is then joined by a sighing motif. The main fugue subject is based on the same minor sixth interval, but it is reached by a far more confident and positive interval of a fifth. The second subject of the fugue has already appeared in the final bars of the Fantasia.

Andrew Benson-Wilson returns to Störmthal after his 2014 recital of English music. He is from England, and specialises in the performance of early music, ranging from early 14th and 15th century manuscripts to late Classical composers.  His playing is informed by his experience of historic organs, an understanding of period performance techniques and by several internationally renowned teachers.  He is the only organist to have recorded the complete organ works of Thomas Tallis.  One of his two Tallis CDs, with plainchant verses sung by Chapelle du Roi (Signum label) was Gramophone Magazine’s ‘Record of the Month’.  The Organists’ Review commented that his “understanding of the historic organ is thorough, and the beautifully articulated, contoured result here is sufficient reason for hearing this disk.  He is a player of authority in this period of keyboard music.”

Andrew’s recitals have ranged from the enormous 1642 Festorgel organ in Klosterneburg Abbey and the famous 1562 Ebert organ in the Innsbruck Hofkirche, to a tiny 1668 chamber organ in a medieval castle in Croatia.  One reviewer wrote that his recital in London’s St John’s, Smith Square was “one of the most rewarding organ recitals heard in London in years, an enthralling experience”.

Andrew is also a regular writer on music topics.  His little book, The Performance of Early Organ Music (a gentle introduction to techniques of performance) is used as a required text in a number of Universities. He is also a music reviewer, formally writing for the specialist international magazine, Early Music Review and now reviewing on his own website:

Stormthal case photo.jpg

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