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Malcolm Kemp

19th Century German Romantic Organ Music

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I think I may have hinted at this problem already on another topic but.....

 

Does anybody know of a current, scholarly and reliable book on performance practice for 19th century German romantic organ music and which is published in English?

 

Carus has a very good English translation of Jon Laukvik's "Historical Performance Practice in Organ Playing" which goes up as far as the Classical period but his companion volume on romantic organ music is only available in the original German edition. Does anyone know whether an English translation edition is anticpated in the course of time?

 

I think particularly of Mendelssohn/Reger/Rheinberger/Brahms/Liszt. Sandra Suderlund only touches on the issue very briefly in her book on Historical Approach to the organ and Graham Barber doesn't cover performance practice in his chapter on the Cambridge Companion. Obviously this was a period of transition in organ playing and piano virtuosity entered into the equation but there is rather more to it than that! Matters like touch, tempo markings, articulation and phrasing (not to mention interpretation of - sometimes ambiguous - phrasing marks) come to mind.

 

Any suggestions please?

 

Malcolm Kemp

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Well, as nobody chimes in...

 

There are at least three completely different schools there:

 

1)- Mendelssohn and Rheinberger, close to the german baroque.

(Try them at Armley with that georgous Diapason chorus...)

 

2)- Johannes Brahms (best served on a little Gebrüder Link organ like we have some in Belgium)

 

3)- Liszt and Reger. Though different, they can share the same kind of (broad!) acoustics...

 

"German romantic" does not exist, like "british romantic organ" encompasses several concepts.

Each composer must be considered distinctly as far as interpretation is concerned.

 

Pierre

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I think I may have hinted at this problem already on another topic but.....

 

Does anybody know of a current, scholarly and reliable book on performance practice for 19th century German romantic organ music and which is published in English?

 

Carus has a very good English translation of Jon Laukvik's "Historical Performance Practice in Organ Playing" which goes up as far as the Classical period but his companion volume on romantic organ music is only available in the original German edition. Does anyone know whether an English translation edition is anticpated in the course of time?

 

I think particularly of Mendelssohn/Reger/Rheinberger/Brahms/Liszt. Sandra Suderlund only touches on the issue very briefly in her book on Historical Approach to the organ and Graham Barber doesn't cover performance practice in his chapter on the Cambridge Companion. Obviously this was a period of transition in organ playing and piano virtuosity entered into the equation but there is rather more to it than that! Matters like touch, tempo markings, articulation and phrasing (not to mention interpretation of - sometimes ambiguous - phrasing marks) come to mind.

 

Any suggestions please?

 

Malcolm Kemp

 

It might be worth having a look at "This Heaving Ocean of Tones - Nineteenth-Century Organ Registration Practice at St Marien, Lübeck" by Joachim Walter (published 2000 by Göteborg University, Dept of Musicology) 251pp ISBN 91 85974 54-4.

 

It is a account of two men - Hermann Jimmerthal (1809-1886) and Karl Lichtwark (1859-1931) - who held the post of Organist at the Marienkirche, Lübeck during the period 1844-1929., where they presided at the vast IVP/78 organ built by Edmund and Johann Schulze in 1854. This organ perished in the bombing on the night of Palm Sunday 1942, but some impression of what it sounded like may be gained from the organ of similar size and specification installed by the Schulze firm, albeit in a much smaller and less resonant building, at Doncaster Parish Church in 1862.

 

Both men meticulously annotated copies of the music they played with registrational details. As was the fashion of the time, their repertoires included numerous transcriptions (symphonies and string quartets by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven etc) plus JS Bach and Mendelssohn. The book gives about 20 examples, including several of the Mendelssohn sonatas, giving a fascinating insight into what the author calls the 'aesthetics of registration'.

 

The book contains much more in the way of biographies of both men, constructional details of the organ itself together with commentaries on musical life in 19-century Germany. It is an invaluable piece of original research.

 

I was fortunate enough to hear an illustrated lecture by Herr Walter a few years ago on the Schulze organ at Armley - some of the examples he played were a revelation, being unusually subtle and effective in their musical effect. He has also attempted to re-create Jimmerthal's registrations on CD on the huge untouched Ladegast organ at Schwerin Cathedral.

 

Much depends, of course, on what is meant by the 'German Romantic organ'. As Pierre says, there were several distinct so-called 'romantic' schools of composition and no one type of organ can easily to justice to everything from Mendelssohn to Reger.

 

Schulze & Ladegast are early exponents of the style and therefore perhaps not typical. One would be hard pressed to play Reger or Karg-Elert on them, for example. The organs they knew where quite a different beast. But that's another story........

 

JS

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2)- Johannes Brahms (best served on a little Gebrüder Link organ like we have some in Belgium)

 

Each composer must be considered distinctly as far as interpretation is concerned.

Should the early and late Brahms works be treated as a unity, from the point of view of registration, performance practice etc?

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Should the early and late Brahms works be treated as a unity, from the point of view of registration, performance practice etc?

 

That raises a very good point indeed.

 

Even in our time, what about those (albeit rather minor) composers who seemed to have in mind a neo-classical spitting machine 40 years or so ago, and might have something different in mind more recently...

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I think I am right in saying, that the question of an ideal Brahms organ is still unanswered in Germany. Records of Brahms playing this or that organ, or, definitely praising ore commenting on one, are missing, AFAIK.

I think that writing organ music was also sort of "artificial" work for Brahms. I'm just preparing the motet "Schaffe in mir, Gott" and am amazed/amused about his trials to cope with high level contrapuntal art, i. e. the art of JSB, and it might be similar with the organ chorales*. We know that he knew and was interested in older organ music, e. g. he loved to learn about the Buxtehude d-minor chaconne, presented by Spitta.

Aside the truth, that he would not regard a "neo-classical spitting machine" as appropriate instrument, I think we are invited to discover the "inner colours" of the compositions and to bring them to life in very different manners, according to the instrument available.

 

*) I love to imagine him checking a completed chorale and saying with a distinct smile: "Nicht so schlecht, glaub' ich..." (Not too bad, I think...)

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Indeed,

 

We do not know much about "The Brahms organ", less, by far,

than for Bach.

What we do know is those "inner colors" to be inbelievably rendered

with organs such as this one:

http://jjbridoux.googlepages.com/eglistsai...oussu%5Bbois%5D

There is no need for something bigger, or indeed "brighter". The Mixture has

a conical Tierce rank (the pipes are shown in one of the pictures) and does

just fine, but it is rarely needed in Brahms.

 

Pierre

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Indeed,

 

We do not know much about "The Brahms organ", less, by far,

than for Bach.

What we do know is those "inner colors" to be inbelievably rendered

with organs such as this one:

http://jjbridoux.googlepages.com/eglistsai...oussu%5Bbois%5D

There is no need for something bigger, or indeed "brighter". The Mixture has

a conical Tierce rank (the pipes are shown in one of the pictures) and does

just fine, but it is rarely needed in Brahms.

 

Pierre

Looks completely delicious. I absolutely adore Jacques van Oortmerssen's complete Brahms disc, recorded on the Cavaille-Coll-style Setterquist organ of the Kristine Church, Falun, Sweden (BIS-CD-479). Passionate, tender, moving and utterly convincing. Indeed, hearing Brahms on anything neo-classical, and without such style and subtle rubato, now leaves me cold.

 

IFB

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I think I am right in saying, that the question of an ideal Brahms organ is still unanswered in Germany. Records of Brahms playing this or that organ, or, definitely praising ore commenting on one, are missing, AFAIK.

 

I don't know if Brahms praised it, but he certainly knew and reportedly played one organ: the one built in 1872 by Friedrich Ladegast for the Musikvereinssaal in Wien. Brahms was artistic director of the Musikverein between 1872 and 1875, and among the pieces he performed on the instrument were the Toccata BWV 565 and P+F in E-flat Major BWV 552 -- the latter fact shedding a surprising light on his skills as an organist.

 

The organ, alas, does not survive, but was among Ladegast's more important instruments. It was soon "bettered" and rebuilt; its grand neoclassical facade now covers a little-used '60-something Walcker of about twice as many stops. The Ladegast stoplist was:

 

I. Manual, 1. division

Principal 16'

Octave 8'

Octave 4'

Gemshorn 4'

Flauto minor 4'

Doublette II 2 2/3' + 2'

Mixtur III–IV

Trompete 8'

 

I. Manual, 2. division

Bordun 16'

Gamba 8'

Rohrflöte 8'

Flauto amabile 8' (1–12 from Rohrflöte)

Piffero 8'

Nasat 5 1/3'

Doublette I–II (4', from TC 4' + 2')

 

II. Manual, 1. division

Fugara 4'

Doppelflöte 4'

Octavflöte 4'

Nasat 2 2/3'

Waldflöte 2'

Progressio harmonica II–IV

Clarinett 8' (free reed)

 

II. Manual, 2. division

Geigenprincipal 8'

Quintatön 16'

Salicional 8'

Flauto harmonique 8'

Doppelflöte 8'

Gedackt 8'

 

III. Manual

Liebl. Gedackt 16'

Viola d'amour 8'

Liebl. Gedackt 8'

Unda maris 8'

Flauto dolce 8'

Piffero 4'

Zartflöte 4'

Violine 2'

Harmonia aetherea II–IV

Oboe 8' (free reed)

 

Pedal, 1. division

Principalbass 32'

Principalbass 16'

Bassquinte 10 2/3'

Octavbass 8'

Quinte 5 1/3'

Octavbass 4'

Posaune 16' (beating)

Trompete 8'

Clarinet 4'

 

Pedal, 2. division

Violon 16'

Subbass 16'

Cello 8'

Bassflöte 8'

 

Ventils for manual and pedal subdivisions

Combination à la Saint-Suplpice to all manuals and pedal (engages/disengages slider pneumatics)

"Prolongement" III. Manual (holds and releases keys that are played when Pr. is activated)

 

Couplers I/P, II/I, III/I

 

Manuals 54 notes C to F, pedal 30 notes C to F

 

I'm just preparing the motet "Schaffe in mir, Gott" and am amazed/amused about his trials to cope with high level contrapuntal art, i. e. the art of JSB ...

 

What about "Es ist das Heil" op. 29/1? The opening Chorale is nigh perfect in its Bach imitation, as is the following chorale fugue in its stile antico approach. You wouldn't hear the Brahms in it, the study character is so prevalent. Interesting that, of all his studies and experiments, he'd had this one published.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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Looks completely delicious. I absolutely adore Jacques van Oortmerssen's complete Brahms disc, recorded on the Cavaille-Coll-style Setterquist organ of the Kristine Church, Falun, Sweden (BIS-CD-479). Passionate, tender, moving and utterly convincing. Indeed, hearing Brahms on anything neo-classical, and without such style and subtle rubato, now leaves me cold.

 

IFB

 

Yes, and it must be noted that compared with a Cavaillé-Coll, a late romantic Link

is more subtle and more suited to the polyphony; scales (save

the 8' Principal which is large) and wind pressures are moderate. The Link brothers

apprenticed with E-F Walcker, and it shows.

It is easy here to compare between those schools since we are just between and

partake of them all.

 

Pierre

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Yes, and it must be noted that compared with a Cavaillé-Coll, a late romantic Link

is more subtle and more suited to the polyphony; scales (save

the 8' Principal which is large) and wind pressures are moderate. The Link brothers

apprenticed with E-F Walcker, and it shows.

It is easy here to compare between those schools since we are just between and

partake of them all.

 

Pierre

Interesting. I like successful compromises between different national styles. We've been doing it in the UK for centuries. Brahms, Rheinberger et al work just as well on a mid to late 19th century Nicholson, Gray and Davidson, Michell & Thynne, Hill, Whiteley, Wadsworth, Forster & Andrews, Abbott & Smith, Jardine, Binns etc. Thank goodness these builders' styles are now being appreciated again for their considerable worth (i.e. not just Willis & Harrisons).

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The biggest late-romantic Link organ (III/40) in original state

is in Mirepoix, Ariège, France.

 

Here is a video which shows the instrument with a Reger accompaniment

that gives a little idea how it sounds like:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SXmtqRplB8

 

Pierre

 

Nice!

 

AJJ

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I don't know if Brahms praised it, but he certainly knew and reportedly played one organ: the one built in 1872 by Friedrich Ladegast for the Musikvereinssaal in Wien. Brahms was artistic director of the Musikverein between 1872 and 1875, and among the pieces he performed on the instrument were the Toccata BWV 565 and P+F in E-flat Major BWV 552 -- the latter fact shedding a surprising light on his skills as an organist.

 

The organ, alas, does not survive, but was among Ladegast's more important instruments. I

 

 

What about "Es ist das Heil" op. 29/1? The opening Chorale is nigh perfect in its Bach imitation, as is the following chorale fugue in its stile antico approach. You wouldn't hear the Brahms in it, the study character is so prevalent. Interesting that, of all his studies and experiments, he'd had this one published.

 

Best,

Friedrich

 

Thanks Friedrich. I've forgotten the Musikverein Organ*), but indeed did not know that Brahms played it with such prominent repertoire.

You might know, that some years ago they started thinking about a new organ there, and the project is still going on.

 

And yes, "Es ist das Heil" is much more impressive regarding the study character. I love this attitude of Brahms, which is also in accordance to the upcoming fashion, of accepting that there was great music, too, in earlier times...

 

Greetings

 

*) not the current one - I played it several times during my study time as third or fourth organist of the Vienna RSO. I love to remember the staff of Musikverein Hall, when it came to move the electric console in during the break after the first half of a concert, when the organ was needed just in the second and the console would have taken too much space on the stage in the first one. The guy usually responsible for connecting the console was always on duty with a certain alcohol consumption, and when two or three men pushed the console into the center of the stage, he connected the three multipin sockets, then he stepped onto the crescendo pedal pulling it up until the Tutti (well, you could easily continue talking while hearing it...), then playing one-finger glissandi on each manual over the whole compass and sliding his foot somehow over the pedal, then turning to his buddies and shouting "Geht!" ("Works!")....

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Here are two Brahms chorales played on the Restored 1906 Dalstein & Haerpfer

of Guinkirchen (F):

 

http://paroissecatho.boulay.free.fr/choral...n_j_brahms.html

 

http://paroissecatho.boulay.free.fr/choral...e_j_brahms.html

 

The sound quality is not optimal, tough.

I still wait for recordings to be made on the Link organ (1893) in Boussu (Mons, BE)

 

Pierre

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Many thanks to all who have responded so knowledgeably to my original post. There is obviously a lot to be said on this topic so please, keep your comments coming in. My copy of the CD of the complete organ works of Brahms played by Jacques van Oortmerssen arrived yesterday and it opened up a whole new field of beautiful repertoire to me (previously I had only ever played one chorale prelude by Brahms!).

 

My particular interest at present is in the organ music of Rheinberger (unjustly neglected by most organists and choir directors) and Mendelssohn. Let's hope that Carus eventually publish an English

translation of the Laukvik book like they did for his book on earlier organ music.

 

(The church choral music of Rheinberger has some marvellous pieces, neglected for many years but now beginning to be performed again - there's far more thanghe Adendlied and the 8-part Mass.)

 

Malcolm Kemp

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For Rheinberger, have a look here:

 

http://www.armley-schulze.co.uk/Sales.htm

 

....And simply click on "add to my basket" next to The CD from Graham Barber

with the Sonatas N° 8, 10 and 11.

I do not know anything as interesting as this one; this instrument

is astounishing in that music. And it would suit Mendelssohn exactly

the same: a glove.

 

Pierre

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For Rheinberger, have a look here:

 

http://www.armley-schulze.co.uk/Sales.htm

 

....And simply click on "add to my basket" next to The CD from Graham Barber

with the Sonatas N° 8, 10 and 11.

I do not know anything as interesting as this one; this instrument

is astounishing in that music. And it would suit Mendelssohn exactly

the same: a glove.

 

Pierre

Absolutely! I had the privilege of playing the Reubke and accompanying the Durufle Requiem on it a couple of years ago. Both worked hand-in-glove. Not just the gloriously butch tutti (with that unique Great Mixtur), but the delicate piano colours. It even has a Harmonica, as called for by JR. Love it.

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The Schulze organ, besides its extraordinary Principal chorus,

offers a "terraced dynamics" with well marked strenght differencies

between manuals, so not a smooth Crescendo, but well-marked

changes, from FFF to MF to P; and this is exactly what you need

for Mendelssohn and Rheinberger.

 

Pierre

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Is it my imagination or do the Wolfgang Rubsam recordings of Rheinberger (Naxos) take rather a lot of liberties with what the scores ask for in terms of tempo, tempo fluctuations and registration, not to mention excessive rubato and flapping swell pedals? Perhaps I am being too purist but I somehow don't think so.

 

Any comments from those better qualified to comment thereon?

 

Malcolm Kemp

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Is it my imagination or do the Wolfgang Rubsam recordings of Rheinberger (Naxos) take rather a lot of liberties with what the scores ask for in terms of tempo, tempo fluctuations and registration, not to mention excessive rubato and flapping swell pedals? Perhaps I am being too purist but I somehow don't think so.

 

Any comments from those better qualified to comment thereon?

 

Malcolm Kemp

I agree. Not my taste at all. Emasculates the music, which loses energy and momentum.

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Is it my imagination or do the Wolfgang Rubsam recordings of Rheinberger (Naxos) take rather a lot of liberties with what the scores ask for in terms of tempo, tempo fluctuations and registration, not to mention excessive rubato and flapping swell pedals? Perhaps I am being too purist but I somehow don't think so.

 

Any comments from those better qualified to comment thereon?

 

Malcolm Kemp

 

If you're not keen on the Naxos/Rheinb sonatas, don't bother with the concerto disc. Much better served by Telarc (with the Dupre) or Regent (with the Poulenc and Resphigi).

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Is it my imagination or do the Wolfgang Rubsam recordings of Rheinberger (Naxos) take rather a lot of liberties with what the scores ask for in terms of tempo, tempo fluctuations and registration, not to mention excessive rubato and flapping swell pedals? Perhaps I am being too purist but I somehow don't think so.

 

Any comments from those better qualified to comment thereon?

 

Malcolm Kemp

Not sure about liberties with the tempo - I've not checked against the scores - but fluctuations and rubato? oh, yes - in spades! Registration: yes, certainly not as terraced as Rheinberger seems to have expected. More Walze than swell pedal, I suspect.

 

At first hearing I hated these recordings. Because of the ever-changing speeds the playing seemed to lack any regular pulse so that everything sounded shapeless and meaningless. However, with repeated listening I began to understand where Rübsam was coming from. It's still a bit much for me, but I have come to see his performances as a deeply committed response to the music and, met on their own level, intensely musical.

 

I would be cagey about calling this sort of elasticity a liberty. Reports of Brahms's piano playing emphasise the flexibility of his pulse. Ditto Franck on the organ. Clearly they played with many nuances they did not specify in their scores (as in our own time did Messiaen). I expect examples of this could be multiplied.

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