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Rheinberger - Passacaglia from No. 8


Philip
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Here comes my latest thread asking for help!

 

Not quite sure how I came across it, but I took one listen to this and thought it simply brilliant. Now I've got the music (I will also try and work on the Intermezzo and Scherzo in time) and am getting to grips with it - and its mostly very approachable, only getting tricky in a couple of variations towards the end.

 

My question chiefly concerns registration. I've got the Novello edition which is littered with registration suggestions, which I've read are something of an unwanted addition! How then should I go about registering it? I've read on here that Rheinberger worked with an organ without a swell box so there was only one marked change in all the sonatas. I have a substantial two-manual instrument on which to play it.

 

As always, many thanks in advance for the help.

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If there is a finer piece of Rheinberger, I have yet to hear it. I trust you precede the Passacaglia with the Introduction. :D

 

You might like to take a look at the original Forberg edition:

http://imslp.info/files/imglnks/usimg/f/f5...ta_08_Op132.pdf

 

Basically, Rheinberger's registration is confined to manual indications and dynamics, with a key for the dynamics which translates as follows:

ff = full organ on manual I

f = full organ without Mixtures

mf = full organ on manual II, or Principal 8' on manual I

p = a few soft 8' and 4' stops

pp = Salicional or Aeoline 8', pedal to balance.

 

From a cursory glance through the Novello edition it looks as if Harvey Grace has at least left Rheinberger's dynamic markings intact, even where he suggests amending them. He translates Rheinberger's Man I and II consistently as Gt and Sw, but also adds some suggestions of his own.

 

I have to say that I don't think Rheinberger's registration suggestions transfer well to British organs. Nor do I think they do his music justice. For example, in this Passacaglia, would you really want every fortissimo to have exactly the same registration? Similarly with the other dynamics. Surely he cannot have expected his suggestions to be as restrictive as they appear, with discretion possible only at the p level? Similarly, he may not have had a swell box, but would he really have objected to organists using one where available? (It's a quite different situation to the well-worn Bach argument.)

 

I am afraid I am very naughty and mostly follow Grace's scheme for the Passacaglia (which I concede is probably a little excessive). On a large organ it goes like this (in theory; practice may vary!):

 

Intro: Full organ (but preferably leaving something in reserve for the end). Stop-diminuendo where Grace suggests down to Swell Open Diap 8', gradually closing the box during the last three bars.

Theme and var I: Soft pedal coupled to Sw. 8' flute and string (if latter not too keen), box closed (so pp rather than p).

Var II: Open box

Var III: Ch flutes 8', 4'.

Var IV: Sw diaps 8', 4'.

Var V: Left hand on Gt flutes 8', 4' uncoupled (and ignoring Grace's Gt to Ped suggestion); both hands on Gt where Grace suggests (leave Gt to Ped off if it works).

Var VI: Add Gt to Ped and couple Sw to Oboe + Fifteenth, box closed. Gradually open box during first two bars.

Var VII: LH on Gt (may need to subtract 4' flute somewhere before closing the box, which I do later than Grace suggests). RH on something more incisive (e.g. Solo Clarinet)

Var VIII: Gt diaps 8', 4' coupled to Sw to Oboe + Fifteenth .

Var IX: Add Gt 12th and 15th; sw box open. Close box and reduce towards end.

Var X: RH on e.g. Orchestral Oboe; LH on soft flue 8' or 8' + 4'.

Var XI: As Var VIII.

Var XII: Add Sw Mixture. Close box towards end.

Var XIII: Add Full Swell without 16'. Open box as suggested.

Var XIV: Increase Gt to Fifteenth.

Var XV: Add Gt Mixture. Reduce at end to:-

Var XVI: Gt 8' flute + Sw diaps 8', 4'.

Var XVII: Sw Open Diap 8'

Var XVIII: Sw celestes, with a slight slackening of the pace. (I cheat here and make the change on the treble C natural before the p sign, phrasing the lower parts so the C initially sounds alone and the registration change clean.)

Var XIX: The softest enclosed stop on the organ (preferably Ch Dulciana), relaxing the pace further and closing the box at the end. The aim of these last three variations is to get the audience nodding off.

Var XX: Tempo primo, Gt to Mixtures + Full Sw, box open. With luck, everyone will jump collectively out of their seats.

Var XXI: No change.

Var XXII: No change, but close sw box (and maybe subtract doubles).

Var XXIII: Open sw box again, add any flues you have spare.

Var XXIV: Add Ped reeds 16', 8' (on the quaver B which is the first note of the theme) and Gt Trumpet 8' on the quaver after the rest (this will entail pushing in the Gt & Ped Combs coupler if you are using it).

Coda: At the a tempo, same registration as the opening of the Introduction. Try and leave yourself something to add on the last beat five bars before the end.

 

I count as one of my most memorable achievements coverting the late Sidney Campbell from hating this piece to liking it. The secret is not to take it too fast, but at all times to allow the theme to speak with breadth and grandeur. That way, its inexorable, stately tread can sweep all before it. The other parts can sound as busy as you like, but the theme must never sound hurried. I would regard the marked speed of crotchet = 69 as fine for the louder bits (I might even press on a bit faster), but I tend to open at crotchet = 60 or even a notch slower. As you will gather, I am fairly elastic with the speed.

 

Mmm. I haven't played this for years. I must dig it out again. :D

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Someone on this board recommended Amadeus as the best editions to get for the Rheinberger sonatas, so I duly got No.8. Bernhard Billeter's introduction is well worth reading. He gives a specification that Rheinberger drew up for an organ in the projected parish church in Vaduz (I can't retain Billeter's formatting here so I have re-ordered the stops British fashion):

 

Man I

Bourdon 16

Principal 8

Tibia 8

Gamba 8

Gedackt 8

Quintflöte 5 2/3 [sic; there's a misprint there somewhere]

Octav 4

Gemshorn 4

Octav 2

Mixtur V 2 2/3

Trompete 8

 

Man II

Salicional 16

Principalflöte 8

Aeoline 8

Lieb. Ged. 8

Fugara 4

Flöte trav. 4

Flageolett 2

Cornett V

Fag. Clar. 8

 

Man III

Geigenprincipal 8

Wienerflöte 8

Dolce 8

Viola 4

Flautino 2

 

Pedal

Principalbaß 16

Violon 16

Subbaß 16

Quintbaß 10 2/3

Octavbaß 8

Violoncello 8

Flötenbaß 4

Posaune 16

 

As Billeter points out, Man III is the smallest and weakest. He goes on:

 

"The increase in foundation stops has not, especially in the 1st manual, eliminated mutation stops as completely as will happen half a century later. it would be fatal if we took Rheinberger's general hints for the conversion of dynamic signs into registration at their face value: not only do these dynamic signs vary from sonata to sonata, but it seems likely that the Fortissimo of momentary climax in a slow movement is not the same as one at the end of a work. As for the other dynamic signs, they too require careful interpretation. High-lying mutation stops are best omitted entirely."

 

He also suggests that "The specified registration Principal 8' does not mean this stop alone, but in conjunction with other flue eight-foot stops", but that's rather academic as you are unlikely to be able to reproduce the required sound on a British organ.

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If there is a finer piece of Rheinberger, I have yet to hear it. I trust you precede the Passacaglia with the Introduction. :)

 

Harvey Grace seems to have had a soft spot for this movement. "With a knowledge of the fine Passacaglias by Reger and Karg-Elert the present writer does not hesitate to describe this example of Rheinberger's work as the only rival of Bach's. Indeed, so far as effect is concerned the palm may go to Rheinberger, for it can hardly be denied that some passages in the Bach work - e.g., Variations XV and XVI - suffer from its having been written for the clavicembalo." (From the Notes to his Novello Edition of the Sonata.)

 

Any comments?

 

Ian

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... Indeed, so far as effect is concerned the palm may go to Rheinberger, for it can hardly be denied that some passages in the Bach work - e.g., Variations XV and XVI - suffer from its having been written for the clavicembalo." (From the Notes to his Novello Edition of the Sonata.) Any comments?

Only that it hadn't. Whoever brought up that idea -- be it Forkel, Griepenkerl, or anyone else -- can't probably have heard it on a pedal harpsichord -- if he ever saw, let alone heard one in his life --, as the piece is such an excellent example for refined sound management on the organ by four-part writing. Almost all of which is lost on the harpsichord.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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I have said on this Board before that Rheinberger is a greatly under-rated composer and there is a lot of church choral music by him (mainly published by Carus, and in print) which is fairly short, effective, tuneful and well within the capabilities of a reasonably good amateur choir.

 

The Passacaglia from Sonata No 8 is superb and I tend to play it with a leaning towards classical without being too extreme. If you have the Novello edition my strong advice is to buy a different one. as has already been mentioned, the Amadeus edition is pretty reliable.

 

Malcolm

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Thanks for all the contributions so far. I have now retrieved my copy from church which has enabled me to examine Vox's excellent suggestions in more detail with reference to the variation numbers (I would plan to play the Introduction first). I think Grace's registration suggestions do seem to tend towards using too much organ too often. This seems particularly true to me in the Scherzoso, where his suggestions for near enough full organ for large portions of the piece would probably make it sound overly heavy where it might need a bit more bounce perhaps.

 

I have two further queries:

 

a ) What kind of balance should one strive for between the theme in the pedal and the adornments above it? Should the theme be speaking out so as to be clearly audible above the manual parts, or should they just sit happily together? In particular, I think of Grace's suggestions to add a pedal reed for the louder bits in variations 9, 14-16 and presumably from 20 through to the end. Is it helpful to give the theme extra clarity at these points?

 

b ) The final chord.

is the version I have been listening to and Bianchi uses a tierce de picardie for the very final chord. Do you think this is unnecessary or even unwanted? Personally I rather like the effect, as it provides a contrast with a piece which has been pretty firmly in the minor key.
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a ) What kind of balance should one strive for between the theme in the pedal and the adornments above it? Should the theme be speaking out so as to be clearly audible above the manual parts, or should they just sit happily together? In particular, I think of Grace's suggestions to add a pedal reed for the louder bits in variations 9, 14-16 and presumably from 20 through to the end. Is it helpful to give the theme extra clarity at these points?

Generally speaking I would go for balance and not seek to make the theme prominent. I would be afraid that, if priority were given to the theme throughout, it would quickly become very wearying. After all, the interest in a Passacaglia is not so much in the theme itself as in what is done to it. That said, there is no harm in bringing out the theme occasionally and a pedal reed certainly might work well at the places Grace suggests. It would depend on the reed, though; if it is oppressively heavy it might not be a great idea. But I really wouldn't want to be prescriptive about it. Try it and see. If it works musically, isn't wearying and doesn't obscure the manual parts, all power to your elbow!

 

b ) The final chord.
is the version I have been listening to and Bianchi uses a tierce de picardie for the very final chord. Do you think this is unnecessary or even unwanted? Personally I rather like the effect, as it provides a contrast with a piece which has been pretty firmly in the minor key.

Urgh!! What on earth is the point of that? I expect someone will now tell me that his piano arrangement or orchestral arrangement ends like that. Even then I would still regard it as both unnecessary and unwanted. To my ears it just sounds plain wrong and not just because I am used to hearing it as the composer wrote it. The ending of this piece (and, of course, the sonata) is magnificent and triumphant, but, above all, stern. It simply does not need brightening up with a major chord. In my book the task of an interpreter is to make sense of what the composer was trying to say and to communicate that musically. Being able to imagine "improvements" in no way consitutes a licence to tinker. But of course there are players who put themselves above the composers...

 

End of rant! :)

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That said, there is no harm in bringing out the theme occasionally and a pedal reed certainly might work well at the places Grace suggests. It would depend on the reed, though; if it is oppressively heavy it might not be a great idea.

Thinking about this a bit more, I think the "bringing out" of themes always needs thought and discretion. It should never be done just because you can, or purely for the sake of providing tonal variety. It must always contribute something to overall musical argument and direction of the piece - and in the case of loud reeds that will always be climactic. It must sound logical and inevitable. What you want to avoid is the musical equivalent of someone talking to a foreigner who doesn't understand English and thinking that the louder they talk the more the foreigner will understand.

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Generally speaking I would go for balance and not seek to make the theme prominent. I would be afraid that, if priority were given to the theme throughout, it would quickly become very wearying. After all, the interest in a Passacaglia is not so much in the theme itself as in what is done to it. That said, there is no harm in bringing out the theme occasionally and a pedal reed certainly might work well at the places Grace suggests. It would depend on the reed, though; if it is oppressively heavy it might not be a great idea. But I really wouldn't want to be prescriptive about it. Try it and see. If it works musically, isn't wearying and doesn't obscure the manual parts, all power to your elbow!

 

 

Urgh!! What on earth is the point of that? I expect someone will now tell me that his piano arrangement or orchestral arrangement ends like that. Even then I would still regard it as both unnecessary and unwanted. To my ears it just sounds plain wrong and not just because I am used to hearing it as the composer wrote it. The ending of this piece (and, of course, the sonata) is magnificent and triumphant, but, above all, stern. It simply does not need brightening up with a major chord. In my book the task of an interpreter is to make sense of what the composer was trying to say and to communicate that musically. Being able to imagine "improvements" in no way consitutes a licence to tinker. But of course there are players who put themselves above the composers...

 

End of rant! :)

I agree - years ago I sat in the nave of a church enjoying listening to my assistant play the piece, and fell into a state of shock when the imposing final minor chord was altered to a major chord, thus causing choir men to gently lead me to an estblishment a moments walk away from the church where they revived and restored my equilibrium witnh "medicinal" beverages . . . Seriuosly though, I think the harmony of the penultimate and the anti-penultimate chords do not lend themselves to a Tde P ending: in short, it sounds 'wrong'. However, in other sonatas Rheinberger frequently does end minor key movements in a major key, but it is often that the final few bars/systems/page have already moved into a major key pehaps recalling material from an opening or previous movement. The E flat minor sonata ends on a minor chord as do movements from some other minor key sonata movements and in these I do not think at all that the effect would be musical to alter those final chords to major.

The end of Sonata 8 has a particular quality and I find the the most exciting performances are determined by the right sort of rhythmic/pulse approach to the final chord - that slight tension that could go either way, but ends perhaps unexpectedly on that towering, bone chilling minor chord.

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Hello,

 

Does anyone have an opinion as to the merits (or otherwise) of the Schott edition of this piece, dated 1987 and edited by Hermann J Busch?

I use the Schott edition. It follows strictly the original edition published in 1883 and only a few misprints were corrected. Preface in German and English. In my opinion the best edition of the work. And it is cheap (8 €).

 

Cheers

tiratutti

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As a logical follow up, would you recommend the Schott editions full stop? I only play a couple (anyone else play the Eflat minor one?), and they date back nearly 20 years (FTCL in fact), but as has already been mentioned, the Novello ones are rather cluttered.

 

What are the merits of the other editions?

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Hello,

 

I use the Schott edition. It follows strictly the original edition published in 1883 and only a few misprints were corrected. Preface in German and English. In my opinion the best edition of the work. And it is cheap (8 €).

 

Cheers

tiratutti

Thank you - that's good to know. It's the edition I have. :)

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Thanks for the comments, particularly on the balance aspect. I have the option on my organ of a 16' Fagotto or a 16' Trombone as pedal reeds. Perhaps the former would achieve the underpinning of the theme in the louder sections without bringing it out too much. I will experiment.

 

On the final chord, I may well get shot down in flames, but I'm not offended by ending on a major chord. True, it is not what the composer wrote, but I don't think it is out of sync with what goes before - the G# which turns it major does occur several times in the coda section so doesn't seem to me 'unnatural'. Obviously I have come from the point of view of hearing it with the major ending first - how much of an influence does our first hearing of things like this have? Anyway, I've got about three more weeks before I will hopefully be playing it, at the Evensong for our Patronal Festival, and I will reflect on this before then.

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  • 2 weeks later...

No one has mentioned, unless I missed it, the Carus edition. Carus-Verlag is the publisher of the Rheinberger complete edition, and Sonata 8 is found in volume 38. Each volume has critical notes and reports on the sources. I purchased a single copy of Sonata 8 but splurged and bought volume 40 which contains a wealth of organ music, 271 pages of it - his music for organ apart from the sonatas that have opus numbers.

 

Yesterday, during a free lunch hour concert, I played the complete Sonata 8 on the Melbourne Town Hall organ, a large late romantic organ (Hill, Norman & Beard 1927-1929) with an American classical organ overlay (rebuilt by Schantz in 1999-2000). The program started with Mendelssohn's Sonata 1, then the Rheinberger, followed by Jürgen Essl's Toccata in E. There is much in common between the two sonatas, but with some lovely, twisty differences. The audience (typically around 600 - 800 people) tends to be a mix of colleagues, business people enjoying their lunch break, and a large contingent of more elderly people enjoying some free entertainment.

 

The Rheinberger worked a treat, and received very warm, generous and sustained applause. Wonderfully gratifying. That was the first time I've played all the sonata in one concert, but I'm definitely going to do so again when the instrument supports the sonata well. The passacaglia gives wonderful opportunities to showcase many of the softer and medium level sounds on an organ.

 

The fugue is also a bit of a ripper, and I think works quite powerfully. One of my colleagues told me that he had played through the fugue a few times and had been impressed with it, and hearing it played in my concert reinforced his belief that it is also a very fine composition, unfortunately in the same sonata as one of Rheinberger's best movements, so unjustly neglected.

 

Volume 40 bears the title 'Kleinere Orgelwerke' - small organ works. Some works are indeed short, trios, for example, only one page long. There are also many pieces four and five pages long. Very worthwhile adding to one's library and then selecting pieces to add to one's repertoire.

 

I hope that your audience/congregation rewards you well for your work in learning and presenting the work, Philip.

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