Monday, June 18, 2007

ARCHIVE  •  2007  •  SUN 17  •  MON 18  •  WED 20  •  FRI 22  •  SUN 24

Saint Michael & All Angels Church, 8 p.m.

Organ Recital

Timothy Howard, organ

Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707)
Prelude, Fuga and Ciacona in C, BuxWV 137

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Two settings of Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele, BWV 654

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543

Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707)
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Two settings of In dulci jubilo, BuxWV 197, BWV 729

Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643)
Canzona from Messa della Madonna

Jean Langlais (1907-1991)
Homage à Frescobaldi


Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707)
Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, BuxWV 223

Max Reger (1873-1916)
Fantasie on Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, BuxWV 223, Op. 40, No. 1


This year marks the observation of the three-hundredth anniversary of the death of Dietrich Buxtehude, a Middle-Baroque composer of great significance and influence in Northern Germany. His family originally came from the town of Buxtehude, near Hamburg, but in the early sixteenth century settled in Holstein, then under Danish control. A printed notice after his death said that he recognized Denmark as his native country.

The son of a church organist, Dietrich attended Latin school at Helsingør (known to us as Hamlet’s Elsinore), studied music with his organist father, at about age twenty became organist for the Protestant German-speaking Marienkirche in Helsingør, and then attained the important position of organist of the Marienkirche in the Hanseatic League city of Lübeck. Days after becoming a citizen of Lübeck, he married the daughter of his predecessor, the famous Franz Tunder. Such a marriage might have been a tradition, as he insisted forty years later that any successor to him must marry his daughter, a job stipulation and an unattractive daughter strongly resisted by Mattheson when he and Handel visited in 1703.

Bach visited for a few months in 1706 for the purpose of hearing the master play the organ, and the influence on Bach of the form and style of Buxtehude’s church cantatas (that he called 2007_concertos) and surely of his organ playing is clear.


Buxtehude’s compositions are mostly sacred vocal pieces in German and Latin, and organ chorale-preludes, in addition to generics: Praeludium, Toccata, Ciacona, Passacaglia, Canzona, Canzonetta, Fuga. His magnificent Prelude, Fugue and Chaconne in C begins with a famous pedal solo, undoubtedly written to show off the huge pipes of the pedal division in the Marienkirche. The concluding chaconne is based clearly on an ostinato (obstinately repeated) theme. BACK


Bach’s organ setting of Johann Crüger’s eucharistic chorale Schmücke dich is in company with settings by several other Baroque composers and later ones by Brahms and Reger. In 1922, Arnold Schoenberg arranged Bach’s work for orchestra, an inspiration that violated his previous pronouncement that he’d never again write anything tonal. Johann Sebastian treats the melody in a florid style over a three-voiced accompaniment. Brahms treats the chorale in a strict four-voiced texture that reflects the Baroque while remaining in a nineteenth-century aesthetic. BACK


Bach’s A minor Prelude, probably dating from his Weimar period, 1708-1717, opens with a long single line that eventually is joined by a pedal point that leads to an extended pedal solo. The Fugue, in a jaunty 6/8 meter, later inspired a piano transcription by Franz Liszt. BACK


Another pairing of chorale-preludes, here by Buxtehude and Bach, is based on a fourteenth-century German/ Latin text set in 1570 to a tune well known even today as a Christmas carol. Buxtehude creates a florid melody over a simple accompaniment, while Bach treats the melody phrase-by-phase with giddy toccata-like interruptions. BACK


Girolamo Frescobaldi continues to be admired as an amazing and influential Italian composer and organist from the Early Baroque. His Mass of the Virgin, an organ mass played as background to and amplification of the spoken words and actions of the priest, perhaps for St. Mark’s in Venice, was published in his Fiori Musicali in 1635.

The great twentieth-century French organist and composer Jean Langlais took the Canzona dopo l’Epistola (song before the Epistle) and set it for pedal solo in which we can hear two, three or four notes played simultaneously by the feet. BACK


A final pairing of chorale treatments begins with Buxtehude’s Baroque chorale-prelude on the famous hymn, How Brightly Shines the Morning Star, and then gives way to a late-Romantic fantasy on that tune by the important Bavarian composer and organist, Max Reger. Reger’s main organ oeuvre dates from the late nineteenth century, after which he concentrated on orchestral pieces (not full symphonies), choral, chamber, solo vocal and piano works.

The Phantasie für Orgel über den Choral Wie schön leucht’ uns der Morgenstern is an enormous and complex composition that begins “full organ,” with suddenly soft phrases that focus our attention before introducing the tune in the middle of a texture with flowing accompaniment above and active pedal below. (Reger even includes the words with the chorale tune in each stanza throughout, including the pedal’s citation, although it’s not to be sung!) This impressive piece is a challenge for hands and feet, displaying Reger’s colorful late-Romantic harmonic language and what must have been an astounding technique at the instrument. BACK

Notes by Burton Karson


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