Saint Michael & All Angels Church, 8 p.m.
Ian Pritchard, organ
Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707)
Praeludium in C Major, BuxWV 137
Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707)
Ciaccona in E Minor, BuxWV 160
François Couperin (1668-1733)
Three Pieces from the Messe pour les Couvents
Plein jeu, premier kyrie
Fugue sur la trompette
Offertoire sur le grands Jeux
Johann Adam Reincken (1623-1722)
An Wasserflussen Babylon
Johann Heinrich Buttstett (1666-1727)
Fugue in G minor
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Concerto in A minor,
based on the concerto RV 522 by Antonio Vivaldi
(No tempo indicated)
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Reception on the Patio
his evening’s program has been organized not in the mode of a traditional modern organ recital, with an historically diverse selection of repertoire, but rather as a collection of music likely on hand for an organist active in east-central Germany around the years 1700 to 1720 — perhaps a young organist such as Johann Sebastian Bach. The program includes music from printed volumes that enjoyed European-wide dissemination, as well as selections from German manuscript sources.
part from Bach, the Danish-born composer Dieterich Buxtehude is probably the most famous representative of the North German school of organists. And the Praeludium in C major (sometimes known as the “Prelude, Fugue and Chaconne”) is probably his most famous piece of organ music. Although it is often heard today as a concert piece, it was likely written down as a model for teaching the virtuosic, extemporaneous playing (the stylus fantasticus) that represented the artistic culmination of the north German organ school.
Many elements of the piece are evocative of improvisation, notably the elaborate variations over the famous ostinato (repeated) bass line of the ending ciaccona. Although the piece is in three distinct sections, they are not so clearly delineated to be thought of as “movements.” Rather, they progress seamlessly, with shared motives providing further unity. BACK
he ciaccona (“chaconne” in English) was originally a dance, with a characteristic rhythmic pattern; it also often featured an ostinato (or repeated) bass. In the Baroque, each national tradition developed its own “version” of the chaconne; to a north German organist, a ciaccona was an elaborate variation set built over an ostinato bass, with a heavy reliance on complex polyphonic textures. The well-known Bach Passacaglia is an example of this kind of composition.
It was also this type of ciaccona that formed the conceptual basis for the Finale of Johannes Brahms’ Haydn Variations, as well as the finale of his Fourth Symphony. The Ciaccona in E minor by Buxtehude was in fact beloved by Brahms; the early Bach scholar Phillip Spitta (a close friend of the great German Romantic) compared it to a ballade and remarked on its deeply Romantic sensibility. BACK
ouperin’s two organ masses, published together in 1690, are one of the high points of the French Classical organ school. Despite the composer’s young age (Couperin was 21 at the time of publication), these works demonstrate many of the characteristics that mark his later keyboard works: a remarkable gift for melody, as well as a skillful balancing of counterpoint with graceful, lighter textures. The individual pieces in each mass were intended to be performed alternatim with plainchant, within the context of a liturgical service. The first two pieces presented here mirror a “prelude” and “fugue”; the grand Offertoire exploits the tonal possibilities of the French Classical organ. BACK
eincken’s massively conceived chorale fantasia on the hymn An Wasserflussen Babylon was well known in the circle of organists to which Bach belonged. Although not a teacher of Bach’s per se, Reincken was a close friend and a formidable influence; in many ways he was one of the principal conduits through which Bach absorbed the North German tradition of Buxtehude and his colleagues.
This particular setting can be seen as an apotheosis of the liturgically based improvisatory keyboard skills of the North German school. The chorale melody is treated in a variety of textures, and the piece progresses through an exceedingly wide range of compositional techniques. Undoubtedly, the fantasia was also designed to exploit the large array of tonal colors available in the large-scale North German–style organ. BACK
ohann Heinrich Buttstedt was a student of Johann Pachelbel. That Bach would have known his music is demonstrated by the inclusion of two of his compositions in the well-known Andreas Bach/Möller manuscript collections compiled by Bach’s elder brother Johann Christoph. For a long time this fugue was thought to have been composed by Reincken. It features a typical “motoric” subject of rapidly repeated sixteenth notes; this style can also be heard in many of Bach’s early keyboard works, such as the seven harpsichord toccatas or the Prelude and Fugue in C major for organ, BWV 531. BACK
f all of the musical influences that formed Bach’s mature compositional style, none was more important than the Italian concerto idiom developed by composers such as Torelli, Albinoni and Vivaldi. This is evident from the body of concertos that Bach transcribed for organ and harpsichord; the Concerto in A minor is a transcription of one of the double violin concertos (No. 8) from Vivaldi’s famous collection L’Estro Armonico Op. 3, a print that enjoyed major circulation throughout Europe.
As a model, Vivaldi’s music provided Bach with the subtleties of ritornello form as well as a certain sense of intensity in harmonic progression, both of which are clearly heard in this concerto. Bach’s transcription turns the piece into a true tour de force for organ, with a particularly active role for the pedals. This includes instances of double pedaling as well as the addition of virtuosic flourishes. BACK
relatively early work (the first extant manuscript source dates from around 1714), Bach’s Pièce d’orgue is not as French in style as its title indicates. The “French” section is the lengthy contrapuntal alla breve in the middle; the outer two sections belong to the Italianate, violinistic stylus fantasticus that Bach inherited from his North German predecessors. Although a relatively youthful work, the Pièce demonstrates Bach’s remarkable ability to assimilate and refashion the contemporary styles that surrounded him, reworking them into a musical language that can be described only as uniquely his own. BACK
Notes by Ian Pritchard