COMPOSERS FOR THE ORGAN

 

 

The world and art of the organ  covers a lot of ground.  The first organ may have come into being 2000 years ago, and the oldest existing organ is 450 years old .  The basic technology employed in today's best instruments was mature 250 years ago.  Many different nations and cultures have spawned organs and organ literature since the renaissance; the instruments and their literature differ from each other as drastically as the times and peoples who produced them.  While the 17 Century justifiably represents some of the best known organ literature, it is only the tip of a huge iceberg.
 


Dietrich Buxtehude (1637 -1707)
There is some uncertainty as to both the year and place of his birth - apparently no conclusive documentation exists.  Most of his career of nearly 40 years was spent as Organist, Music Director (Werkmeister, as it was called)  at the Marienkirche, Lübeck (Germany).   Parishes were busy places in those years -- Sunday morning and afternoon services, festival days, weddings, funerals -- you name it.  His reputation was considerable; enough to influence a younger generation of organists.  Nicolaus Bruhns was a pupil, and Pachebel dedicated to him his "Hexachordum Apollonis" (1699).  Bach revered him, enough to walk some 250 miles from Arnstadt to Lübeck to hear him and get in big time trouble with his employer by (1) overstaying a 4-week leave to 4-months and (2) upon his return, "... making many strange variations in the choral, and mixing many foreign tones into it, so that the congregation is confused by it ....".

Buxtehude wrote extraordinary music.  The choral fantasy "Wie Schön Luechtet der Morgenstern" is as close to program music as ever came from this period.  His music reflects a sense of humor and humanity that would have made him an enjoyable person to know.

His reputation may was likely fueled by the Sunday evening organ recitals (Abendmusiken) that followed the Sunday afternoon service.

One story has it that 1703 found him beginning to recruit a successor.  Johann Mattheson and an 18-year old George Frederick Handel  traveled to Lübeck to audition for the job, only to find out that custom required the applicant to marry his predecessor's daughter.

Partial Discography
René Saorgin  5-CD   Harmonia Mundi HMX 2901484/88  on historic organs
Harald Vogel  7-Volumes on historic organs
Marie-Claire Alain  MHS OR309-315 [LP]
Alf Linder Several LP Volumes recorded by Westminster in the 1950's


 

Nicolaus Bruhns (1665-1697)
A talented member of a family of musicians, he is another of those creative artists who died at an all too early age.› ("Already in his youth he was so perfected that he not only plays the organ, but also composes very well piano and singing music.")  He studied with Buxtehude in 1681.  In 1689 he was appointed organist to the Town Church at Husum "by common consent, because never before him in the town, had been heard a musician so successful in composition and in the playing of so many different instruments".› He held this position until his untimely death on March 29, 1697.

"Sometimes he took his violin up to the organ loft and, by virtuosity created an impression as if two, three or more instruments were being heard simultaneously.  He would play the upper parts on the violin, while he accompanied himself by an appropriate pedal bass part with his feet."

Apparently little remains of his work - a few preludes & fugues, a chorale prelude for organ and some 12 cantatas.

Partial Discography
Temperaments 316011  [CD]  Complete works, organ & choral
Archiv Production 2712-004  [LP]› (Organ Masters Before Bach)› Helmut Walcha, Arp Schnitger organ at Cappel
Renaissance SX-202  [LP]› (Monuments of Baroque Organ Music) Old LP, terrible sound but fascinating document.
MHS 3697  {LP]

Published Score
Edition Peters Nr 4855 (organ works)
 


Jehan Alain  (1911-1940)
Born into a family of musicians in St-Germain-en-Laye.  His father (Albert) was an organist, composer and amateur organ builder who over a lifetime, built the house organ for which much of Jehan's music was composed. "There were pianos in just about every room in the house, one or two harmoniums tucked away in the corners and, most important, the organ, inside which our father would mysteriously disappear at the slightest opportunity."  (sister Marie-Claire Alain, who is a very well known organist)

He composed "as easily and naturally ... as breathing" on the spur of any spare moment he had;  He is said to have composed during (probably boring) classes at the Conservatoire.  Among his best known works is Litanies - a response to the death of a sister Odile in a mountaineering accident.  His scores were punctuated with quotes and whimsical drawings.

He had a reputation as somewhat of a daredevil on the motorcycle; this penchant led to duty as a military dispatch rider during the "phony war" of 1940.  He was killed when he ran into a German patrol.  It is thought that a notebook containing manuscripts was lost at this time.

"The architect is dead, but the temple is finished" (from the manuscript of his final known composition Trois Danses)

Partial Discography
Gallo CD-683  Works by Jehan & Albert;  Marie-Claire Alain on the Alain house organ which has been relocated to Romainmôtier, Switzerland after 20 years of silence and near destruction.
MHS 868 [LP]  Liner notes are a touching tribute to the family by Marie-Claire
Erato EDO-250/251/252 [LP]› Complete Works› Marie-Clair at Schwenkedel Organ at Basilique St-Christophe, Belfort

Published Score
Masters Music Publications  M-2119› Two Chorales for Organ

Biography
Bernard Gavoty:› Jehan Alain, Musicien Francais
 


Josef Rheinberger  (1839-1901)
A native of Liechtenstein, he was the son of the Prince of Liechtenstein's treasurer.  By the age of  7, he was able to occupy a church organist post in his home town.  This composer leaves no doubt that the 19th Century produced masterpieces of organ literature (20 Sonatas, 2 concertos, 22 trios, 24 fughettas and 48 miscellaneous pieces) although he did not begin composing for the organ until age 30.  The sonata #8 Op.132 is among the best known, and a good place to start.

Partial Discography
Raven #'s OAR140CD, OAR180CD, OAR220CD Sonatas› Bruce Stevens on wonderful historic American organs.
 


Max Reger  (1873-1916)
During a lifetime that found him a school teacher, pianist, conservatory professor, conductor, organist, pianist he was a prolific composer.  In addition to orchestral music, chamber music, piano music he composed a monumental body of organ works.  His opus 135a 30-Little Chorale Preludes brought the organ chorale to its greatest climax since the days of Bach.  As he put it, "The Protestants have no idea how great a treasury they own in their Chorales."

After receiving a particularly bad critical review from a Munich newspaper, he replied:
I am sitting in the smallest room in my house.  I have your review before me.  In a moment it will be behind› me.

Partial Discography
MHS 1464› 30 Little Chorale Preludes, Op 135a  [LP]  Heinz Lohmann, Organ of Neanderkirche, Düsseldorf
MHS 1563 to 1570› Organ Works [LP] Werner Jocob, various wonderful organs
MHS 1932 to 1934› Organ Works› [LP] Heinz Lohmann, Organ of Kirche zum Heilsbronnen, Berlin
 


Johann Caspar Simon  (1701-1776)
Born in January 10, 1701 near Schmalkalden, Thuringia, his studies at the University of Jena (1723-1727) could well have connected him with a member of the Bach family (cousin Johann Nikolaus).  A teaching career in various posts ended in 1750 when he inherited a prosperous drapery business.  As a result he became independently wealthy.  He was highly respect as an organist and for his compositions -- three annual cycles of cantatas, clavier pieces, two symphonies and organ works.  The Fourteen Preludes and Fugues  (which represent his third published work) are brilliant and fun to play without being technically difficult.

Published Score
Edition Schott 3877 Vierzehn leichte Praeludien und Fugen für Orgel
 


Charles Tournemire (1870-1939)
Organist, composer of organ music and operas.  A pupil of César Frank, he succeded him at Sainte-Clotilde in 1898.  Best known for a large work L'orgue mystique, which is essentially an annual cycle of liturgical music from Christmas through All Saints.

Partial Discography
MHS 844508› Charles Tournemire: L"Orgue Mystique [LP]  Georges Delvallée, Basilique Saint-Sernin Toulouse
 


Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck  (1562-1621)
Born Jan Pierterszoon, he adopted the name Sweelinck, his Mother's maiden name.  He was famous as an organist, influencing the art of organ playing throughout Europe.  His works show the earliest example of independent pedal playing and include the earliest fully developed fuges for the organ.

Partial Discography
Telefunken 6.35374-00-501 Organ Works  [LP]  Ton Koopman, St. Cosmae  Stade & Schloss Frediksborg, Denmark
 


Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706)
Beside a notorious canon, he is the composer of some 250 organ works -- preludes, fugues, toccatas, fantasias, chaconnes, ricercari, 70 Choral preludes and almost 100 fugues on the Magnificat.

Partial Discography
Telefunken 6.35489 Organworks  (28 compositions) [LP]  Albert Bolliger at the organs by Karl Riepp, Benedictine Abby Ottobeuren.  Full size booklet has beautiful, detailed illustrations of the organs, as well as descriptive text in German.
 


Jean Langlais  (1907-1991)
Blind as a child age 2, he was sent to the National Institute for the Young Blind, and  great teachers, including (also blind) organist Andre Marchal. At the National Conservatory in Paris, he achieved a First Prize in organ in Marcel Dupré's class and a Composition Prize in Paul Dukas class.  As a Professor at the National Instutute, pedagogue, composer, organist, recitalist he influenced a generation of French and foreign students.  In 1945 he succeded Cesar Franck and Charles Tournemire as organist at Sainte-Clotilde in Paris.

The 254 Opus Numbers that comprise his compositions include, sacred and secular choral and instrumental music (13 Masses), concertos in addition to a monumental body of organ works that is among the greatest of the 20th Century.
Partial Discography
8 Volumes issued by Musical Heritage Society performed by Ann Labounsky.  These releases may well be definitive.  Ann Labounsky was disciple and friend of Langlais, and has been recording his complete works since the first release in 1979.
 


César Franck  (1822-1890)
He is known primarily for symphonic, instrumental and choral music.  He was  organist at Sainte-Clotilde and  professor of organ at the Paris Conservatoire.

Partial Discography
Sheffield S-11 (ACM149STA-B) [LP]› Cesar Franck: "Grand Piece Symphonique/Fantasie in A"
If this recording doesn't hook you on on 19th Century romantic organ music, nothing will.  Played by Thomas Murray on the 1864 E & GG Hook organ in Boston's Immaculate Conception Church before the interior was destroyed. It is a jewel!

Published Score
Kalmus Organ Series 4533› L'Organiste:  Fifty-Nine Pieces for the organ or Harmonium
 


Johann Ludwig Krebs  (1713-1780)
Favorite pupil of JS Bach, who called him " ... the best crab in the brook."  (A pun -- In German,  Kreb= Crab; Bach=brook.)

Published Score
McAfee Music Publication DM-216› Johann Ludwig Krebs: A bicentennial Collection of Organ Pieces
 


Edwin H. Lemare  (1865-1934)
Best known as an organ recitalist, he was widely regarded as the greatest living organist.  His transcriptions of almost everything (including music from Wagner's operas) are legendary.  He also composed a variety of  organ works and a small handful of choral works.

Partial Discography
Columbia M-3268 [LP]› Organ Orgy: A Wagner Sound Spectacular  Anthony Newman, St. John the Divine, NYC
Pro Organo  CD 7007›› Lemare Affair  Frederick Hohman at Church of the Epiphany, Washington, DC

Published Score
At least 10 volumes (Wagner transcriptions and compositions) from Wayne Leupold Editions, ECS Publishing, Boston
 


Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Although his organ work is a small part of his output, he composed 2 preludes & fugues, a fugue and 12 well-crafted choral preludes.

Published Score
Kalmus Organ Library K-3247› Brahms: Complete Organ Works
 


Ernst Pepping  (1901-1981)
German born and educated.  Composer of  classical and baroque styled (yet very original) (mostly sacred) choral, organ and piano work.

Partial Discography
Columbia M2S-697  [LP]› The Golden Age of the Organ  E. Power Biggs    Works by several composers including Pepping.   This album  is a survey of the 12 surviving organs built by Arp Schnitger (1648-1719).

Published Score
Kalmus K-09968› Ernst Pepping: Hymns for Organ
 


Olivier Messiaen  (1908-1992)
French composer of very original and highly mystical (and avian) organ, choral and orchestral music.  Has explained his musical ideas in two volumes titled Technique de mon language musical (1944).

Partial Discography
MHS 1997/98  [LP]› Méditations Sur Le Mystère de la Sainte Trinité  Olivier Messiaen at Church of Sainte Trinité (Cavaillé-Coll), Paris
 



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