EFranz Raml has an outstanding international reputation as an organist and harpsichordist as well as director of the Hassler Consort. His extensive discography
contains recordings at the consoles of many of Germany’s important historic organs. In his new CD, we hear Franz Raml playing the Silbermann organ in Dresden’s Hofkirche, the last instrument created by Saxony’s master organ builder.
Containing works of J.S. Bach, this program provides insights into the formal and stylistic diversity of the composer’s organ music. It ranges from the early organ partita “Sei gegrüßet, Jesu gütig” to the organ arrangements of Antonio Vivaldi’s concertos of Bach’s Weimar years up to the Triosonata in E-flat Major, composed circa 1730 in Leipzig.
Bach – Organ Works
This recording gives an insight into the formal and stylistic diversity of Johann Sebastian Bach’s organ music, which in its entirety is probably the most important contribution
to the repertoire of the king of instruments
ever made by any single composer. Bach devoted himself to organ music throughout
his life. Some of his very earliest surviving
works include a series of chorale partitas, the craftsmanship of which still owes a great deal to his masters in North and Central Germany,
especially Georg Böhm. The Partita on the chorale Sei gegrüßet, Jesu gütig (“Hail to Thee my Jesu, Holy”) takes a special place as the most mature work of this early period. While the first seven sections are modelled on traditional song variations typical of the 17th century, Bach subsequently develops completely
new compositional structures with obligati in the organ pedals. The concluding five-voice variation already looks forward to the type of choral prelude used in most parts of the Orgelbüchlein (“Little Organ Book”) written during his years in Weimar, e.g. the chorale Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (“Praise to You, O Jesus Christ”). The chorale melody is taken by the uppermost of the four voices; this is contrapuntally supported by the two middle
voices using repeated figures. The pedal constitutes an independent bass voice with its own motifs.
The early version of the Passacaglia in C Minor, which Bach revised during his years in Leipzig, was composed at about the same time as the Orgelbüchlein. Like all examples of this genre, with which Bach had already become acquainted in his youngest years through transcripts by his brother in Ohrdruf, an ostinato bass recurring in the same or a varied form throughout the work is the ground for a set of 20 variations. To the actual Passacaglia, Bach added a fugue which develops from the last variation and is equally significant.
This genre, otherwise characterised by melodic and rhythmic variations, was thus enriched
by contrapuntal and harmonic components,
and formally approached the classical combination of the Prelude and Fugue.
Bach’s organ versions of concerti by Antonio
Vivaldi were also written during his years in Weimar. Prince Johann Ernst, himself an organist
and a great lover of the new instrumental concerti from Italy with their fast opening and closing movements and their ritornelli, brought the corresponding originals from Amsterdam to Weimar and presumably had Bach arrange the organ transcriptions. The Concerto in C (BWV 594) is a transcript of Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in D Major. The interplay of tutti and solo typical of the instrumental concerto is reflected in the contrast between the different registers of the organ manuals. However, Bach was not content
with mere transcription; he did not hesitate to alter the substance of the original score, e.g. by adapting the typical violin configurations – such as the composed cadenzas in the opening
and closing movements – to the technical possibilities of the organ.
The Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor was composed in connection with Bach’s application
for the post of organist at St. Jacobi in Hamburg, for which he entered his candidature
from Köthen in 1720. The fugue with its characteristic dance-like subject, described by a copyist as “the very best pedal piece by Mr. Johann Sebastian Bach”, is one of the most popular of Bach’s organ works. It is on record as having been played at the audition during which Bach demonstrated his skill at the organ in front of “magistrates and many other dignitaries of the city [of Hamburg]… for more than 2 hours” (obituary). The Fantasia was composed at a later date. Two strict fugue sections are framed by freely composed, improvisational
sections of the highest degree of expressiveness, which with their harmonic boldness touch the limits of the major/minor tonal system.
The Sonata I in E Flat is the first of six sonatas
“à 2 Clav. & Pedal“ (“for 2 keyboards & pedal”) which Bach composed around 1730 in Leipzig, probably as studies for his oldest son Wilhelm Friedemann. Factors hinting at this include
the tremendous technical difficulties of these pieces. The form of these organ sonatas is similar to that of the three-movement Italian
concerto. Stylistically there are no other works to which they can be compared, and must therefore be seen as Bach’s most truly original invention. With their strict trio sonata form and the obligato assignation of the three voices (right hand – left hand – pedal), they follow on from the corresponding chamber works of Bach’s time in Köthen. Even Bach’s first biographer J. N. Forkel recognised the high compositional rank of these trio sonatas
and believed them to be the chief among Bach’s organ music.
Franz Josef Ratte
Translation: ar-pege translations