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Hansjörg Albrecht & Münchener Bach-Chor Johann Sebastian Bach: Orgelmesse – III. Teil der „Clavier-Übung“ OC 639 2 SACD
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Format2 Super Audio CD
Ordering NumberOC 639
Release date04/06/2009
Players/ContributorsMusicians Composer
  • Bach, Johann Sebastian

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      Orgelmesse – III. Teil der „Clavier-Übung“
      Hansjörg Albrecht, Orgel & musikalische Leitung
      Münchener Bach-Chor

      Hansjörg Albrecht’s recording of the Goldberg Variations was an “arrangement” for organ, but the third part of Bach’s “Clavier-Übung” found here is an original work for the organ. The series of chorale arrangements corresponds to the order of the Lutheran mass. It opens with a prelude and closes with a fugue. The chorales are sung by the Münchener Bach- Chor, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht, who was appointed the ensemble’s artistic director as of the 2005/06 season. Just like Hansjörg Albrecht’s previous organ recordings, audiophiles will greatly appreciate this recording, which was recorded with special techniques and produced in SACD format.

      J.S. Bach: Organ Mass

      Third Part of the Clavier Übung consisting of various preludes on the catechism and other hymns for the organ” was the title of a new Bach publication from 1739. The collection was preceded by two other volumes of the Clavier Übung. Part I had been published in 1731 (Six Partitas) and Part II in 1735 (Italian Concerto and French Overture); all compositions in Parts I and II were written for two-manual harpsichord. Together with Part IV (Goldberg Variations), this group of works was the first of Bach’s extensive oeuvre that he sent to be printed. One can thus assume that he was particularly scrupulous, both compositionally and during the final editing process, especially because he intended these collections (along with The Musical Offering and The Art of the Fugue) to serve as compendia for demonstrating the artistry possible in so many different stylistic forms (concerto, suite, chorale preludes, canons, fugues, variations). And all of these works are unsurpassed masterpieces!

      Based on the order of the Lutheran mass, Part III of the Clavier Übung opens with a prelude and closes with the related fugue. The core of the work consists of twenty-one chorale settings: the KYRIE and GLORIA from the liturgy of the Lutheran Mass as well as the six catechism chorales by Martin Luther. Bach carefully selected the catechism chorales that were familiar to him from his schooldays as well as the prescribed morning songs for the respective days. Of course, these are also chorales that were used in church services. And just as Luther presented two versions of the catechism – a greater and a lesser – Bach also presented each chorale in two forms. However, the widely used designation of Part III as an “Orgelmesse” (often translated in English as “German Organ Mass”) is misleading because – in contrast to true organ masses – Bach did not plan this work for cyclical use in a church service. From close examinations of the original prints, we now know that this collection only gradually developed. The Prelude and Fugue in E-flat Major as well as the “lesser” settings of the catechism chorales were later added to the work. The four duets were the last to be included.

      Most of this stylistically extremely varied work was composed specifically for this collection. Each of the chorale preludes is highly individual; many of the formal principles used here can be found neither in Bach’s own works nor in any works by his predecessors. In addition, the work’s sacred character is also expressed by its 27 movements (prelude, 21 chorale settings, 4 duets, fugue), in analogy to the New Testament.

      Pro organo pleno / to be played on full organ, the Prelude and the Fugue (also known by English organists as the “St. Anne Prelude and Fugue”) frame the movements of the “organ mass”. As far as we know, this Prelude is Bach’s last work for organ solo. It consists of a number of sections that already suggest the classical sonata form and its built-in contrasts. The overturelike opening – which can certainly be understood as a symbiosis of three different national styles (French, Italian and German) has three flats (E-flat Major), three main sections and three themes. This structure, of course, serves as a symbolic representation of the Trinity. The three themes are clearly presented: God the Father as the King in the first theme (in French overture tradition), his Son Jesus Christ in the second theme (in Italian concerto style) and the descent and gentle wafting of the Holy Ghost in the third theme (in the Bach-German fugal style).

      Kyrie; God the Father in eternity, great is Thy mercy, Creator and Ruler of all things, Kyrie eleison.

      Christe, consolation for all the world, Thou alone Hast redeemed us of our sins. O Jesus, Son of God, our advocate on high, we cry out to Thee in our need: Christe eleison.

      Kyrie, God the Holy Ghost, sustain and comfort us in our faith so that in our last days we may happily leave this life of misery, Kyrie eleison.

      In the three “greater” settings in old style (stile antico) of this Kyrie that Bach wrote for the major religious festivals, the cantus firmus (chorale melody) is heard in the soprano in the first part (cornett) and in the tenor in the second part (tierce en taille). In the third (mixture plenum), the cantus firmus penetrates the thick web of five-voice counterpoint from the bass voice. All three of these “motets for organ” could not be any more brilliant; Bach has additionally written the cantus firmus in long note values.

      The three “lesser” settings (no use of pedal) use various fugal techniques. The registration for these is in mirror image to the systematic descent (soprano-tenor-bass) found in the “greater” settings; here we find ascending “theological organ registrations”: the low 16-foot register represents the Father, the 8-foot middle register represents the Son and the high 4-foot register stands for the Holy Ghost.

      Glory and honor be to God alone on high and thanks be for His grace,
      That now and in all eternity no evil shall oppress us. God’s word declares good-will to men; on earth peace shall now be restored again,
      No more shall conflict reign.

      We praise, exalt and honor Thee, we thank Thee for Thy great glory,
      For Thou, God the Father shall rule in eternity, Thy power is endless, Thou speakest and the world obeys,
      In Thee, O Lord, we rejoice.

      Despite the varied forms and compositional techniques found in the three chorale settings of the Gloria, all of them trios, they also attest to Bach’s systematic thinking. The first “lesser” setting combines the modern Italian ritornello form with cantus firmus developments. These forms can also be found in the second setting, the “greater” concertante chorale trio, which also demonstrates the structure and modulation plan of a sonata-form movement.

      The third setting, a fughetta, proves to be a true double fugue of only 20 measures that gives a preview of the highly complex and minimalistic compositional forms of the second Viennese School. The ascent in tonality of these three chorale settings (F Major, G Major and A Major) is supported and embellished by increasingly light, clear registrations.

      These are the holy Ten Commandments that the Lord God gave us through Moses, His faithful servant, high atop Mount Sinai, Kyrieleis.

      The Commandments are given us all, so that Thou, O son of man, may know and learn how man should live in God’s sight, Kyrieleis.

      The “greater” five-voice setting (2 manuals and pedal) is characterized by the particular refinement of the selected compositional form. The cantus firmus appears as a canon between the alto and tenor (trumpet and krummhorn); above, two independent soprano voices range far afield (oboe and nasard 2 2/3’) in the style known from concerto movements in Bach’s cantatas. The strict canon of the cantus firmus signifies the sacred laws (Ten Commandments). The unyielding nature of these laws is cemented by the massive 32’ pedal voice heard throughout the movement.

      In the “lesser” setting (performed with reeds), the listener hears Moses chiseling the Ten Commandments onto the stone tablets with a hammer.

      We all believe in One God, Creator of heaven and of earth.
      The Father who accepted that we shall all be His children.
      He will nourish us forever, provide for our bodies and souls;
      He will lead us through all perils, no harm shall befall us.
      He watches over us, protects and guards; He has the power to do all.

      In the “greater” settings (in the French form, the organo pleno: grand jeux with all cornetts and reeds), Bach does without any presentation of the chorale melody. Instead, he composes a fugue that begins with the first line of text and accompanies the fugue subject with an ostinato bass. The latter enters in the pedal at various tonal levels and at increasing distances from the previous entrance – very unusual for a fugue. At the end, however, the last line of text, “Es steht alles in seiner Macht” (“He has the power to do all”) suddenly and surprisingly appears in the tenor. In this manner, Bach summarizes the entire chorale in the first and last line.

      The “lesser” setting is the miniature version of a French overture with written-out ornamentation. As a counterpart to its “big sister”, it resounds in a slightly toned down setting of the grand jeux.

      Our Father, Who art in Heaven, Who tellest us to all be brothers and to call to Thee; Who wishes us to pray to Thee, Grant that not only our mouths may pray; help it come from the bottom of our hearts.

      Amen, that is: let it be so. Strengthen our faith now and evermore, so that we may never doubt the subject of our prayer. We speak Amen to Thy word and to Thy name.

      The five-voice “greater” setting (for 2 manuals and pedal) not only gives pause for a still, meditative moment (flöten and streicher 8’), but is also one of Bach’s most astonishing compositions ever. The piece masterfully interlocks various musical idioms: for one, the cantus firmus is heard as a canon between soprano and alto in the traditional fugal style. The other three voices, however, form a complete trio-sonata movement! Both the use of modern stylistic techniques and musical clichés suggest the galante style, making the work reminiscent of contemporary flute sonatas.

      In the following “lesser” setting (flöten 8+4’), Bach relies on compositional principles that he had developed in much earlier works like his Chorale partitas or Orgelbüchlein.

      Christ, our Lord, came to the Jordan according to His Father’s will.
      He took His baptism from St. John to fulfill His work and task.
      He wanted to bathe us as well, to wash us from all sins,
      And also drown that bitter death through His own blood and wounds,
      To grant new life to all.

      In the “greater” chorale setting, the cantus firmus in the tenor is heard above a continuous stream of sixteenth notes in the bass that stand for the floods of the Jordan River. In the last verse of the song, this image comes to symbolize the blood of Christ, which shall wash away all sins. The figures in the upper voice (partly in galante style) portray the cross and indicate the connection between baptism and the cross.

      The “lesser” setting is characterized by numerous paraphrases in which the chorale melody is artfully hidden, only appearing now and again. In both settings, the flowing of water is depicted by delicate registrations as well as the use of all existing tremulants in order to make the otherwise static organ tone glide and flow.

      From greatest need I cry to Thee, Lord God please hear my calls.
      Bend down Thy gracious ear to me and open it to my prayer;
      If Thou willst see all sin and evil that has been done,
      Who can, Lord, stand before Thee?

      I thus place all my trust in God and not on my own merit;
      I place my heart within His hands and trust in His great mercy,
      He giveth me His valued word; that is my comfort and my trust,
      I await His help eternally.

      The “greater” six-voice organ movement is a monumental organ ricercare in its most unsurpassed form (played here with the great mixture plenum of the Northern German Arp Schnittger organ). Bach uses the building blocks of this phrygian chorale to construct a cathedral of tremendous size and austerity. This composition in stile antico refers back to the tradition of the Palestrina school – as did the third Kyrie.

      The “lesser” chorale setting is no less strict, uniform and unrelenting than the six-voice setting – even though it does not make use of the bass foundation (pedal), and its registration is limited to the principal registers 8’/4’/2’.

      Jesus Christ our Savior, Who turned God’s wrath away from us,
      Through His bitter suffering He helped us out of hell’s pains.

      That we never should forget, He gave us of his flesh to eat,
      Hidden in bread so small, and to drink, his blood in wine.

      Thou shallt praise God the Father, that He feedeth thee so well
      And given for thy sins his Son unto death.

      The cantus firmus in the “greater” three-voice chorale setting (trio) is heard in the tenor (trumpets), where it stands like a rock amidst powerfully surging, billowing waves of sound. The degree of contrapuntal organization and the rhythmic complications and independence of the two “accompanying voices” goes far beyond what Bach ever did in any other chorale trios.

      The “lesser” chorale setting concludes the fugal pieces with an almost bizarre escalation of contrapuntal technique: it is a four-voice fugue, again, without pedal. The incredible character of this work is underscored by the registration with the buzzing vox humana. Shawm sounds from old town wind bands come once again to life.

      DUETS I–IV
      After the last chorale setting, Bach later added four duets. The special contrapuntal techniques that appear in these pieces could possibly be interpreted as Bach’s desire to demonstrate such technical highlights in the most abstract manner possible (i.e. without any connection to specific chorale material and limited to only two voices). As learned “intellectual games”, they thus have a similar function to the canons in the later collections The Musical Offering and The Art of the Fugue. The sequence of keys of the four duets rises (E Minor / F Major / G Major / A Minor). The increasing brilliance and transparency of the individual registrations likewise takes this into consideration. But Bach would not be Bach, were he to remain on this seemingly simple path. After the third duet, the joyfulness unexpectedly ebbs away. A deep sense of peacefulness returns to the fourth duet, reminding the listener – as in The Lord’s Prayer – to ponder the past. This is the place in the Lutheran Mass where before the blessing, the following prayer is heard: “Give us Thy blessed peace, Lord God, in our day”.

      The concluding fugue, also called the “St. Anne Fugue”, is the counterpart to the introductory prelude. Each of the fugue’s three sections has its own theme, but the second and third sections also use the first theme in counterpoint with their own musical ideas. Analog to the prelude, the fugue also has three flats, three main sections and three themes, underscoring its symbolic significance. The great impetus of the third part in a dance-like, jubilant 12/8 once again presents the organ in its full splendor as the true queen of the instruments.

      Hansjörg Albrecht
      Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler

      Tracklist hide

      hide SACD 1
      • PRELUDE
        • 1.Prelude in E-flat Major BWV 552/109:00
      • KYRIE
        • 2.Kyrie, Gott Vater in Ewigkeit BWV 669
          (Canto fermo in Soprano / à 2 Clav. et Pedal)
        • 3.Chorale: Kyrie, Gott Vater in Ewigkeit BWV 37100:48
      • CHRISTE
        • 4.Christe, aller Welt Trost BWV 670
          (Canto fermo in Tenore / à 2 Clav. et Pedal)
        • 5.Chorale: Christe, aller Welt Trost BWV 37101:04
      • KYRIE
        • 6.Kyrie, Gott heiliger Geist BWV 671
          (Canto fermo in Basso / Cum Organo pleno)
        • 7.Chorale: Kyrie, Gott heiliger Geist BWV 37100:49
        • 8.Kyrie, Gott Vater in Ewigkeit BWV 672
          (manualiter / alio modo)
        • 9.Christe, aller Welt Trost BWV 673
        • 10.Kyrie, Gott heiliger Geist BWV 674
      • GLORIA
        • 11.Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr BWV 675
          (à 3 / Canto fermo in Alto / manualiter)
        • 12.Chorale: Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr BWV 26000:44
        • 13.Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr BWV 676
          (à 2 Clav. et Pedal)
        • 14.Chorale: Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr BWV 26000:44
        • 15.Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr BWV 677
          (Fughetta super/ manualiter)
        • 16.Dies sind die heil’gen zehn Gebot´ BWV 678
          (à 2 Clav. et Pedal / Canto fermo in Canone)
        • 17.Chorale: Dies sind die heil’gen zehn Gebot’ BWV 29801:06
        • 18.Dies sind die heil’gen zehn Gebot’ BWV 679
          (Fughetta super / manualiter)
      • Total:48:15
      more SACD 2
      • CREDO
        • 1.Wir glauben all’ an einen Gott BWV 680
          (In Organo pleno con Pedal)
        • 2.Chorale: Wir glauben all’ an einen Gott BWV 43701:33
        • 3.Wir glauben all’ an einen Gott BWV 681
          (Fughetta super / manualiter)
        • 4.Vater unser im Himmelreich BWV 682
          (à 2 Clav. et Pedal / Canto fermo in Canone)
        • 5.Chorale: Vater unser im Himmelreich BWV 9001:20
        • 6.Vater unser im Himmelreich BWV 683
          (alio modo / manualiter)
      • BAPTISM
        • 7.Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam BWV 684
          (à 2 Clav. e Canto fermo in Pedale)
        • 8.Chorale: Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam BWV 28000:56
        • 9.Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam BWV 685
          (manualiter / alio modo)
        • 9.CONFESSION
        • 10.Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir BWV 686
          (à 6 / in Organo pleno con Pedale doppio)
        • 11.Chorale: Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir BWV 3801:43
        • 12.Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir BWV 687
          (à 4 / manualiter / alio modo)
        • 13.Jesus Christus unser Heiland BWV 688
          (à 2 Clav. e Canto fermo in Pedale)
        • 14.Chorale: Jesus Christus unser Heiland BWV 36301:52
        • 15.Jesus Christus unser Heiland BWV 689
          (à 4 / manualiter)
        • 16.Duetto I E Minor BWV 80203:06
        • 17.Duetto II F Major BWV 80303:57
        • 18.Duetto III G Major BWV 80402:26
        • 19.Duetto IV A Minor BWV 80504:50
        • 20.Fuga à 5 con pedale pro Organo pleno
          in E-flat Major BWV 552/2
      • Total:01:08:23