Music for Social Distancing

We are happy to share “Music for Social Distancing”, an initiative of Dr. Benjamin Stone, our Director of Music and Organist. Dr. Stone joined us this past fall and recently graduated with a Doctor of Musical Arts from Notre Dame. We are blessed to have him at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology!

May 1, 2020

Today’s selection is the Toccata in C, BWV 566a by Johann Sebastian Bach. This very early work shows how much the young Bach was influenced by Dieterich Buxtehude and Georg Böhm. The piece follows the classic formula for a north German toccata or praeludium, with a rhetorical structure and sections in contrasting styles all thematically related. Those who attended the Advent concert this past Fall will recognize this piece, since it was the last piece performed on that concert.

April 30, 2020

Nicolas de Grigny (1672–1703) was born into a family of musicians in Rheims. His father was the organist at the cathedral Notre Dame de Rheims, a position he would later hold. Unfortunately, he died young and only left one published collection of organ music, the Premier livre d’orgue (1699). Despite being the unique work of a young composer, de Grigny’s Livre came to be highly regarded and widely known within and outside of France. Even Johann Sebastian Bach came to know and possess the collection. Today’s selection is one of the five sets of hymn versets for the church year contained in the collection. Aside from its ingenuity and beauty, the versets are otherwise standard examples of French organ music from the time. During the reign of Louis XIV and following, French organ building and organ music became highly standardized and unique in Europe. This became known as the French Classical period, not to be confused with the later Classical period of Mozart and Haydn. From one organ to another, there was little difference, except size, and all were known for their silvery Plein Jeu (principal chorus) and fiery Grand Jeu (reed chorus). The musical forms written for the instrument were also quite standardized, to the point that movements were titled simply by the registration to be used (e.g. Récit de cromorne was a piece for the solo cromorne stop), and that told one all he needed to know about the piece.

Sets of hymn variations, like today’s Veni Creator, almost always began with the Plein Jeu, also called the Plainchant en taille (plainchant in the tenor range). This ancient form of organ music places the chant cantus firmus, to be played on the Trompette 8’ in the Pedal (one of the most important stops on any organ, but especially the French Classical organ) and accompanied by the Plein Jeu of the manuals. Sets of variations typically end with the other great French Classical sound, the Grand Jeu, which took full advantage of the brilliant reeds of the French organ. In between, the versets explored various different options from the standardized catalogue of forms. Unlike the chant variations by Scheidt and Weckmann sent out previously, the chant is not quoted in every verset here, only the first. The rest stay in the appropriate mode, but are freely composed.

The performance here is done ad alternatim, as intended by the composer, with the plainchant sung by a schola directed by Mary Catherine Levri (now the Director of Liturgical Music of the Athaneum of Ohio, Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and School of Theology in Cincinnati). One might notice some slight differences in the chant from the version we know today, since the schola is singing the version de Grigny knew and used. Also, the instrument on which the piece was performed is a stunning example of the North German style, but is a far cry from the distinctive French Classical style, so some of the sounds are approximations of what de Grigny would have expected. French Classical organs are beautiful, but more limited in what music can be played on them, so they are rarely built today. However, one can come close to the sounds by clever adaptation on a well-built instrument such as the one in this recording.

April 29, 2020

Today’s selection is the chorale prelude Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist, BuxWV 208. This charming little piece for Pentecost is based on a very old German tune which originated as a “Leise,” a form of sacred, vernacular song from the late Middle Ages so called because almost all Leisen end with some form of Kyrie eleison (often truncated to “Kyrieleis”). Leisen were often based on sequences. This is the case for Nun bitten wir, which is based on the Pentecost sequence Veni Sancte Spiritus.

April 28, 2020

Arnolt Schlick (c. 1460–after 1521) was a highly influential organist, lutenist, composer, theorist, and organ consultant of the Renaissance. Blind for most of his life (perhaps born blind), Schlick was nevertheless able to make a significant career as a highly-paid court musician. His treatise Spiegel der Orgelmacher und Organisten (Speyer, 1511) was the first German treatise on organ playing and organ building, and remains influential to this day. His compositions were highly innovative for their time, particularly in their use of imitation and in how they treated Gregorian chant melodies used as cantūs firmi. Today’s selection is his extraordinary setting of the Asension antiphon Ascendo ad Patrem meum. The piece is in two sections, which are at opposite extremes of compositional complexity. The first section, Bicinium, is the most simple kind of counterpoint, one voice against another. The chant melody is quoted with ornamentation and accompanied by one imitative voice. The second section, marked simply X vocibus is unique in the organ literature. It contains ten distinct contrapuntal voices, six to be played by the hands and four by the feet. The chant melody is present as a cantus firmus in the top voice of the left hand staff as transcribed in the image attached, which is the opening measures of X vocibus. There has been some speculation about whether the piece was meant to be played or is purely theoretical, but Schlick himself is reported to have boasted of playing it. It is quite challenging for one person to play, but possible. Sometimes the piece is performed as a duet, with the voices split between two organists.

April 27, 2020

Today’s selection is another work by Johann Ludwig Krebs, his chorale prelude on Herzlich lieb, hab ich dich, o Herr, Krebs-WV 526. This chorale prelude is a perfect example of Krebs writing in the galant style, which was in vogue in the mid-eighteenth century. Galant music is characterized by stock musical gestures, called schemata by the theorist Robert Gjerdingen. These schemata are like musical “behaviors” that any cultured person was expected to know, such as norms for engaging conversation at the court, or the sequence of steps in a dance. Krebs deftly combines these galant features into his music while maintaining the contrapuntal rigor he absorbed from his teacher, J. S. Bach. What results is a unique compositional style which is neither Bach-like, nor sounds like the other galant composers of the day.

April 26, 2020

Among Bach’s most important chorale-based organ compositions are the chorales from the Leipzig manuscript, also known as simply the “Leipzig chorales” or the “Great 18 chorales.” Most of these seventeen large-scale chorale preludes, plus the canonic variations on “Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her” were composed during Bach’s Weimar years, but were significantly revised and expanded while he was in Leipzig, hence the name. Today’s selection, the chorale prelude Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele, BWV 654, is famous for its beauty. A classic ornamented chorale, each phrase of the melody is foreshadowed in the accompaniment before entering on a solo registration with ornamentation.

April 24, 2020

The Introduction and Passacaglia in D Minor is one of the most often played pieces by Max Reger. Curious, then, that he did not give the piece an opus number, hence the designation WoO (without opus). As the title indicates, the piece is in two sections. The Introduction is just that, a brief dramatic opening to the piece and no more. The Passacaglia contains the real substance of the work. A passacaglia is a serious set of variations over a repeated ground bass in triple meter which originated in seventeenth-century Spain as an interlude to be played between dances but developed as a musical form in Italy. Historically, the terms “passacaglia” and “chaconne” were used interchangeably to describe the same musical form. Reger’s passacaglia is set up as a long crescendo, starting on the softest sounds of the organ and gradually getting louder with each variation until the piece concludes on full organ.

April 23, 2020

Jehan Alain (1911–1940) was an organist and composer from a very musical family. He first studied organ with his father, and later at the Paris Conservatory with Marcel Dupré. He began composing seriously at the age of 18. His younger sister, Marie-Claire Alain (1926–2013), went on to be one of the most important organists of the twentieth century. He was well-respected as an important up-and-coming figure in the French musical scene, winning numerous awards and commissions, but his life was cut short when he was killed in action at the Battle of Saumur in World War II. Despite his short life, he left an impressive oeuvre of over 150 works. Today’s selection, his three variations on the evening hymn Lucis creator optime, was composed when Alain was 21 years old. Somewhat more harmonically conservative than his other (and later) works, the piece is an example of Alain working within the grand tradition of chant-based music. Alain was a church musician from the time he was eleven, and was steeped in the rich musical tradition of the Church.

April 22, 2020

Marcel Dupré (1886–1971) was organist at St. Sulpice in Paris from 1934 until his death and professor of organ and improvisation at the Paris Conservatory from 1936–1954. A child prodigy, Dupré went on to be one of the most distinguished organ virtuosos of all time. As a teacher he influenced two generations of the most important French organists, he was internationally renowned as a concert artist, he was incredible improvisateur (many of his pieces originated as improvisations he subsequently wrote down), and he composed organ music of the first rate, including some works of extreme difficulty. Today’s work is one of the last pieces he composed, a small setting of the Regina coeli. Dupré, as a lifelong Catholic church musician, had a deep and abiding love of Gregorian chant. Improvisation based on chant was the bread and butter of Dupré’s service playing, and he composed many pieces based on chant melodies. His Regina coeli, Op. 64 is most likely a written-out improvisation. The familiar melody is quoted at the beginning of the piece, but then is lost in the meandering harmonies. One might detect snippets of the melody here and there, until the end, when it appears (briefly) again.

April 21, 2020

Johann Ludwig Krebs (1713–1780) spent the majority of his career as organist of the Schosskirche (castle church) in Altenburg. He studied in Leipzig with J. S. Bach, and was one of Bach’s favorite students. Bach is reported to have said of Krebs “Er ist der einzige Krebs in meinem Bach,” a play on both their names which translates, “He is the only Crab (or crayfish) in my Brook.” Krebs wrote almost entirely sacred music, organ compositions, cantatas, and other pieces intended for liturgical use. His musical style straddles those of the older “Baroque” and forthcoming “Classical” periods, and ranges from pieces virtually indistinguishable from those of his teacher (several Krebs pieces were formerly missattributed to Bach) to pieces which are thoroughly galant, the modern style of his time. Today’s selection, Krebs’ chorale prelude O König, design Majestät, Krebs-WV 544, is a beautiful, prayerful reflection on this devotional hymn. It is very similar to the Bach style, but with some galant elements as well, lending a sound which is uniquely Krebs.

April 20, 2020

Two toccatas in F by Dieterich Buxtehude survive to the present day. BuxWV 157 is the smaller of the two, but the more exuberant. Though it is not a “toccata and fugue” pair of discreet pieces the way Bach would have written, this piece is in two sections which could be described as a toccata and fugue. The toccata section is musically simple, virtuosic flourishes punctuated slow-moving harmonies enlivened by repeated chords. The fugue following is a dance-fugue, its subject containing many repeated notes and dance-like rhythmic structure. Before coming to a close, the strict counterpoint of the fugue gives way to flourishes reminiscent of the beginning of the piece, a rhetorical peroratio.

April 19, 2020

Today’s selection is another work from Girolamo Frescobaldi’s published collection Fiori musicali. From the Messe della Madonna, this piece is one of just a few that Frescobaldi wrote which requires the organist to play four parts of the ricercar while singing the fifth part when it appears intermittently. Frescobaldi provides no text for the part to be sung, but because it is part of the Mass honoring Mary, a tradition has developed of singing the text “Ave Maria” to the notes given.

April 17, 2020

The Praeludium in C by Georg Böhm is among the more famous compositions from the generation before J. S. Bach. In two large sections, the work begins with an exuberant pedal solo and then moving to fanfare-like dialogues for the full organ. These dialogues then alternate briefly with slower-moving harmonies reminiscent of the Plein Jeu from yesterday, before drawing the first section to a close. The section section is a jaunty fugue in four voices which culminates in a brief section of improvisatory flourishes before coming to a conclusion. Some speculate that Böhm wrote this piece after a major renovation and enlargement of the organ at the Johanniskirche in Lüneburg, where he was organist. Before the renovation, the organ had only a small pedal division and only extended up to middle C. The renovation added a huge independent pedal divisions in towers on either side of the organ, and expanded the range up to middle D. Böhm uses that high D on the pedalboard in the opening pedal solo of the piece. Though there is no documentation to support this theory, it is fun to imagine this piece being played as the opening work on a recital celebrating the renovated organ. The Johanniskirche organ still exists to this day.  Though the internal pipework was altered significantly in the 19th and 20th centuries, the case is very much as Böhm would have known it, including the large, round towers of pedal pipes. Here is a link to a picture of the organ: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/71/St._Johannis_L%C3%BCneburg_-_Orgel.jpg

April 16, 2020

J.S. Bach’s Fantasia in G Major (Pièce d’Orgue), BWV 572 is a unique work in his output. The piece is in three sections, with the middle being by far the largest. Like so much of Bach’s music, it is an amalgamation of international styles colored with the composer’s own unique creative genius. In this case, the first and third sections are Italianate while the middle draws its inspiration from French music. The first section, a sparkly toccata, suggests Italian violin music, with (implied) pedal points in the treble elaborated by arpeggios and scales. Following that, the second section is a grand Plein Jeuin the French classical tradition. Its stately, slow-moving harmonies in five voices on the full plenum express the majesty of the divine. Originally composed as a standalone piece, this second section gives the piece its second title, “Pièce d’Orgue,” which says nothing more than that it is a piece for organ, but in French. Finally, the third section of the piece is a sort-of inversion of the first. Again, it is Italianate, this time with arpeggiated acciaccatura gestures common in Italian harpsichord music over a pedal point, this time in the bass rather than the treble. The pedal makes an incredible slow descent by half-step down to the bottom of the pedal range and then sits on the dominant sonority for almost a minute, making the final cadence when it does at last arrive all the more dramatic.

April 15, 2020

Healey Willan (1880–1968) was born in England, but spent his career in Toronto at several Anglican churches and as a lecturer and professor at the University of Toronto. He wrote a great number of compositions, mostly pieces for choir, but also explored other genres, including organ works. Today’s selection, his short prelude on the hymn tune ST. COLUMBA (usually paired with the hymn “The King of Love my Shepherd Is”), comes from his first set of 10 hymn preludes published in 1956. It is a beautiful and simple setting of this familiar hymn tune, a gem of a piece.

April 14, 2020

Today’s selection by Girolamo Frescobaldi comes from his published collection Fiori musicali (Rome, 1635). The collection is best known for its three organ Masses (collections of organ music for Sunday Masses, Masses for feasts of the Apostles, and Marian Masses), as well as some dance music. The Bergamasca, today’s music, is one of the dances. The Bergamasca was a popular dance from the city of Bergamo associated with clowns or revelry, and like many Renaissance dances had a specific melody and chord progression associated with it. Frescobaldi’s Bergamasca is quite inventive, and has many twists and turns which delight the ear. Those flourishes can also confound the player, which Frescobaldi intended. At the beginning of the piece, he wrote in the score, “Chi questa Bergamasca sonarà, non pocho imparerà” (The one who will play this Bergamasca will learn not a little).

April 13, 2020

Today’s selection is another large work by Dieterich Buxtehude. The previous Toccata, shared on Palm Sunday, was stormy and stern, but today’s work, the Praeludium in D, BuxWV 139, is filled with Easter joy. At the end, the Zimbelstern (bell-star) adds to the exuberance.

April 12, 2020

Easter Sunday

Max Reger (1873–1916) was a leading pianist, composer, and teacher in his day. Though his works are less well-known in the United States, his numerous works still have currency in Europe today. Reger’s music is unique in that it combines the adventurous harmonic language of a post-Wagnerian with the contrapuntal rigor of someone who studied Brahms, Beethoven, and Bach. Perhaps Reger’s obsession with Bach prompted him to compose numerous organ works, despite not being an accomplished organist himself. His largest organ works, including today’s selection, the Phantasie über den Choral “Halleluja! Gott zu loben, bleibe meine Seelenfreud!” Op. 52 No. 3 (1900), are monumental and symphonic in scope. They push the organist to the limit, and some are nearly impossible to play. After writing a new piece like this, Reger would give it to Karl Straube, a close friend and one of the leading organists of his time, and Straube would evaluate whether the piece was actually playable. Often Straube would make alterations before premiering the piece. The joke among organists is that when Reger really gets going, there’s often more black on the page than white! Many of Reger’s compositions, like today’s, make use of Lutheran chorales. Reger was enamored with the chorales and their beautiful melodies. He himself was a Catholic, and professed to remain so his whole life, though his faith was complicated in 1902 when he married Elsa von Bercken, a Protestant divorcée, and was subsequently excommunicated from the Catholic Church. The Phantasie über “Halleluja! Gott zu loben” is structured in two large parts. The first is a set of variations; each sets a successive strophe of the chorale. The second is a monumental fugue, with an extremely long and intricate subject. Like most of Reger’s large fugues, it eventually devolves into his massive symphonic textures before winding up to a grand conclusion.

April 9, 2020

Holy Thursday

Jeanne Demessieux (1921–1968) was a highly influential organist, teacher, and composer, who served as organist at La Madeleine in Paris, as well as professor of organ at the conservatories of Nancy and Liège. She was an astounding virtuoso, giving over 700 concerts and memorizing over 2500 organ works before her untimely death from cancer. Some of her organ compositions, particularly the Six Études, Op. 5, are considered among the most difficult pieces in the organ literature. Today’s selection is not one of those tours-de-force, but is beautiful none the less. It is her Choral Paraphrase on the chant hymn Attende Domine, for Lent. Demessieux truly captures the prayer in this short work.

April 8, 2020

Heinrich Scheidemann (c. 1595–1663) was organist at the Katherinenkirche in Hamburg for most of his career. He studied with Sweelinck in Amsterdam, and was the Dutch master’s favorite student. Scheidemann went on to be one of the leading figures of the early north German organ school and continued to develop the new genres of chorale-based composition. He also pioneered the extended chorale fantasia, the most elaborate genre of chorale-based organ music. Today’s selection, the two versūs of “Erbarm rich mein, o Herre Gott, is a juxtaposition of old and new styles. The first versus of this deeply melancholy chorale is actually an adaptation of a composition by Sweelinck, showing Scheidemann’s regard for his teacher. It is in the old cantus firmus style, with the chorale melody played in the tenor range by the feet while the hands accompany. The second versus is in the newer style, where the chorale melody is ornamented and elaborated in the right hand while the left hand and feet accompany. At the end of the second versus, Scheidemann makes use of echos in the right hand, another homage to his teacher whose music is filled with echo effects.

April 7, 2020

Michelangelo Rossi (1601/2–1656) was a virtuoso violinist, organist, and composer. What we know of his biography today is spotty, but we do know that he held numerous positions in Italy, including three periods in Rome, and spent some time as far away as Paris. His only extant organ works, the Toccate e correnti d’intavolatura d’organo e cembalo, were composed in his second Roman period, between 1730 and 1733. Rossi’s toccatas are known for their virtuosity, shocking harmonic and textural shifts, and for their chromaticism. Today’s selection, Toccata Settima, is his most (in)famous work, particularly for its wild last page. The live performance in the linked recording was made on a small Italian organ (positive) built around 1680 by an anonymous Neapolitan builder. It is tuned in quarter-comma meantone temperament, the standard from the late middle ages until the 18th century. While equal temperament, the tuning system used most today, favors the ability to play in all keys to harmonic interest, meantone tuning prioritizes pure harmony. In meantone, consonances are far more sweet, and dissonances far more pungent. Rossi uses that characteristic to its full effect in Toccata Settima. Also, the Italian positive organ has a very sensitive wind system, so in the recording sometimes slight variations in pitch can be heard due to the unstable winding. The organ was being pumped by hand for the performance, and the organ’s wind pressure (~45 mm water column) is so low that if a dandelion were held over a hole where air enters a pipe, the pressure wouldn’t even be enough to blow the seeds off. This low pressure allows for the beautiful, singing tone which characterizes historic Italian organs, but also presents considerable challenge to the performer to manage the sensitive winding.

April 6, 2020

Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) was one of the leading composers of the nineteenth century. Though he was an organist, and devotedly studied the music of J. S. Bach, he wrote very little organ music himself. Today’s selection, the Chorale Prelude and Fugue on “O Traurigkeit, o Herzeleid,” WoO 7, was not originally written as a pair. Based upon a very dark chorale for Good Friday, the prelude was composed in 1858 in response to the untimely death of Robert Schumann two years earlier. Robert and his wife Clara were close friends of Brahms, and Brahms remained particularly devoted to Clara the rest of her life. In fact, the end of the chorale prelude contains a hidden musical anagram of CLARA. Brahms added the Fugue and slightly revised the prelude in 1873, but the work was not premiered until 1882.

April 5, 2020

Dieterich Buxtehude (c.1637–1707) was organist at the Marienkirche in Lübeck, and a leading composer and teacher in the seventeenth century. He was so renowned that in 1705 the young J.S. Bach requested a month leave from his position in Arnstadt and walked the almost 400 km journey to Lübeck to hear Buxtehude give a series of concerts. Bach was so enamored, he stayed five months! (His employers were not pleased when he returned.) Buxtehude’s large Praeludia and Toccatas for the organ, of which today’s piece is an example, are the pinnacle of their genre. They are the most dramatic organ works of the period. These pieces alternate between sections which are improvisatory and virtuosic, examples of the stylus fantasticus genre, and contrasting sections of counterpoint, dance figuration, and/or imitation of instrumental idioms. The sections are often organized around a single unifying musical idea, and thus have the effect of an impassioned speech or sermon, with each section fulfilling a specific role according to classical principles of rhetoric.

April 3, 2020

Today’s selection is another work by the great J. S. Bach. The chorale prelude O Mensch bewein dein Sünde groß, BWV 622, is among Bach’s best-loved pieces. It comes from his collection Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book), a collection of chorale preludes mostly written between 1708 and 1717. Bach had originally planned for 164 pieces in the collection, though he only completed 45. Though most of the works in the Orgelbüchlein are relatively short, they are nevertheless rich in compositional craft. O Mensch bewein is among the longest in the collection, primarily due to its very slow Adagio tempo.

April 2, 2020

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562–1621) was the leading organist, teacher, and composer of organ music of his generation. He spent his career as organist of the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, succeeding his father. Called the “Orpheus of Amsterdam,” Sweelinck was renowned for his compositions, improvisations, and (perhaps most importantly) his teaching. Prominent students of Sweelinck include Jacob Praetorius, Heinrich Scheidemann, Samuel Scheidt, and Melchior Schildt, who all went on to be the first generation of the famed north German organ school. Thus, though he was Dutch, Sweelinck was called “Organistenmacher” (maker of organists) by the eighteenth century theorist Johann Mattheson, and is today known as the father of the north German organ school. Raised a Catholic, Sweelinck worked under both Catholic and Calvinist rule in Amsterdam. At the time, Calvinists forbade the use of instruments in worship, so under their rule, Sweelinck was actually an employee of the city, not the church. The city owned the church organs, which were a great source of civic pride, and Sweelinck was most likely required to play twice-daily recitals for the city, probably before and after either services or the opening/closure of the market (Sweelinck’s contract is not extant, so his specific duties are unknown). There is some evidence to suggest that Sweelinck remained a Catholic throughout his life, though this is inconclusive. Today’s selection is Sweelinck’s set of variations on “Mein junges Leben hat ein End,” (My young life has an end), a German song Sweelinck likely learned from one of his students. The piece is one of Sweelinck’s masterworks, and was the first piece of his to be published after interest in his music was revived in the late nineteenth century.

April 1, 2020

Today’s selection is another work by the great organist of St. Peter’s, Girolamo Frescobaldi. His Recercar nono, con quattro soggetti was published in a collection of capriccios, ricercars, and canzonas in 1626. It is a true contrapuntal masterwork. Each of the four voices enters with a different subject, and those four subjects then appear throughout the voices and comprise the vast majority of the piece. One may not necessarily hear the overlapping subjects all distinctly, except to note that much of the piece sounds like the same motives are appearing over and over again. Only a detailed analysis can reveal the true genius of the work. Ricercars are serious pieces, the instrumental equivalents of sacred motets, and they adhere philosophically to the ancient understanding of music as a reflection of the divinely created order of the cosmos. Thus, the fact that the listener may not apprehend the extreme complexity of the composition by hearing it is somewhat irrelevant, since the true purpose of the composition is to express in musical form the created order per se as a composition, and to give praise to God for that order. God understands the counterpoint! What the listener hears, then, is placid, beautiful music ideal for contemplating God. In Frescobaldi’s day, ricercars were most commonly played during the Offertory at Mass (and many still use them for this purpose, including the author of this blurb). They provide the perfect “background” for the sacred actions they accompany. Ricercars are also eminently practical in this liturgical place: because they typically have slow harmonic progressions, it is relatively easy for the organist to bring one to an early cadence should the Offertory conclude before the true end of the piece.

March 31, 2020

Samuel Scheidt (1587–1654) was born and worked in Halle most of his life. He was among the first generation of the famed North German Organ School, having studied in Amsterdam with Jan Pieterzoon Sweelinck before returning to his native land. Scheidt was an important pioneer of new musical forms in the early Baroque period, many of which were developed by his successors. While most organ music of the time circulated in manuscript, and often in tablature (a shorthand musical notation), Scheidt published a massive collection, Tabulatura nova, in 1624. This collection is an anthology of musical genres, and contains instructions for performance, and so represents an invaluable contribution to organ literature from the first half of the seventeenth century. Today’s musical selection, Christe qui lux es et dies (Tempore quadragesimali), SSWV 151 comes from Tabulatura nova. The work takes as its cantus firmus the medieval hymn Christ qui lux es et dies, which has long been sung at Compline during Lent (hence Sheidt’s parenthetical indication). Like many of Scheidt’s sets of versūs, this piece is highly systematic (anthological) in its contrapuntal treatment. In the first versus, Scheidt adapts each phrase of the chant into a theme which then treats in strict counterpoint, like a ricercar (precursor to fugue). For the second versus, Scheidt again alludes to the chant in Bicinium, where one can imagine two instruments bouncing motives between one another. Versūs 3–6 place the chant cantus firmus in succeeding voices, accompanied by motivic counterpoint, first the soprano (cantus), then alto, then tenor, then bass. These versūs were particularly effective on the North German organ of the time, which had developed a large pedal division with numerous higher-pitched stops for playing the plainchant cantus firmus in any range. Thus, the melody in each case is played by the organist’s feet, with the accompaniment played by the hands. The work concludes with a final versus in which the plainchant in the bass is accompanied by a strict canon in the soprano and tenor, filled out by an independent alto. Here, Sheidt really flexes his contrapuntal muscles, since canon is the strictest and seen as the highest form of counterpoint. The two canonic voices play exactly the same music, but an octave apart (in subdiapason) and staggered by a half note (post minimam).

 

  1. Versus, à 4. Voc.
  2. Versus, Bicinium
  3. Versus, à 4. Voc. Coral in Cantu
  4. Versus, à 4. Voc. Coral in Alto
  5. Versus, à 4. Voc. Coral in Tenore
  6. Versus, à 3. Voc. Coral in Basso
  7. Versus, Canon in subdiapason post minimam pedaliter (Coral in Basso) à 4. Voc.

March 30, 2020

Dan Locklair (b. 1949) is Composer-in-Residence and Professor of Music at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. An organist by training, Locklair’s organ compositions are a significant part of his vast output. Today’s selection is perhaps his most famous organ piece, “The Peace may be exchanged,” the fourth movement from Rubrics (A Liturgical Suite for Organ) composed in 1988. Rubrics draws its inspiration and movement titles from the rubrics of the The Book of Common Prayer (1979). “The Peace may be exchanged,” as its title indicates, exudes peacefulness. The “Peace piece,” as a dear friend calls it, is a source of comfort in these difficult times.

March 29, 2020

Among Bach’s most famous organ works are the preludes and fugues. Some of these were written in pairs as we know them today, while others were paired up after their composition by Bach himself or later copyists. The Prelude and Fugue in E Minor (“The Wedge”), BWV 548, composed as a pair between 1727 and 1736, is massive in scope, so much so that the musical historian Philip Spitta described it as “a two-movement symphony.” The Prelude is composed according to ritornello-concerto procedure, an example of Bach’s own adaptation of the Vivaldian style. The Fugue gives the piece its nickname, “The Wedge,” because the first half of the fugue subject begins on a single note and expands out to an octave, forming a musical wedge. The piece is in a three-part structure, ABA, and also exhibits ritornello features. The A section at the beginning and end are almost identical, and is a more-or-less standard fugal exposition. The B section between contains rapid flourishes of highly virtuosic writing like that of a toccata, punctuated by entries of the subject as quasi-ritornellos.

March 27, 2020

Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583–1643) was organist at St. Peter’s in Rome from 1608–1628 and from 1634 until his death. One of the most important composers and teachers of the early seventeenth century, his music became influential on almost every major composer who followed him, directly or indirectly. Today’s selection, Toccata quarta per l’organo da sonarsi all’Elevazione, comes from Frescobaldi’s second published collection of Toccatas and various other pieces from 1627. As the name indicates, the piece is an “elevation toccata.” These pieces were intended to be performed during the elevation of the host at Mass. In Frescobaldi’s time, as for much of church history, reception of communion by the faithful was infrequent, only a few times a year, so the elevation became a focal point of the Mass during which the faithful would make spiritual communion and pray other devotions in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Given the nature of their liturgical use, elevation toccatas differ significantly from other toccatas, which tend to be fast-moving and virtuosic. Elevation toccatas come from the durezze e ligature style (loosely translated “hard sounds and suspensions”), which conveys pathos and timelessness through long note values, dissonance, suspensions, and unorthodox harmonic shifts. In the liturgy, elevation toccatas use these musical techniques, along with stock clichés like the Lombardic rhythm (the limping rhythm heard toward the end of today’s piece), to represent Christ’s passion and to provide an ethos of the sublime. They attempt to capture in musical form the mystery of Heaven meeting Earth in the Eucharistic sacrifice.

March 26, 2020

Georg Böhm (1661–1733) was an organist and teacher who spent most of his career at the Johanniskirche in Lüneburg, the principal church of that city. Böhm had an importance influence on the young J. S. Bach, who attended the Michaelisschule in Lüneburg from 1700–1702. Bach certainly knew Böhm, though the extent to which Bach studied with Böhm is not documented. Many of Bach’s early works exhibit characteristics reminiscent of Böhm’s music. These similarities causes several of Böhm’s compositions to be wrongly attributed to Bach for quite some time. Today’s selection, the ornamented chorale prelude on Vater unser im Himmelreich, is one of those formerly misattributed pieces.

March 25, 2020

Matthias Weckmann (c. 1616–1674) was one of the leading figures of the North German Organ School, three generations of organists, composers, and teachers centered in Hamburg during the seventeenth century. He was organist at Hamburg’s Jacobikirche (one of the five Hauptkirchen, or main churches, in the city) from 1655 until his death. His compositions and writings are critical primary sources for our understanding of performance practice for the music of the period. Today’s selection, Weckmann’s Magnificat II Toni (second-mode Magnificat) comprises four composed versets to be performed in alternatim (in alternation) with a choir, with the organ versets replacing portions of the Magnificat text. The versets take as their cantus firmus the second mode Magnificat tone (a slightly more elaborate version of the second mode psalm tone). As there are only four versets in Weckmann’s composition, they are interspersed throughout the text. This is in contrast to organ settings with seven or eight versets in which the choir and organ would alternate each verse.

In this performance, the schola pairs the mode II Magnificat with the antiphon “O Sapientia,” one of the great “O” antiphons of Advent. The concert in which this was performed followed the liturgical year, with this piece at the beginning, hence the Advent antiphon. Please forgive that the antiphon is not appropriate for today’s feast. Also, the choir sings the chant as transcribed from historically-appropriate manuscripts, and using Germanic pronunciation of Latin, so one might notice slight differences from the versions found in the current Vatican editio typica edited by the monks of Solesmes in the nineteenth century.

Here is the “roadmap” of the performance:

Organ Intonation (improvised)
Ant. O Sapientia
Magnificat
Et exultatvit
[Quia respexit replaced by following organ verset]
Organ Verset: Primus versus à 5
Quia fecit
Et misericordia
[Fecit potentiam replaced by following organ verset]
Organ Verset: Secundus versus à 4 Auff 2 Clavir
Deposit potentes
Esurientes
[Suscepit Israel replaced by following organ verset]
Organ Verset: Tertius versus à 5
Sicut locutus
Gloria Patri
[Sicut erat replaced by following organ verset]
Organ Verset: Quartus versus à 6
Ant. O Sapientia

March 24, 2020

Today’s selection is also by Johann Sebastian Bach, though it is much shorter and much lighter than yesterday’s. The chorale prelude on Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier, BWV 731 comes from the miscellaneous chorale preludes of Bach. These miscellaneous chorales are so named because they belong to no particular collection (such as the Orgelbüchlein or Leipzig chorales) and circulated in manuscripts throughout Bach’s circle. Most are early works, including this piece. In seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Germany, organists were expected to improvise somewhat elaborate introductions to the singing of the chorales by the congregation. This practice spawned the chorale prelude genre of composition, in which these introductions were through-composed as teaching tools, models for improvisation, or art music in their own right. This shorter piece by Bach is an example of a practical chorale prelude, probably intended for use in worship or as a teaching tool. It calls for the top voice, which contains an ornamented version of the chorale melody, to be played on a solo registration standing out above the rest of the texture. Though it is quite short, this chorale prelude is a perennial favorite of organists and music lovers for its beautiful simplicity and sense of comfort.

March 23, 2020

A Note from Dr. Stone: “This is the first installment of “Music for Social Distancing.” Since this past Saturday was Johann Sebastian Bach’s 335th birthday, I thought it fitting to begin with one of his finest organ works, the Partite diverse sopra Sei gegrüßet, Jesu gütig, BWV 768. To listen, just click the link below. It was recorded this past Friday on the Berghaus organ in Sacred Heart Chapel.

As one of the greatest composers of all time, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) needs little introduction. Though he is particularly famous as a composer of organ music, most of his organ compositions date from relatively early in his career. The Partite diverse sopra Sei gegrüßet, Jesu gütig, BWV 768 is one of those early pieces, composed probably around 1705. It is a large-scale set of variations on the chorale for Passiontide, Sei gegrüßet, Jesu gütig. The chorale melody is presented in a simple harmonization at the beginning of the piece so that it is recognizable to the listener. Each following variation treats the chorale melody in creative ways by exploring ornamentation, dance forms, and other contrapuntal idioms. The work culminates in a final variation for full organ, where the chorale melody in the top voice is accompanied by four additional voices in florid counterpoint. Though it is an early work of Bach, BWV 768 is a masterwork of the Partita genre, and is praised as among his most important organ works.”