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Program Notes | Program #1

by W. A. Mozart (1756-1791)

Although Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is far better known for his symphonies, operas and concertos, he also composed a number of works for organ.

The Fantasy in F minor, K 608, was composed in 1791 (the year he died) for Count Joseph Deym von Stritez’ cylinder mechanism in the Muller Exhibition Hall in Vienna.

Lasting more than 10 minutes, Mozart wrote this music with a new structure—fusing multiple movements into one grand piece.

Musically speaking, it is written in a heavy style of A-B-A form. It starts with an Allegro in the style of a French overture-like heavy chord followed by a massive fugue. In the middle of the slow section, one can hear Mozart’s compositional virtuosity within an elaborated and memorable theme. The piece concludes by going back to a tempo primo (the first Allegro) in which the theme is quoted and developed with polyphonic complexity. In this extraordinary late work, one can hear Mozart’s sublime compositional virtuosity through all of these musical elements.

—Ae-Kyong Kim

by Clarence Mader (1904-1971)

Clarence Victor Mader studied with Lynnwood Farnam and was organist at Wilshire Presbyterian Church, Los Angeles, from 1929–1966. He taught at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa from 1955–1966 and was also a faculty member at Occidental College in Eagle Rock.

It wasn’t until I was an adult in graduate school, that I became acquainted with the music of Clarence Mader. A performance of Mader’s October Interlude by one of my classmates during a master class (I believe it was Ae-Kyong!) completely captivated me.

Its 20th-century-style opening on 8′ foundations quickly gives way to peaceful episodes on quieter stops and contemporary tonalities. A Wagnerian crescendo to full organ ushers in the opening theme once again, this time heard majestically in the pedal. A quieter section follows with a new theme that soars over a less-complex accompaniment. A gradual quickening of harmonic activity and texture culminates on the dissonant, followed by a return of the opening theme—this time harmonized over warm, lush chords upon foundations of principals and reeds. One more dramatic rise to full organ followed by a serene ending on soft stops with solo flute rounds out the work.

—David Wolfe

by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Felix Mendelssohn was a child prodigy—music ran in the family—who died far too young. During his lifetime, he was a noted performer (violin and piano), conductor (Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra) and composer (primarily orchestral and piano music).

Mendelssohn was held in high regard as a composer for organ. Although many 19th-century composers claimed to like the organ quite a bit and most composers of the period were known as excellent organists, Mendelssohn was one of the few 19th century composers who actually left published music for the instrument.

The Sonatas for Organ, Op. 65, began as a commission for a “set of voluntaries” in 1844 by the English publishers Coventry and Hollier. After writing seven pieces, Mendelssohn grouped and expanded them into six multi-movement works.

Mendelssohn’s prowess as an organist, and particularly an improviser on the instrument, is evident in the sonatas. Many English organs of the time lacked the tonal and technical resources necessary to adequately perform the sonatas, slowing their public reception. They were, however, readily received on the Continent, where they had been published simultaneously. They are likely to have inspired Robert Schumann’s Six Fugues on BACH and Josef Rheinberger’s sonatas.

The four “movements” of the First Sonata, in F minor, contrast each other in style, tempo and temperament. After an opening Allegro, the second movement offers a beautifully lyrical melody. The third movement uses two divisions of the organ to achieve extreme dynamic contrasts, and it leads directly into the final movement (in F Major), which includes arpeggios and running eighth-note lines more indicative of piano music, concluding with a bravura pedal line from top to bottom of the pedalboard.

—Timothy Howard

by Dietrich Buxtehude (c.1637-1707)

The birth year and location of Dietrich Buxtehude is a matter of some debate; it’s clear he considered himself a Dutch composer even though he spent much of his career in Germany and eventually Germanized his surname. After early musical studies with his father (himself an organist), Dietrich took the job of organist at the Marienkirche in Lübeck in 1668 (at approximately age 30), where he remained until his death.

The often-repeated story of Johann Sebastian Bach walking from Arnstadt to visit and observe Buxtehude in Lübeck demonstrates the latter’s musical reputation and influence on the former.

In the Baroque period, Praeludium was a generic title for any of a number of types of free style keyboard music. The current piece survives only in a volume copied by J.S. Bach’s older brother Johann Christoph, and is likely an inspiration for Sebastian’s own Toccata in C, BWV 564.

The name by which we know it today, Prelude, Fugue and Chaconne in C Major, is in deference to its tripartite structure. A pedal solo opens, followed by free-form keyboard harmonies and running lines. A transition beginning with dotted, dance-like rhythms follows, leading to a contrapuntal section exhibiting typical fugal procedures of the period (though with an emphasis on brevity, in this case). Another transition leads to the chaconne section, held together by a ground (repeating) bass of only three bars length. A concluding section recalls some elements of the opening section.

—Timothy Howard

Three Chorale Preludes
by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

• Fantasia super: “Komm, heiliger Geist,” BWV 651

• “Wo soll ich fliehen hin,” BWV 694

• “Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g’mein,” BWV 734

Johann Sebastian Bach belonged to a dynasty of musicians. In following inevitable family tradition, he excelled his forebears and contemporaries although he did not always receive, in his own lifetime, the respect he deserved.

Bach spent his earlier career principally as an organist, latterly at the court of one of the two ruling Grand Dukes of Weimar. In 1717 he moved to Cöthen as Court Kapellmeister to the young Prince Leopold and in 1723 made his final move to Leipzig, where he was employed as Cantor at the Choir School of St. Thomas, with responsibility for music in the five principal city churches. While in Leipzig, he also eventually took charge of the University Collegium musicum and occupied himself with the collection and publication of many of his earlier compositions.

The chorale prelude was a form brought by J. S. Bach to a peak of artistic perfection, and there are three superb examples on this evening’s program. As a teenager, I had the pleasure of tuning in each Sunday night to a weekly organ recital on the radio. On this broadcast from Independence, Missouri, Organist John Obetz would play an eclectic mix of organ pieces, many of which made an unforgettable impression on me.

Bach’s chorale prelude Komm, heiliger Geist (Come, Holy Ghost, Lord God) was one of those impressionable pieces. This massive setting is a lengthy fantasia for full organ with cantus in the pedal, and is the first in the collection known as the “Eighteen Chorales.” These large chorale preludes bear no relationship to each other, liturgical or otherwise. They were probably sketched in the Weimar period (1708–1717) and rewritten in Leipzig (1723–1750).

The chorale text for Wo soll ich fliehen hin (O Whither Shall I Flee) was written by one of the most important chorale-text poets, Johann Heermann (1585–1647), who can be placed on the same level of Martin Luther and Paul Gerhardt as he takes his place chronologically between these two important figures. The chorale text is listed under the categories of “Die Beichte” (”Confession”) and “Bußlieder” (”Songs of Penance”).

Bach’s version of this chorale is a trio with cantus in the bass. The nonstop sixteenths suggest the action of flight, which is implied in the title (although the message of the chorale is that the presence of God makes flight unnecessary).

This work is one of 24 chorale settings by Bach and a few other composers of the time compiled by Johann Philipp Kirnberger (1721-1783), a pupil of Bach in 1749. Most of the chorale settings found in Kirnberger’s collection suggest they were written in the earlier part of the Weimar period.

Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g’mein (Rejoice, Beloved Christians), an Advent hymn by Martin Luther, is another setting in trio with each part composed in different note values: soprano in sixteenths, bass in eighths and cantus (in the tenor) composed in halfs and quarters.

This chorale prelude is very light and joyful and was played under the closing credits each week at the end of Mr. Obetz’s broadcast. It does not belong to the same collection as the great “Eighteen,” but is categorized within Bach’s complete organ works as one of the “Individually Transmitted Organ Chorales.”

—David Wolfe

by Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937)

Charles-Marie Widor was one of that great line of French organist-composer-teachers that began with César Franck and continues to this day.

Widor studied the organ with his father, who was also an organist and an organ builder. Because of his family’s connection to Cavaillé-Coll, a prominent French organ builder, Widor was tremendously influenced by Cavaillé-Coll in his organ works. Unlike the Baroque’s and Classical’s clear and crisp sounds that carry out contrapuntal writing, Cavaillé-Coll’s new “symphonic” organ style produced instruments with a much warmer sound to handle the homophonic style of writing.

Widor’s 10 symphonies were written in this new organ style with an orchestral range of voicing. Symphony No.6 in G minor is well known as the greatest of Widor’s symphonic creations. As happens in French symphonic literature, a virtuosic chorale-like main theme opens the Allegro first movement. This theme is combined in a masterly fashion in the F sharp minor development section. The Adagio in B major, second movement, is written exquisitely for string orchestra. The Finale shows its boundless jubilation throughout the entire piece. With the speedy tempo of the first theme in the right hand, this movement finishes with festive mood and virtuosic manner.

—Ae-Kyong Kim

Robert D. Thomas contributed to these music notes.

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