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Johann Gottfried WALTHER (1684 - 1748): "Complete Organ Music"

Simone Stella, organ

rec: April - Nov 2013, Padua, Chiesa di Sant'Antonio Abate
Brilliant Classics - 94730 (12 CDs) (© 2015) (10.58'35")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list
Scores

Ach Gott, du dich erbarmen; Ach Gott, erhör mein Seufzen und Wehklagen; Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein; Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid; Ach Gott und Herr; Ach schönster Jesu, mein Verlangen; Ach, was soll ich Sünder machen; Alcuni Variationi sopr'un Basso Continuo del Signor Corelli; Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr (I); Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr (II); Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (I); Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (II); Alle Menschen müssen sterben; Aus der Tiefe rufe ich; Aus meines Herzens Grunde; Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir; Christo, dem Osterlämmlein; Christum wir sollen loben schon; Christus, der uns selig macht; Christus der ist mein Leben (I); Christus der ist mein Leben (II); Ciacona sopra 'lcanto fermo 'O Jesu, du edle Gabe'; Concerto in G; Concerto del Signor Albinoni in F; Concerto del Signor Albinoni in B flat; Concerto del Signor Blamont in A; Concerto del Signor Gentili in A; Concerto del Signor Gregori in B flat; Concerto del Signor Mancia in g minor; Concerto del Signor Meck in C; Concerto del Signor Taglietti in B flat; Concerto del Signor Telemann in c minor; Concerto del Signor Torelli in d minor; Concerto del Signor Torelli in a minor; Concerto del Signor Torelli in B flat; Concerto del Signor Vivaldi in b minor; Concerto per la Chiesa del Signor Telemann in G; Danket dem Herrn, denn er ist sehr freundlich; Das alte Jahr vergangen ist; Der du bist drei in Einigkeit; Dies sind die heilgen zehn Gebot; Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt; Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott; Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld; Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott; Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort; Erschienen ist der herrliche Tag (I); Erschienen ist der herrliche Tag (II); Erstanden ist der heilige Christ; Es ist das Heil uns kommen her; Es spricht der Unweisen Mund wohl; Es stehn vor Gottes Throne; Es woll uns Gott genädig sein; Fahr nur hin, du schnöde Welt; Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele; Fröhlich soll mein Herze springen; Fugue in F; Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ; Gott der Vater wohn uns bei; Gott des Himmels und der Erden; Gott hat das Evangelium; Gott ist mein Heil, mein Hilf und Trost; Gottes Sohn ist kommen; Herr Christ, der einig Gottes Sohn; Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir; Herr Gott, nun schleuß den Himmel auf; Herr Gott, wir loben dich (Te Deum laudamus); Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend; Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut (I); Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut (II); Herr Jesu Christ, ich weiß gar wohl; Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht; Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott (I); Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott (II); Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott (III); Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr (I); Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr (II); Hilf, Gott, daß mir's gelinge; In allen meinen Taten; In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr; In dulci jubilo; Jesu, meine Freude (I); Jesu, meine Freude (II); Jesu Leiden, Pein und Tod; Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, der den Tod überwand; Jesus, meine Zuversicht; Komm, Gott Schöpfer, Heiliger Geist (I); Komm, Gott Schöpfer, Heiliger Geist (II); Komm, Gott Schöpfer, Heiliger Geist (III); Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott; Kommt her zu mir, spricht Gottes Sohn; Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier; Lob sei dem allmächtigen Gott; Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Erden; Lobet den Herren, denn er ist sehr freundlich; Lobt Gott, ihr Christen, allzugleich; Lobt Gott in seinem Heiligtum; Mach's mit mir, Gott, nach deiner Güt (I); Mach's mit mir, Gott, nach deiner Güt (II); Mach's mit mir, Gott, nach deiner Güt (III); Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit (I); Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit (II); Meine Seele erhebt den Herren (I); Meine Seele erhebt den Herren (II); Meine Seele erhebt den Herren (III); Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht; Mitten wir im Leben sind; Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist (I); Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist (II); Nun freut euch, Gottes Kinder all; Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland; Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren; O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort; O Gott, du frommer Gott; O großer Gott von Macht; O Herre Gott, dein göttlich Wort (I); O Herre Gott, dein göttlich Wort (II); O Jesu, meine Lust (I); O Jesu, meine Lust (II); O Jesu, meine Wonne; Preludio con Fuga in C; Preludio con Fuga in d minor; Preludio con Fuga in G; Preludio con Fuga in A; Puer natus in Bethlehem; Sag, was hilft alle Welt; Schaffe in mir, Gott, ein reines Herz; Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele (I); Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele (II); Toccata con Fuga in C; Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her; Von Gott will ich nicht lassen; Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (I); Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (II); Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit; Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz; Warum sollt ich mich den grämen; Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan; Was mein Gott will, das gscheh allzeit; Wend ab deinen Zorn, lieber Gott, in Gnaden; Wenn dich Unglück tut greifen an (I); Wenn dich Unglück tut greifen an (II); Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein; Wer Gott vertraut; Wer ist der Herr; Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten; Werde munter, mein Gemüte; Wie soll ich dich empfangen; Wir Christenleut habn jetzund Freud; Wir glauben all an einen Gott, Schöpfer (I); Wir glauben all an einen Gott, Schöpfer (II); Wir glauben all an einen Gott, Vater, Sohn; Wo Gott zum Haus nicht gibt sein Gunst; Wo soll ich fliehen hin

Johann Gottfried Walther is known for several reasons. Firstly, he is in various ways associated with Johann Sebastian Bach. He was Bach's second cousin, and from 1707 until his death he worked as organist of the Stadtkirche in Weimar, where Bach worked as court organist and Konzertmeister from 1708 to 1717. Secondly, Walther is the author of one of the most important sources of information about music and musicians in German, the Musicalisches Lexicon, oder Musicalische Bibliothec, published in Leipzig in 1732. Thirdly, he was one of the composers who transcribed instrumental concertos by Italian and German composers for keyboard.

In his capacity as a composer he is almost exclusively known for his organ music. The organ transcriptions are often played, and so are some of his chorale arrangements. His free organ works, mostly preludes and fugues, are far less known. Only one vocal work has come down to us. In his position as organist the composition of vocal music for the liturgy was not part of his duties.

The concerto transcriptions are regularly played and are available on disc, although not in so many recordings as the transcriptions of Bach. Like the latter, the idea of transcribing probably came from Johann Ernst, Prince of Saxe-Weimar. He was the second son of Johann Ernst IX of the Ernestine branch of the Saxon house of Wettin. He received violin lessons from G.C. Eilenstein, one of the court musicians, and keyboard lessons from Walther. In February 1711 Johann Ernst left for the Netherlands to further his education. In Amsterdam he heard Jan Jacob de Graaf, organist of the Nieuwe Kerk. He used to play Italian solo concertos in his own adaptations for the organ. This made such an impression on the young prince that he started to collect Italian concertos. Many of such pieces were published by Roger in Amsterdam. After his return to Weimar he started to compose concertos in that style and asked Walther and Bach to make arrangements for organ or harpsichord.

Fourteen transcriptions from Walther's pen have come down to us. In a letter he mentioned that he had transcribed "a total of 78 altogether". If this is correct, than the largest number must have been lost. Simone Stella, in his liner-notes, suggests that the lost trnascriptions were probably intended for the harpsichord. The names of Italian composers, such as Vivaldi and Albinoni, figure prominently in the transcriptions of both Bach and Walther. However, Bach transcribed just one concerto by Torelli, Walther no fewer than three, and Alessandro and Benedetto Marcello don't appear in his set of transcriptions. Notable is that he transcribed two concertos by Telemann, and that there are also some little-known names in his transcriptions. Signor Gregori refers to Giovanni Lorenzo Gregori (1663-1745), Signor Mancia to Luigi Mancia or Manza (?1665-after 1708), Signor Gentili to Giorgio Gentili (?1669-after 1730), Signor Taglietti to Giulio Taglietti (c1660-1718) and Signor Meck to the German composer Joseph Meck (1690-1758). The identity of Signor Blamont is a bit of a mystery. It is almost certainly not the French composer Colin de Blamont, as he did not compose any concertos.

The study and transcription of Italian concertos clearly inspired both Bach and Walther in their development as a composer. Bach wrote his Italian Concerto for harpsichord in the manner of an Italian instrumental concerto, Walther's Concerto in G is written in the same manner, although he does not adhere to the three-movement form. It opens with a binary preludio, comprising an adagio and an allegro. This is followed by largo, vivace (with the addition ritornello), an aria with the tempo indication 'largo' and a vivace. The influence of the Italian style also comes to the fore in the series of variations on a basso continuo by Corelli. Apparently it has not been possible to identify from which piece this basso continuo has been taken; it could well have been a piece, which has been lost.

The free organ works are rooted in the North German organ school, which on its turn was influenced by the stylus phantasticus that emerged in Italy in the early 17th century. However, Walther's works show a development, which we also observe in Bach's organ oeuvre. Whereas in the 17th century toccatas comprised contrasting sections, including one or two in the form of a fugue, in the late 17th century the various sections were more formally separated. In Buxtehude's organ works we already see this process, and in the oeuvre of Bach and Walther the toccata or prelude and the ensuing fugue are fully separated. Traces of the North German organ style are the pedal points in the Toccata in C and the chromatic episode which closes it as well as the pedal solo which opens the Prelude in A. There is also some French influence here: the Prelude in G has the form of a French overture.

The largest part of Walther's organ oeuvre consists of chorale arrangements. They have their origin in the practice of improvisation, the main skill that was expected from an organist. Walther is unique in the number of arrangements which has come down to us. Most organists did not write anything down, except for pedagogical purposes. Whether that is the case here as well is hard to say. There is much variety in this part of his output. We get here pretty much a complete catalogue of all the compositional techniques a composer of the time had at his disposal. Some arrangements are short, comprising just one variation, others comprise a number of variations, between two (Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein) to thirteen (Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend). The chorale melody can appear in several voices, but mostly in either the upper voice or the bass. The melody can be played as it was sung or with various sorts of ornamentation, either moderate or with much coloratura. Walther arranged several hymns more than once, as the track-list shows; a couple come even in three different arrangements, such as Komm, Gott Schöpfer, Heiliger Geist. Obviously we hear many hymns that are very well-known, such as Jesu, meine Freude, Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr or Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland. However, even those who have a more than average knowledge of the German hymn repertoire will see titles he is not familiar with. Examples are Christo, dem Osterlämmelein, O großer Gott von Macht and Sag, was hilft alle Welt. It seems likely that these hymns were only sung in some regions of Germany, but were not generally known across the Lutheran world. Obviously one can't expect a budget label like Brilliant Classics to provide the listener to these discs with the texts of the hymns. That is pretty rare in organ recordings anyway. Those who want to know more about the hymns and are able to read German, should look at the site hymnary.org.

Among organists some of Walther's arrangements are well-known and they may regularly turn to them. But even they will not be familiar with some of these hymn tunes. Maybe this production can stimulate them to look a little further and find some good stuff they could use in concerts or in the liturgical practice. I don't think this set of twelve discs is something to recommend to the average music lover. You have to be a real organ aficionado to really enjoy this set. Simone Stella gives every reason to do exactly that, because he delivers outstanding interpretations. In the free works his interpretation reminds the listener that these works have their roots in the practice of improvisation. In the concerto transcriptions the player needs to realise the contrasts between concerto and ripieno, and the Italian pathos of such pieces, and Stella does that very well. In the chorale arrangements he effectively explores the possibilities of the organ, for instance in regard to registration. It is an instrument of 2006 in unequal temperament, with two manuals and pedal. It proves itself to be a very suitable instrument for Walther's organ music.

This is a splendid musical monument for one of the most important composers for the organ of the 18th century.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Simone Stella


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