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CD reviews

Organ music of the Bach family

[I] Johann Michael & Johann Christoph BACH: "Complete Organ Music"
Stefano Molardi, organ
rec: Sept 2016, Erfurt, Cruciskirche
Brilliant Classics - 95418 (3 CDs) (© 2017) (3.32'10")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Johann Christoph BACH (1642-1703): Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein; Ach Gott und Herr; Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder (I); Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder (II); Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder, variations; Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ; An Wasserflüssen Babylon; Aria Eberliniana; Aria variata; Auf meinen lieben Gott; Aus meines Herzens Grunde; Aus tiefer Not; Christ, der du bist der helle Tag; Die sind die heiligen zehn Gebote; Durch Adams Fall; Ein feste Burg; Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott; Erhalt uns Herr bei deinem Wort; Es ist das Heil uns kommen her; Es woll uns Gott genädig sein; Gott sei gelobet und gebenedeiet; Helft mir Gottes Güte preisen; Herr Christ, der einig Gottes Sohn; Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend; Ich dank dir, lieber Herre; Ich dank dir schon; Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ; In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr; Jesu, der du meine Seele; Jesus Christus, unser Heiland; Kommt her zu mir; Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier; Meine Seele erhebt den Herren; Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin; Nun freut euch lieben Christen; Nun laßt uns Gott dem Herren; Nun lob mein Seel den Herren; O Herre Gott, dein göttlich Wort; Prelude and fugue in E flat; Sarabanda variata; Vater unser im Himmelreich; Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit; Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz; Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist; Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein; Wer Gott vertraut, hat wohl gebaut; Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern; Wir glauben all an einen Gott (I); Wir glauben all an einen Gott (II); Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält; Wo Gott zum Haus nicht gibt sein Gunst
Johann Michael BACH (1648-1694): Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein; Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr; Auf meinen lieben Gott; Der du bist drei in Einigkeit; Der Her ist mein getreuer Hirt; Dies sind die heilgen zehn Gebot; Es spricht der Unweisen Mund wohl; Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ; Gott hat das Evangelium (I); Gott hat das Evangelium (II); Herr Christ, der einig Gottes Sohn; Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (I); Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (II); In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr; In dulci jubilo; Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, der den Tod überwand; Komm, Gott Schöpfer, heiliger Geist; Kommt her zu mir, spricht Gottes Sohn; Mag ich Unglück nicht widerstahn; Meine Seele erhebt den Herren; Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein; Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein/Es ist gewißlich an der Zeit; Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland; Nun laßt uns Gott dem Herren; O Herre Gott, Vater in Ewigkeit - Christe, aller Welt Heiland - O Gott, heiliger Geist; Von Gott will ich nicht lassen; Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz; Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist; Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein; Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält

[II] Johann Ernst, Johann Bernhard, Johann Lorenz, Johann Friedrich & Heinrich BACH: "Organ Works"
Stefano Molardi, organ
rec: April 5 - 6, 2018, Zola Predosa (BO, I), Chiesa Parrochiale di S. Tomaso
Brilliant Classics - 95884 (2 CDs) (© 2019) (2.28'05")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Christus, der uns selig macht (BWV 747); Fantasia and fugue in a minor (BWV 561); Fugue in C (BWV Anh 90); Herr Christ, der einge Gottes Sohn, partita (BWV Anh 77); Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier (BWV 754); Lobt Gott, ihr Christen allzugleich; Machs mit mir, Gott, nach deiner Güt; O Gott, du frommer Gott; Wenn ich in Angst und Not; Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein, partita (BWV Anh 78) Wir Christenleut han jetzund Freud; Heinrich BACH (1615-1692): Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund; Erbarm dich mein; Johann Bernhard BACH (I) (1676-1749): Ciacona in G (BWV Anh 84); Ciacona in A (BWV Anh 83); Ciacona in B flat (BWV Anh 82); Du Friedefürst, Herr Jesu Christ; Helft mir Gottes Güte preisen; Jesus, nichts als Jesus; Nun freut euch; Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her; Wir glauben all' an einen Gott (I); Wir glauben all' an einen Gott (II); Wir glauben all' an einen Gott (III); Johann Ernst BACH (II) (1722-1777): Fantasia and fugue in d minor; Fantasia and fugue in F; Johann Friedrich BACH (I) (1682-1730): Fugue in g minor; Johann Lorenz BACH (1695-1773): Prelude and fugue in D


There has never been a dynasty in music history like the Bach dynasty. The list of its members in New Grove is long and impressive. Most of them lived and worked in Thuringia and Saxonia, and most of them were educated at the keyboard. Many of them occupied a position as organist at a church. The main exceptions are the sons of Johann Sebastian: only Wilhelm Friedemann was first and foremost an organist, whereas the others must have been able to play the organ, but held no position in which the regular playing of the organ was required. Only Johann Christian Bach was active as organist in Milan, but for a short time, as he soon moved to the field of instrumental music and opera.

The vocal output of the Bach family before Johann Sebastian has been explored pretty well. Especially the motets, many of them written for funerals and other special occasions, are often performed and recorded. One of the most recent recordings is that by the ensemble Vox Luminis. In comparison, their organ works have received less attention. Organists sometimes include such works in their recitals, but, as far as I know, never before the complete output of the Bachs - beyond that of Johann Sebastian, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel - has been released on disc. From that perspective the two productions of Brilliant Classics are of the greatest importance. The largest of the two concerns the output of two of the better-known members of the Bach family, who have left a considerable corpus of keyboard music: Johann Christoph and Johann Michael. The other production includes pieces by some who are hardly known, not even among Bach lovers, such as Johann Friedrich I, Johann Ernst II and Johann Lorenz.

Johann Christoph, born in Arnstadt, was the son of an organist, Heinrich Bach (who appears on the second production), and might have received the first music lessons from his father. He studied composition with Jonas de Fletin, cantor in Arnstadt, who was a pupil of Heinrich Schütz. In 1665 he was appointed organist of the Georgenkirche in Eisenach; he held this position until his death. That was not out of free will: he once tried to move to another post, but didn't get the permission of the town council. Municipal records document "incessant quarrels with his superiors" - that sounds familiar, and reminds us of the quarrels of Johann Sebastian with the authorities in Leipzig. In his capacity as the organist of the Georgenkirche, he initiated the construction of a new, much larger organ. He could play this instrument in the late 1690s, but it was finished only four years after his death.

The best-known pieces from his pen are two lamentos for alto and bass respectively. His keyboard output comprises organ works and three pieces for harpsichord. It needs to be added that at that time these two categories were not formally separated. Basically the choice of organ or harpsichord depends on the character and the range of the piece. Chorale arrangements could be played at home at the harpsichord, and secular music could be played at the organ. However, it is questionable whether they were played at a church organ. Only occasionally the organ was played outside services on Sundays and feast-days, for instance at the occasion of the inauguration of a new instrument. The three harpsichord works by Johann Christoph are all sets of variations, for which there was no place in the liturgy or even to be played before or after the service. From that angle it is rather unlucky that Stefano Molardi decided to play them on the large organ he also uses for the chorales. Musically the performances are not entirely satisfying either. The variations of the Aria variata are generally a bit too slow; in the tenth variation the dotted rhythms lack poignancy. Of the three works, the Sarabanda variata comes off best, but overall I prefer a performance at the harpsichord.

The first disc opens with the only free organ work by Johann Christoph, the Prelude and fugue in E flat. However, according to the work-list in New Grove it is of doubtful authenticity, which is not mentioned in the liner-notes. It includes some chromaticism, as do the variation cycles. Molardi sees there the influence of Italian music of the 17th century, but it seems that this is rather the influence of Johann Pachelbel, who was a member of the chapel of the Duke of Eisenach, as was Daniel Eberlin, who apparently was the composer of the tune which Johann Christoph varied in his Aria Eberliniana. Most of the chorale arrangements are from the collection of 44 Choräle zum Präambulieren. Three further pieces of this kind have been found in other sources.

Johann Michael was the younger brother of Johann Christoph. His musical education was largely the same as that of his brother. In 1665 he succeeded him as organist of the Arnstadt castle chapel. In 1673 he moved to Gehren, where he became the town organist. He was also active as an instrument maker. In 1707 his daughter Maria Barbara married Johann Sebastian. His oeuvre comprises a considerable number of vocal works. His instrumental output confines itself to chorale preludes, in which he makes use of pre-imitation. They show the influence of Johann Pachelbel. Some of these pieces are of doubtful authenticity. Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein is now attributed to Johann Heinrich Buttstedt.

Even organists may hardly know many of the composers who figure in the second production. Each of them has left only a few keyboard works. The oldest of them has already been mentioned: Heinrich Bach was the father of Johann Christoph. He started his career as organist and town musician in Schweinfurt, and after a stay with his eldest brother in Erfurt, he moved to Arnstadt, where he acted as court and town musician and as organist of the Liebfrauenkirche from 1641 until his death in 1692. A printed funeral sermon suggests that he composed quite a number of works, but only a few have been preserved. A printed edition of organ works by the Bach family of 1967 includes three pieces by Heinrich. Here we get only two; Stefano Molardi does not explain why the third piece is omitted.

Johann Bernhard (I) and Johann Friedrich (I) are of the next generation. There are two Bach's with the name of Johann Bernhard. One of them studied with Johann Sebastian and was organist in his birthplace Ohrdruf; two harpsichord pieces from his pen seem to be lost. The Johann Bernhard represented here was from Erfurt, studied with his father Johann Aegidius and worked as organist in Erfurt, Magdeburg and Eisenach respectively. He is best known for his orchestral suites. Some of his organ works have been preserved in copies of his pupil Johann Gottfried Walther. The two ciaconas performed here were formerly attributed to Johann Sebastian. Johann Friedrich (I) was a grandson of Heinrich. He was born in Eisenach and succeeded Johann Sebastian as organist in Mühlhausen in 1708. The Fugue in g minor is his only extant composition.

Johann Lorenz was from Schweinfurt and studied with Johann Sebastian in Weimar. It seems that he has written several works, but the Prelude and fugue in D is the only piece that has come down to us. Lastly, Johann Ernst, who is of the generation of Johann Sebastian's sons. He was the son of Johann Bernhard (I) and was born and died in Eisenach. He studied law in Leipzig, worked as Kapellmeister in Weimar, although he kept his position of organist in Eisenach, as successor to his father. He acted as agent for Carl Philipp Emanuel. He has left a fair number of cantatas; the fact that one of them has erroneously been attributed to CPE Bach, shows their stylistic similarity. His Fantasia and fugue in D was included in the collection Musicalisches Vielerley, which CPE Bach published in Hamburg in 1770. The work-list in New Grove mentions a Fantasia and fugue in a minor and a chorale, Valet will ich dir geben, which are not included here.

The programme is extended by pieces which are from the Bach circle, but cannot be attributed with any amount of certainty to a particular member of the Bach family or two one of Johann Sebastian's pupils. The fact that some of them have been included in the Schmieder catalogue bears witness to the stylistic similarity with the latter.

These two sets are major additions to the discography of German organ music of the 18th century and the Bach family in particular. It is a little disappointing that the omission of some works - maybe for good reasons - is not discussed in the booklets, or even mentioned. But that is probably something one cannot expect in recordings on a budget label. There is certainly room for a more musicological approach to this repertoire. That said, we should be happy with these two productions, also because the performances are mostly rather good, except the variations by Johann Christoph, which I had preferred to be performed at the harpsichord anyway. Molardi plays two different organs. The works by Johann Christoph and Johann Michael are performed on an instrument by Franciscus Volckland, who worked in Erfurt. That is where he built the organ in the Cruciskirche from 1732 to 1737. The tuning is Kirnberger II. The organ in the second production dates from 2003, but is based on the Gottfried Silbermann organ of 1735-38 in the Stadtkirche in Frauenstein. Here the tuning is Werckmeister III.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

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