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The Organ of Joachim Wagner in Siedlce

Wolfgang Zerer, organ

rec: March 2011, Siedlce, Bishop of Siedlce Residence
Dux - 0828 (© 2011) (63'58")
Liner-notes: E/D/P
Cover & track-list

Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788): Sonata in F (Wq 70,3 / H 84); Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr (BWV 675) [2]; Georg BÖHM (1661-1733): Partita Ach wie nichtig, ach wie flüchtig; Pablo BRUNA (1611-1679): Tiento de 1er tono de mano derecha y en medio a dos tiples; Johann Jacob FROBERGER (1616-1667): Toccata in G (FbWV 103); Johann Caspar KERLL (1627-1693): Toccata in d minor; Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791): Andante für eine Walze in eine kleine Orgel in F (KV 616); Georg MUFFAT (1653-1704): Toccata VIII [1]; Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621): Mein junges Leben hat ein End

Source: [1] Georg Muffat, Apparatus musico-organisticus, 1690; [2] Johann Sebastian Bach, Clavier-Übung, III, 1739

Joachim Wagner was one of the major organ builders in Germany in the first half of the 18th century. He was probably a pupil of Matthias Hartman in Magdeburg who himself was a pupil of the famous organ builder Arp Schnitger. Wagner built his first organ in 1719 in Berlin, and in the next thirty years he built almost fifty organs. He is especially interesting for what is considered his own invention, which is called in German Doppeltransmissionslade, which can be translated as 'wind chest with double transmission'. This makes possible the transmission of registers between the manuals. It is called 'double' because the registers were assigned in an equal measure to several sections of the instrument. Organ scholars knew about this, but it had been presumed that no organ with this transmission had survived World War II; until 2002, that is. In that year three Polish organologists discovered what remained from an organ which had been dismantled in 1969.

In about 1791 this organ was placed in St Benno's Church in Warsaw. In 1808 it was purchased by Helena Chrapowicka for the church of Pruszyn which was then under construction. From 1824 to 1968 it was at the church's gallery. It was then dismantled and its elements were stored in the attic above the church vestry until 2002. A thorough examination led to the discovery that this was an instrument which Wagner had built in 1744/45. The fact that he had used his invention in this particular instrument made this find even more important. It is now the only extant instrument by Wagner with a Doppeltransmissionslade, and an invaluable contribution to our knowledge of the work of one of the most important organ builders in history.

The organ is now restored and reconstructed. It has been placed in the main hall of the residence of the bishop of Siedlce, where it is used for public concerts. It has only two manuals - and no pedal - with six-and-a-half register, and a simultaneous division of the manuals into bass and descant. This is rather unusual, and this organ differs considerably from other small instruments by Wagner. Scholars have come to the conclusion that this organ was not meant to be played in a church but was rather built for a chamber. And that is partly reflected in the programme Wolfgang Zerer has chosen for this recording.

It begins with one of the sonatas Carl Philipp Emanuel composed for Anna Amalia, sister of Frederick the Great. She was an enthusiastic player of the organ, but wasn't able to play the pedal. Therefore these sonatas are for manuals only. It is exactly this kind of music which is ideally suited to be played on an organ like that in Siedlce. The acoustics are exactly what one expects for chamber music. There is a lot of keyboard music without a pedal part, and not only compositions specifically for the harpsichord. Many pieces can be played either on organ or harpsichord. That is certainly the case with the chorale variations by Georg Böhm. Ach wie nichtig ach wie flüchtig is a good example of Böhm's art of variation. Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck was also famous for his ability to play many variations on a single tune. He did so in private concerts in the homes of the aristocracy, at the harpsichord. But he was also organist in Amsterdam, where he mainly played on weekdays. It is quite possible that he will have played variations on secular tunes. The choice of Mein junges Leben hat ein End is less fortunate as it is generally accepted that it was not written by him, but probably by his pupil Johann Praetorius. This seems to have escaped the notice of the author of the liner-notes. Bach's chorale prelude Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr is from his Clavier-Übung III, and another specimen of a piece which can be played either in church or at home.

Johann Jacob Froberger was a pupil of Frescobaldi in Rome, and although Johann Caspar Kerll was in Rome after Frescobaldi had died, he is also strongly influenced by him. Their respective Toccatas can be played either on harpsichord or on organ. The toccatas which Georg Muffat published in his Apparatus musico-organisticus are a mixture of Italian and French influences. They are mostly played on rather large organs, but this Toccata VIII works very well on this small organ. The same goes for Mozart's Andante für eine Walze in eine kleine Orgel which was conceived for a mechanical instrument. A performance on an instrument like this does more justice to its original character, in particular through the use of a single stop (Rohrflöte or chimney flute).

The only piece which is less successful on this organ is the Tiento de 1er tono by Pablo Bruna. Obviously this has been chosen because it requires - like so many Spanish organ pieces - a divided manual. The split between bass and descant in Spanish organs differs from that in this instrument, though. Therefore this piece could only be played here because of the presence of two manuals. The real minus is the lack of typical Spanish stops in the organ. The colours which one expects to hear in a piece like this are sorely missed.

But that is only a very little point of criticism. This disc is an exciting document of a major discovery in the field of organology. It is of great importance that this unique organ is demonstrated with appropriate repertoire. Wolfgang Zerer delivers very good performances, and shows his creativity in the use of the various stops and in his interpretation. For organ lovers this disc is not to be missed.

N.B. For those who are able to read German I would like to refer to a description of this organ and its discovery which is available here.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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