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Bach: Complete Toccatas &
David Schrader, organ
Cedille Records CDR 90000 006
To most people, Wausau, Wisconsin brings to mind insurance, mostly the TV commercials where everyone mispronounces the town's name. But to organ aficionados, the town located amid central Wisconsin's farms and forests is the home of one of the finest north German-style organs in American -- the Jaeckel organ at Salem Lutheran Church.
This CD is the first commercial recording of the Wausau organ, which is modeled after the organs Bach knew quite well, particularly the beautiful instruments of Arp Schnitger (1648-1719) upon which organ-builder Daniel Jaeckel modeled this organ in Wausau.
Schrader says "its highly expressive winding heightens the vocal character on which Bach's contrapuntal music is based. On this organ, Bach's music sings as freshly today as it did when it was new."
In contrast to many other Bach organ interpreters, Schrader presents an unromanticized, more authentically baroque performance -- crisp attacks, generally faster tempos, and tasteful ornamentation including a cadenza near the end of the C-major toccata. This style is particularly well-suited to the Jaeckel organ.
Throughout its varied history, the term toccata has signified many different musical styles and sentiments. Virtuoso works by Schumann, Prokofiev, Vidor, and Dupre exemplify an entirely different spirit from the ruminative pieces of Frescobaldi and Picchi. In the early seventeenth century, the toccata embodied a great freedom of style and execution. Frescobaldi's works, for example, are full of changes of tempo and character. In subsequent centuries, however, the term has tended to imply virtuosic perpetual motion.
The word toccata comes from the Italian infinitive toccare, 'to touch.' Because in early musical terminology one 'touched' keyboards and 'sounded' (suonare) other instruments, the term has, since its sixteenth century inception, usually referred to keyboard compositions. Non-keyboard 'toccatas' do exist, however; the instrumental piece that opens Monteverdi's L'Orfeo offers a fine example.
The earliest printed toccatas were composed by Sperindio Bertoldo (c.1530-1570; Toccate, ricercari e canzoni francese... published posthumously in 1591), Giralomo Diruta (c.1554-c.1610), and Diruta's mentor, Claudio Merulo (1533-1604; toccatas published in 1598 and 1604). These organ pieces consist largely of running, scalar passages accompanied by chords, although Merulo's works include sections using the technique of imitation. Building on such aboriginal compositions, the toccatas of Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643) feature more elaborate passagework and more violent contrasts. Frescobaldi's followers include Michel Angelo Rossi (1602-1656), Domenico Zipoli (1688-1726), Bernardo Pasquini (1637-1710), and Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-1667), whose international travels and studies transmitted the style of Frescobaldi to northern Europe. In the Netherlands, the toccatas of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621) presented more rhythmic regularity and some imitative sections. The work of Sweelinck's German successors Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654) and Heinrich Scheidemann (c.1595-1663) influenced the stylistic development of Johann Adam Reincken (1623-1722) and Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707), for whom the toccata became a large-scale work in which imitative sections contrasted with more rhapsodic material, a pattern known as the stylus phantasticus. The Italian master, Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725), incorporated recitatives, variations, fugues, and rhapsodic sections in his toccatas, which significantly influenced the keyboard works of George Frideric Handel and Johann Sebastian Bach.
Bach's toccatas embody characteristics of earlier works, such as contrasts between fugal and rhapsodic sections, and features of his own time and invention such as the paired prelude and fugue. Bach's seven toccatas for harpsichord fall mostly into the stylus phantasticus category, but at least one of them is cast in a three movement concerto form. Indeed, one of the major formative influences on Bach's music was his discovery of the Italian concerto, especially those by Vivaldi. Bach applied the motoric rhythms and ritornello format of these works to the latter three of his five organ toccatas. The early D minor (BWV 565) and E major (BWV 566) toccatas are more directly derivative of the style of Bach's northern German predecessors Reincken, Buxtehude, and Bruhns.
Almost none of Bach's free organ works (i.e. not based on chorales) were published until the nineteenth century. In Bach's time, such pieces circulated by means of manuscript copies to those who wished to study and play them. Because of this, one finds modern editions of Bach's organ compositions differing not only with regard to intricate textual matters, but even on basic nomenclature. While some works were consistently titled Toccata, others were known variously as Praeludium, Preludio, Praeludium con Fuga, Preludio concertato, and so forth. This bewildering array of terms appears to have denoted the same kind of piece: an extended work probably intended to be played in organo pleno, that is with the principal chorus registers of the organ manuals (keyboards) and reed stops in the pedal.
Bach's earliest organ toccata is the famous D minor, BWV 565, composed circa 1704, when Bach was the organist for the Bonifatiuskirche in Arnstadt. The work's tripartite structure recalls the style of one of Bach's life models, Georg Bohm (1661-1733). The Dutch violinist, Jaap Schroeder, believes the piece began its life as a work for unaccompanied violin: the fugue subject lies very well for that instrument, and Bach is known to have transcribed at least one of his solo violin pieces for organ -- the fugue from the Sonata in G Minor. The E major Toccata, BWV 566, also has a model: Buxtehude. Bach traveled to Lubeck to hear him play in 1705, and the Toccata, probably composed the following year, employs the five-part format Buxtehude favored.
The Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564, is one of Bach's first works to reflect both the northern German style (in its opening passages and splendid pedal solo) and the growing influence of the Italian concerto (e.g. the ritornello form of the main body of the toccata). Probably composed sometime between 1708 and 1712, this is one of the few three-movement organ works Bach wrote outside the six Trio Sonatas for two manuals and pedal, BWV 525-30 (which Bach may have actually written for the pedal harpsichord or clavichord, the customary practice instruments of organists before the age of the electric blower). The Toccata, Adagio and Fugue may have been composed as an Orgelprobe -- a test for the final acceptance of a new organ -- a type of event in which Bach is known to have participated many times. The passagework at the outset of the toccata was perhaps designed to test the quickness of the instrument's action. The rests in the subject of the lively fugue may have served to demonstrate the room's acoustics. I insert a cadenza at the close of the toccata in accordance with examples Bach wrote in other compositions (e.g. Prelude and Fugue in F Minor, BWV 534).
The Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 538, called the "Dorian" because its key signature lacks the customary B-flat, shows the pervading influence of the Italian concerto at its most forceful. The constant sequences and driving, motoric rhythm present Vivaldi as filtered through Bach's own esthetic. This is Bach's only free organ work to include indications of manual changes (between the positiv and oberwerk divisions). The fugue is the most perfect of Bach's learned alla breve fugues. The two movements contrast sharply, as is the case with the F Major Toccata and Fugue, BWV 540, which is a refinement of the form of the C Major work. Its initial passagework consists of two canons in the manuals over pedal points alternated with two pedal solos. The remainder of the toccata is in a modified ritornello format. Not originally paired with the toccata, the brilliant alla breve double fugue provides an unlikely, but highly successful coupling: the energy of the mighty toccata -- Bach's longest single movement for organ -- gives way to the artful and stately fugue in a manner that shows unsuspected compatibility between strange bedfellows. The D minor and F major Toccatas were most likely written between 1712 and 1717, during Bach's years in Weimar, where he first gained a reputation as a virtuoso organist.
The E Minor Prelude and Fugue, BWV 548, reflects principles of the Italian concerto but also has a plasticity of line that shows the influence of Bach's Leipzig cantatas, mostly composed between 1725 and 1728. Both parts are cast in ritornello form so that the piece suggests a two-movement concerto for solo organ. While the fugues of BWV 565, 566, and 564 present a highly organ-specific idiom and the fugues paired with the later two Toccatas reflect Bach's vocal compositions, the work in E minor provides an excellent, rare example of Bach's use of the Italian concerto's ritornello form in a fugue for organ.
The superb instrument heard on this recording comes from the shop of Daniel Jaeckel of Deluth, Minnesota. It reflects the character of organs built in northwestern Germany during the late seventeenth century, most specifically the beautiful instruments of Arp Schnitger (1648-1719). The Jaeckel organ features a majestic Werk, or main department, based on sixteen-foot pitch, which creates an effect of great brilliance and magnificent gravity. The Ruckpositiv department, which sits directly behind the player, is of sharper and lighter voicing, while the Brustwerk, right in front of the organist, is subtle and elegant (listen to the first running episodes of the E minor fugue). The pedal has an extroverted posaune register that renders very powerful pedal solos and obbligato writing (it reminds us that, according to German Holy Scripture, Gabriel will be playing a trombone, not a trumpet, on the last day). The organ is tuned in the unequal temperament known as Kirnberger III, which offers a pure third in the key of C major. Its highly expressive winding heightens the vocal character on which Bach's contrapuntal music is based. While ideas on organ construction and esthetics during Bach's life were in a continual state of flux, the composer knew this sort of instrument and made good use of it during his career. On this organ Bach's music sings as freshly today as it did when it was new.
- David Schrader
"Cedille . . . has scored a success with Chicagoan Schrader, whose minute rhythmic innovations turn these familiar Bach works into a vivid listening experience." (San Jose Mercury News)
"[Schrader plays] with nimble-fingered panache . . . on one of the finest German-style organs in the nation . . . The recording has admirable focus and clarity . . . yet there is no lack of ambiance. Essential for Bach organ fans." (Chicago Tribune)
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