The program on this CD celebrates the legacy of Johann Sebastian Bach: the music of Bach himself and the fascinating influence of his music on later composers. Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms played, studied, arranged, and admired Bach’s music, and their works illustrate this admiration.
J. S. Bach’s Fugue in Eb Major, BWV 552/2, is one of the best known of the Bach fugues. It is the final piece of the Clavierübung III, the great collection of organ music Bach published in 1739. The fugue consists of three sections. The first, in Renaissance vocal style, states the theme that resembles the hymn tune "St. Anne" (O God our help in ages past) and gives the fugue its nickname. The second section develops a faster-moving theme that combines with that of the first section, and third section develops a dance-like theme which also combines with the first. This fugue is an extraordinary creation of the great Bach.
The Trio Sonata in G Major, BWV 1027a, is better known from two other versions: for Viola da gamba and harpsichord, BWV 1027; and for two flutes and continuo, BWV 1039. The organ version, available in modern edition by Russell Stinson (A-R Editions) is thought to have been transcribed by Johann Peter Kellner (1705-72) and Johann Nicolaus Mempell (1713-47), copyists of Bach’s music. In four movements, slow-fast-slow fast, the Trio is a very attractive and spirited piece that joins the organ trios of Bach in its appeal.
Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, BWV 659, is part of the collection of chorale settings known as the Leipzig Chorales. It is one of the most beautiful of the ornamented chorale settings of Bach, in which the tune of the chorale is embellished in the soprano voice, heard on the colorful Sesquialtera. Bach’s famous Passacaglia in C Minor, BWV 582, is based on a theme from André Raison’s Trio en forme de Passacaglia. It unfolds in a set of twenty variations, which build in intensity to a climax in the dense, 5-part texture of variation 20. The work concludes with a brilliant fugue, variation 21.
The influence of Bach is heard throughout the works of Johannes Brahms, especially in his fugal writing and in the chorale preludes. The Chorale Prelude and Fugue on "O Traurigkeit, o Herzeleid" was composed in the 1850’s. A sublimely beautiful setting of the Passion chorale, "O Sorrow Deep," the prelude states the chorale in the soprano voice, heard on the Dulcian. The accompanying voices move in beautiful Brahmsian harmonies and two-against-three rhythms.
Felix Mendelssohn was a leader in the revival of public interest in Bach’s music in the nineteenth century. A key concert is the now famous "Mendelssohn-Bach recital" performed by Mendelssohn in St. Thomas Church, Leipzig, in 1840. Mendelssohn opened the recital with the Fugue in Eb, which begins this CD, and included the Passacaglia in the program. Mendelssohn wrote his Six Sonatas for Organ, Op. 65 in 1844-45. Sonata in A Major, Op. 65, No. 3 is in two movements. The first opens with a powerful and lyrical maestoso followed by a forward driving fugue above the chorale, "Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir" (Out of the depths I cry to Thee) heard in the pedal, that leads to a return of the opening maestoso material. The second movement is a lovely Andante.
Robert Schumann wrote six fugues on BACH, Op. 60, that use the four notes that represent the name of Bach—B flat, A, C, B natural—as the theme. Fugue on BACH, Op. 60, No. 1, is an intense and rich contrapuntal composition. Schumann said of his Fugues on BACH that "they may well last longer than any other of my works." The Bach scholar Robert Marshall has said of Mozart’s Fantasia in F Minor, K. 608, that it is in many respects Mozart’s boldest effort at unabashed Bachian style imitation, and that the opening heavy downbeat chords and contrasting dotted figures seem to contain an allusion to the Eb Prelude that opens Clavierübung III. Listed in Mozart’s catalogue as "Ein Orgel Stück für eine Uhr" (an organ piece for a clock), it was written in 1791, the last year of Mozart’s life, to fulfill a curious commission. The music is in no way limited by this, and the Fantasia is among the great pieces in organ literature. The sections of the work are marked Allegro-Andante-Tempo primo. The opening of the Allegro has an energetic, bold, and dramatic character which leads to a fugue of masterful counterpoint and strength. The graceful and lovely andante is a theme with variations of exquisite shape and balance. At the end of the Andante, a flourish leads to a return of the opening dramatic material, followed by an intensified, more elaborate repeat of the fugue, concluding with the bold opening material incorporating stretto (overlapping) treatment of the fugue subject which leads to a powerful and brilliant ending.
—Notes by Joan Lippincott
About Fenner Douglass
After earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Oberlin, Fenner Douglass, distinguished organist and pedagogue, joined the Oberlin faculty, where he remained until 1974, when he became university organist and professor at Duke University. Trained as a performer and principally a teacher of organ performance, Fenner Douglass pursued a parallel career as a scholar. As a pioneer in the historical performance movement, he pursued scholarly interests that focused on the organ traditions of France. His first book, The Language of the Classical French Organ, (Yale University Press, 1969), has become the standard reference work for organ music of the French baroque period; a revised edition was issued in paperback in 1995.
Subsequently, Douglass’ major research efforts centered on the work of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, the French organ master who took organ building into new directions and standards of excellence in the second half of the 19th century. Fenner Douglass was successful in obtaining most of the personal documents, correspondence, and contracts of Cavaillé-Coll, which became the basis for a twovolume work of 1,534 pages, Cavaillé-Coll and the Musicians (Sunbury Press, 1980). Its value as a reference work was confirmed when in 1999 Yale University Press produced a condensed and revised edition of the work, titled Cavaillé-Coll and the French Romantic Tradition. Douglass is also the editor of a two-volume work published by the Westfield Center honoring the organ builder Charles Fisk. In recognition of Fenner Douglass’ scholarly contributions, William Peterson and Lawrence Archbold dedicated to him their book, French Organ Music from the Revolution to Franck and Widor (University of Rochester Press, 1995). In 2001, Oberlin College awarded him with an honorary doctorate.
Throughout his career, Douglass has been an effective proponent of organ building based on historical traditions. His close friendship with Dirk Flentrop and Charles Fisk found him frequently working as a consultant with one or the other on organ projects throughout the country. He charted the course for Oberlin’s remarkable collection of period instruments with the installation of the Flentrop organ in Warner Concert Hall together with plans for the Brombaugh organ in Fairchild Chapel and ultimately the Fisk organ in Finney Chapel. He was also consultant to Moorings Park as they chose the organ for Bower Chapel. In November 2006, Moorings Park named the Taylor and Boody organ in his honor. This recording is also dedicated to Fenner Douglass: colleague, teacher, mentor, friend, scholar, and–above all–musician.