Most instrumentalists, when they make a CD recording, do so because of a desire to record a particular part of the repertoire. An organist, however, is faced with an additional choice: the choice of an instrument. Which choice comes first is sometimes a matter of circumstance. In the case of this recording, the circumstance was that of encountering an organ of almost magical beauty nestled in the rolling farmlands of eastern Sweden. The extraordinary tonal character of this instrument points the organist in two directions: on the one hand its strong, reedy ensemble is ideal for congregational singing on the other hand it possesses a wealth of highly colorful flute and string registers of intense sweetness that also invite the organist to improvise. This is hardly surprising, since the organs of Pehr Schiörlin were intended for just such a dual use. In the case of the instrument at Gammalkil, Schiörlin’s largest, its internal layout, wind system, and its pipework all combine to produce a highly melodic organ, appropriate for polyphony provided that the texture is not too thick (duos and trios work especially well), but ideal for the simple expressivity of much of the organ music of the mid-eighteenth century and later.
Accordingly, the Clavier-Übung of Johann Ludwig Krebs, published in two volumes in 1752 and 1753, provides ample material to bring the organ’s tonal resources to life, and the organ reciprocates by clothing these pieces with gesture, speech, and melodic charm. The Clavier-Übung is a collection of 39 pieces based upon 13 chorales in standard use in the eighteenth century. Each chorale is given a Praeambulum, followed by either a bicinium or tricinium, and concludes with a figured bass harmonization of the chorale. The two- and three-part settings allow the “chamber music” registrations of the Gammalkil organ to be heard to good effect, and they reflect the improvisational style of their era, while the concluding harmonizations allow for a display of the various ways in which this organ produces sounds for congregational singing.
In addition to the Clavier-Übung, the two chorale preludes “Von Gott will ich nicht lassen” and “Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr,” were among the favorites of the late Carl-Gustaf Lewenhaupt, who supervised the organ’s recent restoration; it is to his memory that this recording is dedicated, with deep gratitude for his life and work.
– William Porter
“The bearer, Mr. Johann Ludwig Krebs, [is] one who has so distinguished himself here particularly ‘in musicis,’ having qualified himself in respect to the clavier, the violin, and the lute, as well as composition…I wish him accordingly Divine Support in his advancement, and herewith recommend him again most heartily.”
- The New Bach Reader, ed. David, Mendel, Wolff
With these words Johann Sebastian Bach recommended one of his prized pupils. Especially noteworthy is his use of the words “in musicis”—a special term used by Bach to indicate those students who understood music at an intuitive level. Krebs’s connection with Bach was a deep one; Johann Ludwig's father had also studied organ with Bach when at Weimar. As part of Bach’s inner circle for nine years, Krebs learned a variety of musical skills and undoubtedly performed on the organ, harpsichord, violin, and lute in many performances led by Bach. Many of Bach’s compositions have come down to us in Krebs’s hand, including cantatas 142 (“Nun danket”) and 140 (“Wachet auf”) and a number of organ works. Following his studies with Bach in Leipzig Krebs went on to hold three successive positions as organist: at the Marienkirche of Zwickau, at the castle in Zeitz, and at the castle in Altenburg. At Altenburg he presided over the large Trost organ of 1739 in the castle’s chapel, an instrument whose silvery elegant sounds cause organists to marvel to this day. He stayed there for forty-five years until his death at the age of eighty-six.
Although it is impossible today to view Krebs outside of the shadow of his musical mentor, Krebs established an independent reputation as a virtuoso organist, organ expert, and organ teacher. When Bach died, Krebs was immediately considered as his possible successor at Leipzig. Like Bach, Krebs perpetuated his career through his children: his son succeeded him as organist in Altenburg, as did his grandson.
– Roger Sherman
About the Recording
The organ of Gammalkil, Sweden, is located in the rear gallery of the church, close to a curved, wooden, barrel-vaulted ceiling. The opposite end of the church is also curved and acoustically reflective. The church is made of stone and covered with plaster on the interior. These properties are ideal for the organ and for congregational singing, but present challenges to the recording engineer. Curved reflective surfaces can change the apparent direction of the sound in a stereo recording, creating a confusing stereo image. The voicing of the organ, which is optimized for the melodic treble-range, consequently reduces somewhat the level of the tenor range. In our approach to recording this beautiful instrument, we wanted to present its natural sound as well as its effect in the room. Placing the microphones close to the organ produces the clearest sound, particularly in the tenor range. But this close placement also sounds antiseptic and emphasizes the noise of the keyboard action. If the microphones had been too far away, the organ would have sounded remote, undersized, and muddy. Two DPA omni-directional microphones were carefully placed to capture the instrument’s natural sound on the main floor. The resulting sound is well blended, particularly in the tenor and bass, as the organ sounds in person. The treble is clear and vocal, yet benefits from the acoustical aura of the room. The shortest possible lengths of microphone cable and twenty four-bit analog-to-digital converters captured the minutest detail of the organ and its reverberation in the room.
– Roger Sherman