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Liszt-Reubke-Stehle/Fuller (2 CDs!)
Liszt-Reubke-Stehle Fuller

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Program and Notes Reviews
C.B. Fisk French Symphonic organ, SUNY-Buffalo
David Fuller, organ
The three monumental works recorded here represent three “generations” of a musical species that evolved with nineteenth-century romanticism and died out without ever acquiring a distinctive name. It was nourished above all by a new preoccupation with the expressive and pregnant “theme”–anything from a motif to a whole tune–as the essential constructive element of a piece of music. Along with this went an obsession with unity, specifically, a fascination with the idea that a large composition could be unified and its parts linked together by the periodic return or the constant presence of such a theme, either unchanged or modified, fragmented, and “developed” in the manner of a Beethoven symphony, or “transformed” into something quite different in character but still recognizable.

Extensive notes on the music and the organ. A second, narrated version of the Stehle is provided without additional cost.

CD 1

Franz Lizst (1811-1886): Fantasy and Fugue on "Ad nos, ad salutarem undam"
Julius Reubke (1834-1856): Ninety-fourth Psalm
Johann Gustav Eduard Stehle (1839-1915) : Saul (World Premier Recording!)

CD 2

Stehle: Saul (with narration): William Smith Narrator (World Premier Recording!)
Program Notes
The three monumental works recorded here represent three “generations” of a musical species that evolved with nineteenth-century romanticism and died out without ever acquiring a distinctive name. It was nourished above all by a new preoccupation with the expressive and pregnant “theme”–anything from a motif to a whole tune–as the essential constructive element of a piece of music. Along with this went an obsession with unity, specifically, a fascination with the idea that a large composition could be unified and its parts linked together by the periodic return or the constant presence of such a theme, either unchanged or modified, fragmented, and “developed” in the manner of a Beethoven symphony, or “transformed” into something quite different in character but still recognizable. The uncertainty about what to call the new beast can be seen in the variety of labels attached to the pieces recorded here. Liszt called his a “fantasy and fugue” or, informally, referring to the origin of its theme in a Meyerbeer opera, “Prophetenfantasie.” It was published in 1852 as no. 4 in a set of pieces entitled “Illustrations du Prophète” (the first three were for piano). Reubke’s great work was published posthumously by his brother under the title “The Ninety-Fourth Psalm: Grand Sonata for Organ in C minor.” Stehle called his a “symphonic tone-painting.” 

The form that characterized this new species was consolidated by Liszt, almost certainly under the influence of Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy for piano (1822). This was a work in the traditional four movements: fast, slow, minuet or scherzo, and fast, but all connected together without pauses and all based on the same theme (Schubert’s own song, “The Wanderer”), or motifs from it, the finale being a free fugue. Liszt omitted the third movement but retained Schubert’s essentials: the movements were connected, they were all based on the same theme, and the finale was a free fugue. Liszt divided the fugue in two large sections, the second of which reintroduced the subject against a new, rapidly moving counterpoint. Reubke followed Liszt’s example and Stehle followed Reubke, using a theme as well as many other ideas that strikingly recall those of his model.  
Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

In the third number of act I of Meyerbeer’s wildly successful grand opera, Le Propète (1849), based on the life of the religious fanatic John of Leyden (d. 1536), three Anabaptists come upon a crowd of peasants in the country near Dordrecht in Holland and begin to preach insurrection to them. The number is a kind of rondo whose theme, set to the text “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam iterum venite miseri” (“To us, to the healing waters, come again [i.e., come to be rebaptised], ye who are in misery”), alternates with exhortations (in French) to rise up against the local landowners. The tune is said to have been a traditional Jewish melody that Meyerbeer knew from his childhood, and indeed it makes a notably awkward fit to the Latin words (ex. 1). Although Liszt was able to draw from this brief tune the whole thematic material for a thirty-minute work, he never used it quite as Meyerbeer wrote it but changed the meter from triple to duple and raised the archaic-sounding B-flat in the first phrase (ex. 2).
Liszt composed his Ad nos in the winter of 1850; it received its first performance under the fingers of the twenty-one-year-old Alexander Winterberger at the inauguration of the immense Ladegast organ in Merseburg Cathedral on 26 September 1855. It was published in an arrangement that could be played as either an organ solo or a piano duet (there are often seven staves per system in order to accommodate the different media). The first movement (i.e., the first half of the “fantasia”) consists of an introduction and three sections that develop the first three phrases of the theme according to the following scheme: introduction with phrases 1+2+3; short cadenza; a quiet section developing phrase 1; a longer section building in speed and volume and developing phrases 1+2; a still longer one beginning with a brilliant fanfare on phrase 3 and continuing with phrases 3+1.

Finally, after a massive climax and a long, slowly subsiding cadenza, the complete tune, including the fourth and last phrase, is heard for the first time, pianissimo, unaccompanied, and in F#-major, as far as you can get from the main key of C-minor. Thus begins the second movement. The rest of this movement combines and recombines the first three phrases into a series of imaginative lyrical sections alternating with recitative-like transitions and stretching the coloristic possibilities of the instrument to the limit.

After a hushed and mysterious transition, the last movement bursts out in a series of powerful diminished chords and brilliant flourishes on the pedals that bring us back to C-minor and Meyerbeer’s complete tune, now in its original triple meter but rhythmically transformed into a marvelously virile, swinging fugue subject. The fugue gradually builds to a climax and a fanfare in F#-major, returns through a series of virtuoso modulations to C-minor and duple meter, then lunges into a break-neck vivace molto, the subject now borne on a torrent of sixteenth-notes. The work closes with the theme in a luminous C-major apotheosis.

This recording takes certain liberties with Liszt’s score. Although Liszt played the organ and was especially interested in registration, he was not skilled on the pedals. Whether it was because he did not think that the flourishes introducing the fugue were playable on the pedals at all, or because they ascended a half-step above the usual pedal compass of the time, they are written out for two hands. Other passages are more active in the bass of the duet arrangement than in the organ pedals; some of these are normally incorporated into the pedal part of modern editions and thus into recordings, others not (with the exception of the edition of Sándor Margittay for Editio Musica Budapest, which includes them all), notably the rapid scales after the F#-major fanfare in the fugue and the brief arpeggios interrupting the long dominant pedal-point near the end. Also, near the beginning, the hands sustain loud chords while the pedals play longish passages. On the piano, the chords die away before their notated value is up, but on the organ they produce a relentless, static fortissimo-an effect that many players try to mitigate by rushing the tempo; they have been enlivened here with inner tremolandos. In several places the parts have been redistributed between hands and feet and rests introduced for the sake of clarity; these last sorts of liberties will be noticed mainly by those who play the piece.

Julius Reubke

There are many (myself included) who think that Reubke’s sonata is the finest organ work of the nineteenth century. It was completed, shortly after his only other substantial composition, a massive piano sonata in B-flat minor, in the spring of 1857, when the composer had hardly turned twenty-three (Wagner was working on the second act of Siegfried). Both Reubke and Winterberger were members of the golden circle of Liszt’s disciples at Weimar in the mid-1850s; Reubke played his Ninety-Fourth Psalm on 17 June 1857 at Merseburg, less than two years after Winterberger’s Ad nos on the same organ. In another year, Reubke was dead of tuberculosis; a warmly phrased note of condolence to his organ-builder father exists in Liszt’s hand.

Reubke did not live to publish his sonata; it was brought out shortly after 1870 by his brother Otto. Unlike Ad nos, but like the nine symphonic poems that Liszt had completed between 1848 and 1857, Reubke’s sonata is programmatic. The following verses from the ninety-fourth psalm were printed in the first edition: 

Grave; Larghetto
O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth; O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, shew thyself.
Lift up thyself, thou judge of the earth; render a reward to the proud.

Allegro con fuoco
Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph?
They slay the widow and stranger, and murder the fatherless.
Yet they say, The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.

Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul had almost dwelt in silence.
In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.

But the Lord is my defence; and my God is the rock of my refuge.
And he shall bring upon them their own iniquity, and shall cut them off in their own wickedness; yea, the Lord our God shall cut them off.

How far this distribution of verses reflects the composer’s intentions cannot be known, since no manuscript has ever been found. The psalm contains no narrative and the music suggests none, though Reubke provided a musical signal at the end of major sections in the shape of a sustained chord of the minor ninth. This is played triple or quadruple piano after the Grave, Allegro, and Adagio, and triple forte before the second, faster section of the fugue. There is no such chord between the Larghetto and Allegro, which are connected by an extraordinary cadenza that mounts with steadily increasing speed and power from piano to triple forte.

Reubke’s sonata is incomparably more coherent than Liszt’s Ad nos, in which the prevailing method of composing any given section, in the first two movements, at least, was a kind of ingeniously varied repetition, resulting in what Gerald Abraham called “wallpaper form” after its repeating patterns, and in which the composer sometimes seems to have been unsure how to get from one section to another. While neither more original nor more noble in aspiration than his master and while admittedly appropriating wholesale the broad outlines of the earlier work (along with its key of C-minor), the youthful Reubke was nevertheless able to spin out long trajectories of music whose themes dissolve into motifs which in turn evolve into new melodies with their own evolving motifs, all woven into a fabric now contrapuntal, now massively chordal, now shimmering with brilliant passage-work, devoid of clichés and stock figures but generating textures that make the instrument sound its unfailing best. Both harmony and rhythm in the Reubke sonata also contribute to the maintenance of tension and forward drive, carrying the music seamlessly from one section to the next. But the most striking factor differentiating the two works is the nature of their themes: a four-square tune in Liszt that frustrates every effort to conceal the joints; in Reubke, an elusive passage clouded by every kind of ambiguity–harmonic, rhythmic, textural, phraseological–in which it is not possible even to decide which of the elements are truly a part of it–a theme that almost guarantees continuity (ex. 3).

Johann Gustav Eduard Stehle (1839-1915) 

J. G. Eduard Stehle, as he was usually known, spent his whole life within a radius of hardly twenty-five miles around the Lake of Constance, whose waters touch Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Born north of the lake in what was then the Kingdom of Württemberg, he spent most of his professional life on the south side in Switzerland: in Rohrschach from 1869, when he turned thirty, and as organist and choirmaster of the cathedral of St. Gallen from 1874 until two years before his death in 1915. Though now virtually extinguished, by 1884 his fame had spread as far as New York, where he was offered (and declined) the organ and choir of St. Francis Xavier. By far the larger part of Stehle’s many compositions were vocal, both sacred and secular, among them twenty masses and two oratorios. He was active in the late-nineteenth-century German “Caecilian” reform of church music, in which he supported modernizing tendencies, and he became a passionate admirer of Liszt. After 1900, however, his tastes ceased to evolve with the times, and by 1905 he could not say enough in condemnation of the cacophony of Richard Strauss and other moderns.

Stehle’s arrival at St. Gallen coincided with the rebuilding and enlargement of the cathedral organ by the Swiss firm of Kuhn. While he wrote few important works for organ, and those mainly concentrated in the years between 1872 and 1880, Saul, composed in 1877 and published the following year, was the most ambitious. Praised by Liszt but rarely played even when new–an article of 1900 cites its intensely programmatic character and immense difficulty as possible reasons–it has totally disappeared from the repertory since.1 Nevertheless, among the half-dozen or so organists who played it before the turn of the century were two Americans, John Withe (sic, for White?) in New York and Clarence Eddy in Berlin. In 1888, Stehle made an orchestral arrangement transposed from the original B-flat-minor to C-minor; it was performed in 1894 but has remained in manuscript.

Unlike the the Reubke sonata, which can be thoroughly enjoyed without a knowledge of its program, Saul unfolds in a series of musical events that can hardly be explained except by reference to the events in Saul’s life that they are intended to illustrate. Yet the piece is so long and complex that the listener can rarely orient himself in the narrative. A review of a performance by the composer in 1882–the critic admitted, to be sure, that he disliked program music on the organ–made precisely this complaint. That is why this recording has been issued in two versions, one with spoken narration. Stehle’s score is headed by a “program,” but no index links the listed events to places in the music, and there are more contrasting sections of music than there are events in the program to explain them. Thus it has been necessary to some extent to guess which part of the “program” the composer might have meant to illustrate with a given musical passage. One prominent theme, indeed, seems to correspond with nothing in the printed program, though it makes excellent sense as the illustration of something in Saul’s story (the mocking song of the women of Israel; see below), and we have taken the liberty of adding it to the narration.

The story of Saul is told in the first book of Samuel2, where it is complicated by the problem that certain events are recounted twice in differing versions, as if conflicting sources had been unsatisfactorily conflated. The following summary has been reduced to a bare outline of elements relevant to Stehle’s work: The elders of Israel, angered by the corruption of their rulers (the “judges”), demanded of the prophet Samuel that he should give them a king. Samuel prayed to God, who, acting through Samuel, and with great reluctance (since it was as if His people were rejecting Him in favor of a king), chose Saul. Saul was a proud, complex, and unstable man who soon offended both God and Samuel. Samuel rebuked him bitterly and prophesied his downfall. God regretted His choice and secretly chose David to succeed Saul. Saul’s servants, observing that from time to time an evil spirit descended upon him, advised him to summon David, whom they knew only as a skilled player upon the lyre, to play soothing music to him on these occasions. This David did, to Saul’s great relief. David also slew the Philistine giant Goliath, and Saul made him commander of a thousand troops. David was so successful in war with the Philistines that all the women of Israel came out to greet him singing, “Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” (Samuel 1, 18:7) Saul was enraged by the derisory comparison, saying, “They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands,” adding prophetically, “and what can he have more but the kingdom?” And Saul was again visited by the evil spirit, and again David soothed him with music. But now Saul was suspicious, he held a spear, and he hurled it at David, missing him. From this time forward, Saul treated David with extreme ambivalence, and he became increasingly unsuccessful in war. Finally, abandoned by God, he fell upon his own sword.

Stehle’s “program” reads as follows: Triumphal march of the proud conqueror; his defiant arrogance; the prophet’s rebuke; he is gradually overcome by the spirit of desolation and night; the struggling king rises up magnificently; gentle consoling song of the shepherd boy from Bethlehem, interspersed with dark looks from Saul; the catastrophe; the genius of consolation [David] escapes, lamenting; the fulfillment of unalterable fate.3

The opening march, of almost frenzied grandiosity, celebrates Saul’s first victory over the Philistines. The introductory trumpet fanfare doubtless represents the biblical line, “And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, ‘Let the Hebrews hear’”. (Samuel 1, 13:3) The music slowly subsides to near silence, after which we hear two passages of recitative. The first is evidently Saul boasting of his conquest; the second is Samuel’s rebuke of Saul and the prophecy of his downfall. The main motif of Samuel’s recitative (ex. 4–strikingly reminiscent of Reubke) will become the principal thematic germ of the whole piece; we already heard it as it briefly interruped Saul’s blustering recitative. Samuel is answered by a defiant outburst from the king that becomes increasingly vociferous until it finally subsides to a quiet new theme (ex. 5). This appears to be the theme of night and desolation, again reminiscent of Reubke; it gradually grows into a struggle at the climax of which the king with a mighty lurch tries to free himself from guilt and oppression (grossartiges Aufbäumen des Ringenden: literally, magnificent rearing-up of the wrestler). But again the music subsides inconclusively and another dark theme is heard as the process repeats (ex. 6), this time with a longer buildup of both speed and volume until what can only be the derisive song of the women of Israel bursts out (ex. 7). Saul reacts with a struggle similar to the preceding one, after which the music again subsides, this time with a motive reminiscent of the fate motive in Wagner’s Ring, coming to rest on the same chord of the minor ninth that Reubke used to signal the end of a movement.

Now David is brought with his lyre, and after a quiet prelude made of extraordinarily elusive chromatic harmonies, he plays the three stanzas of his consoling song (a “transformation” in the manner of Liszt, with intervals expanded, of the first theme of night and desolation: ex. 8). The stanzas are separated by suspicious looks from Saul, his spear in his hand. The prelude returns as a postlude, then Saul recalls the prophecy of Samuel. David begins his song again, but in a sudden fury Saul hurls his spear to pin David to the wall, as the organ makes the loudest possible smashing sound. But the spear misses, there is silence, and David departs, lamenting. Again we hear Reubke’s ninth chord as the movement ends.

The dénouement begins with a fugato on the motif of Samuel’s prophecy (ex. 9). This builds gradually to a fragment from the opening march over rising chromatic scales (ex. 10), after which a strangely distorted version of what we have called the women’s song again bursts out (ex. 7). The music continues with the prophecy motive, until a cadenza brings us to the second half of the movment. Just as in Liszt and Reubke, the fugue subject returns against fast-moving counterpoint. From here to the end the music focuses more and more on the motive of Samuel’s prophecy (ex. 4), which grows louder and more insistent until, in a passage of detached chords over a pedal cadenza nearly copied from Reubke, the work reaches its massive and savage conclusion.
-David Fuller 


1. W. Widmann, “J. G. Ed. Stehle,” Schweizerische Musikzeitung 40 (1900), 233-4; 243-4. On Saul, p. 243. The principal monograph on Stehle is Alois Koch, Johann Gustav Eduard Stehle (1839-1915) und die katholische Kirchenmusik in der deutschen Schweiz zur Zeit der caecilianischen Reform (Lucern: Edition Cron, 1977).

The David Story, a lavishly annotated new translation of Samuel 1 and 2 by Robert Alter (New York: Norton, 1999), has been of great help.

See the German translation of these notes for the original. For Stehle’s own performance of the work in the Grossmünster in Zürich on 11 July 1882, the word “energetic” (energisch) was substituted for “magnificent” (grossartig). A review of the work by A. W. Gottschalg (1827-1908), a Weimar organist and friend of Liszt, written just after publication, evidently from the score without an opportunity to hear more than the reviewer could sight-read himself, also seems to guess at the relations between program and music and does not always agree with my analysis. Contrary to the bible, Gottschalg has Saul’s spear pierce David, who falls to the floor where “from the breast rich in song life’s crimson fluid gushes out.” The motif that I have assigned to the women’s mocking song is labeled by Gottschalg “motif of power” (Kraft). Gottschalg, who was an ardent partisan of the “new German school” of Liszt and Wagner, calls Saul “the first symphonic poem for organ” and heaps praise upon it for its audacious embrace of all that he considered progressive. (Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 74 [1878], 249-51; 261-2). Another reviewer called it “music of the future” (Zukunftsmusik). For an unenthusiastic review by A. Ruthardt of Stehle’s performance in Zürich, see Schweizerische Musikzeitung 22 (1882), 115; reprinted in Koch, p. 139, note 98.



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