Mendelssohn Rarities/Schola Cantorum
Mendelssohn Rarities

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Program and Notes Reviews

Mendelssohn Rarieties
The Craighead-Saunders organ of Christ Church, Rochester, NY
David Higgs, William Porter, Hans Davidsson, Jonathan Wessler, Thatcher Lyman, Stephen Kennedy, organ
Christ Church Schola Cantorum, Stephen Kennedy, director

Hailed as "the greatest child prodigy the history of Western music has ever known” (Charles Rosen), Mendelssohn wrote for the organ from the age of 11. New appraisals of his less-commonly performed organ and choral works reveal gems equal to his most beloved compositions.

Performed on the new Craighead-Saunders organ of the Eastman School of Music, with the Schola Cantorum of Christ Church.


1. Allegro moderato maestoso [March] in C Major, MWV W44 (David Higgs) 2:55
2. Andante con moto in G Minor, MWV W15 (Thatcher Lyman) 1:30
3. Präludium in C Minor, MWV W28 (Thatcher Lyman) 3:39

Sechs Sprüche (Op. 79) (Schola Cantorum)
4. Spruch #5, Im Advent, MWV B54 1:42
5. Spruch #1, Weihnachten, MWV B42 1:41
6. Spruch #2, Am Neujahrstage, MWV B44 3:04
7. Spruch #4, In der Passionszeit, MWV B50 1:58
8. Spruch #6, Am Charfreitage, MWV B52 1:44
9. Spruch #3, Am Himmelfahrstage, MWV B55 1:44

10. Präludium in D Minor, MWV W2 (Jonathan Wessler) 5:38
11. Allegro in B-flat Major, MWV W47 (Stephen Kennedy) 3:00
12. Andante in F Major, MWV W30 (David Higgs) 3:20
13. Andante [with Variations] in D Major, MWV W32 (David Higgs) 5:41

Aus tiefer Noth schrei ich zu dir (Op. 23. No. 1), MWV B20 (Schola Cantorum, David Baskeyfield, organ)
14. Choral (“Aus tiefer Noth”) 1:12
15. Fuga (“Aus tiefer Noth”) 4:54
16. Aria (“Bei dir gilt nichts den Gnad’ und Gunst”) 4:04
Scott Perkins, tenor
17. Choral (“Und ob es währt bis in die Nacht”) 2:47
Katherine Evans, alto • Robert Strebendt, tenor • Daniel Pickens-Jones, bass
18. Choral (“Ob bei uns ist der Sünden viel”) 1:30

19. Nachspiel in D Major, MWV W12 (Hans Davidsson) 5:36
20. Andante - Sanft in D Major, MWV W6 (William Porter) 3:47
21. Allegro [Choral and Fugue] in D Minor/Major, MWV W33 (William Porter) 8:41

22. Verleih uns Frieden, MWV A11 (Schola Cantorum) 5:26
Pamela McGary, violin I • Manyui Cheung, violin II • Boel Gidholm & Kyle Miller, viola
Rosemary Elliott, violincello I • Colin Stokes, violincello II • Steven Seigart, organ


Program Notes

Originally intended as one of the movements of the Organ Sonatas (Op. 65), Mendelssohn vigorously rejected the Allegro moderato maestoso [March in C Major] by drawing a very large X across the entire page. It remained unpublished until 1988—an attractive example of the composer’s oft repressed fondness for marches on the organ.

The Andante in G Minor (1833), a genuine and apparently Mendelssohn’s only miniature for organ, was inscribed on a single page in Vincent Novello’s autograph album. It is a charming example of the composer’s ability to shape a skillfully finished and polished work in nuce. Präludium in C Minor (1841) is an occasional work, written for the Edinburgh

Präludium in C Minor (1841) is an occasional work, written for the Edinburgh organist and conductor, Henry Dibdin, who requested a “long measure psalm tune”. Mendelssohn, having no idea what that was, sent him this prelude. Clearly based on the Andante in G Minor (track 2), it expands Mendelssohn’s original thought and demonstrates his deft contrapuntal hand when operating within a limited scope.

Perhaps the most pertinent observation one might make about Mendelssohn’s
Sechs Sprüche is that they are almost never performed. And on those rare occasions when performances are given, they invariably take place in a concert rather than liturgical setting. The original purpose for which Mendelssohn wrote them—each as part of the Prussian king’s new liturgical order of service—has vanished, and with it their musical raison d’être. Thus liturgically marooned, they have long existed in a kind of repertorial limbo. Between twenty and forty measures in length, these pieces are terse statements: too long for introits and generally too short for motets, which, in fact, they are. Written for the Berlin Cathedral Choir, which consisted of some of the most highly trained professional singers in the German capital, these six a cappella motets for double chorus are among the composer’s more demanding choral works. This is Mendelssohn at his most intellectual, and most austere.

Neither the order in which the
Sprüche were written (between 1843 and 1846) nor the jumbled sequence in which they were originally published has anything to do with their thematic order in the liturgical year. Because there seems to be no reason for the order of their original sequences, they are performed here according to their chronological place in the liturgical year: Advent, Christmas, New Year’s Day, Holy Week, Good Friday and Ascension. None of these seasonal or specific days necessarily falls on a Sunday, and thus the proscription against the use of “Halleluja” in the penitential seasons would seem to apply. Contrary to Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions, however, King Friedrich Wilhelm IV’s service protocol clearly endorsed the use of “Halleluja” on virtually any occasion. The concluding “Halleluja” in each Spruch, although individually different and distinct, thus constitutes a common link within the entire set.

Composed at different times and under different circumstances, there is little other musical cohesion in the set. The two
Sprüche for Advent and Christmas share G Major as their common tonality, and each begins with the outline of an ascending G major triad, while both are also linked by a textual exhortation to rejoice.

In contrast Mendelssohn’s first work written for organ and composed at age eleven, the
Präludium in D Minor (1820) was doubtless a byproduct of his recently begun organ lessons with August Wilhelm Bach. Although it is manifestly a youthful endeavor—block chords predominate and pedals are largely ignored—Mendelssohn nonetheless managed to infuse it with a sense of direction and cohesion that holds the listener’s interest for more than one hundred thirty bars.

Allegro in B-flat Major (Dec. 1844?) was originally intended as the final movement of Organ Sonata IV. Mendelssohn had severe reservations about it and finally discarded it in April 1845. Virtually never found on recital programs and almost never performed, this Allegro is certainly Mendelssohn’s strangest organ work. Pianistic in character, its driving force is the relentless rhythmic pattern of descending chords against a melodic line that alternately soars above and below it. Despite its unorganistic nature, the Allegro possesses a contagious charm and deserves to be better known. A transparent three-voiced movement, this attractive Andante in F major (1844) was the first piece composed by Mendelssohn, when he began work on what would eventually become Six Organ Sonatas (Op. 65). Although at first glance it appears to be a trio, the absence of an active and independent pedal part eliminates it as an organ trio in the traditional sense. It may, however, be more accurately characterized as a two-part invention over a supportive pedal line. In this respect it is not unrelated to the Allegretto of the Fourth Organ Sonata.

Originally intended for inclusion in the Organ Sonatas, but probably eliminated because of its length, the
Andante in D Major [with Variations] (1844) was apparently dear to Mendelssohn’s heart, since two surviving fragments suggest that he continued to tinker with it later. Here, in its definitive form, Mendelssohn features the theme in both the right and left hands, and against triplets, and in 6/8 meter. Predictably, at the end he restates the theme in its original harmonized form.

Inspired by a small volume of Luther’s chorales given him by his Viennese host, Franz Hauser, upon his departure for Italy in 1830, Mendelssohn eventually composed a half dozen chorale cantatas based on the chorales in his
Lutherisches Liederbüchlein. Among the first of what he referred to as the “Lutheran Chorale Project” was “Aus tiefer Noth”, completed in Venice on 19 October 1830. It is the only one of the set that he published during his lifetime (Drei Kirchemusiken, Bonn, 1832).

Surrounded in Venice by magnificent examples of Renaissance and mannerist architecture, Mendelssohn seems to have found inspiration for “Aus tiefer Noth” as much in the late Renaissance and early baroque composers as he did in J. S. Bach. Framed at the beginning and end by straightforward statements of the Chorale, the cantata is neatly constructed of five roughly equal parts. The two settings of the Chorale differ harmonically only to a slight degree: the first is more restrained and terse. The second setting of the chorale, at the end, is slightly more ornate, but otherwise, the differences are minor. This simple framework not only gives a contained form and shape to the motet, but it is also reminiscent of Bach’s chorale partitas for organ, in which the composer normally repeats the Chorale as the concluding movement.

The second movement is a fugue, with the first phrase of the Chorale as the subject. Mendelssohn changed the first note from a quarter to a half note, a move that caused him such concern, that he sought the advice of his teacher, Carl Friedrich Zelter, as to whether such an alteration was permissible (14 October, 1830). The Fugue itself is a model of 16th/17th century counterpoint and could quite conceivably have been written two hundred years earlier. Although impersonal stylistically, Mendelssohn was nonetheless as keenly aware of the overall sonority, as he was elsewhere in his choral music. The Fugue, unintentionally perhaps, also provides a valuable glimpse into Mendelssohn’s understanding and appreciation of the popular “Palestrina Style” movement of mid-nineteenth century Germany. (Giuseppe Baini’s seminal study of Palestrina’s life and works had appeared only three years earlier, 1828.)

Mendelssohn’s score implies that the third movement, the Aria with Chorus, should flow seamlessly out of the Fugue. Here, at the center of the work, Mendelssohn’s style changes abruptly, as the impersonal gives way to the personal, Mendelssohn seems to have found inspiration for “Aus tiefer Noth” as much in the late Renaissance and early baroque composers as he did in J. S. Bach. Framed at the beginning and end by straightforward statements of the Chorale, the cantata is neatly constructed of five roughly equal parts. The two settings of the Chorale differ harmonically only to a slight degree: the first is more restrained and terse. The second setting of the chorale, at the end, is slightly more ornate, but otherwise, the differences are minor. This simple framework not only gives a contained form and shape to the motet, but it is also reminiscent of Bach’s chorale partitas for organ, in which the composer as counterpoint yields to harmony, and Mendelssohn’s antiquarian stance is replaced by a clearly contemporary, indeed, intimate manner. Floating above a simple organ accompaniment that doubles the melody, the tenor solo melds almost imperceptibly into the full choir, which in large measure is a reprise of the Aria. Handled with consummate restraint, the tempo is
Adagio throughout, as is the dynamic marking, piano.

In the fourth movement, a
figurierter Choral, the tutti soprano line carries the chorale melody against a contrapuntally worked out development in the three lower voices (all Solo), continuing the tempo and mood of the third movement (Andante, Dolce). In closing the movement, Mendelssohn allows himself a brief indulgence in one of his favorite devices, durezze e ligature, as the soprano line remains stationary for the final seven measures over constantly moving harmonic line.

In the fifth movement, a restatement of the chorale, Mendelssohn looks back to the Fugue (second movement) and again transforms the opening note of the chorale from a quarter- to a half-note. Otherwise, the reiteration of the unadorned chorale serves as a symmetrical conclusion to the cantata.

Written in Rome during Mendelssohn’s Grand Tour, the
Nachspiel (“Postlude”) is Mendelssohn’s most enigmatic organ work. Specifically, its purpose is unknown (i.e., postlude to what?) Most probably, Mendelssohn intended it as a postlude to his chorale cantata “Wir glauben all’ an einen Gott”, although that cannot be documented. In 1844 Mendelssohn returned to the Nachspiel and, with a slightly changed rhythmic pattern and minus its fugue, used it as the final movement of his Second Organ Sonata.

Although clearly an apprenticeship work, in which the composer is still trying to establish his own distinct approach and style, this amiable
Andante in D Major seems to have been influenced, if not inspired, by one of many similar short movements, romantically described as sanft (gentle, soft, tender) by his former organ teacher, August Wilhelm Bach.

The Allegro [Chorale and Fugue] in D/d was the last of four movements written in the first inspirational heat of July 1844, as Mendelssohn began work on his “Voluntary” project, commissioned by his English publisher, Charles Coventry. Covering nearly two hundred measures, it is Mendelssohn’s longest work for organ, which may well be the reason why it was finally culled from the movements chosen for inclusion in his Six Organ Sonatas. This tripartite composition opens with a fiery toccata-like fantasy on a bold theme. Improvisatory in style and imbued with a ferocity and intensity virtually unparalleled in Mendelssohn’s oeuvre for organ, the composer combines rapid scale passages with block chords in an upward journey, that culminates with the Chorale bursting forth in D Major. The Chorale itself is an original four-square statement, alternating with and without pedals, and the Fugue that follows grows directly out of the final chord of the Chorale. The careful listener will hear in the fugal subject the opening melody of the Andante in D Major with Variations that Mendelssohn had completed only a day or so earlier. Curiously, Mendelssohn offers only the dynamic indication, f[orte] at the beginning of the Allegro, despite the fact that several implicit, but significant dynamic variations occur in the course of the work. Equally curious, but nonetheless characteristic, Mendelssohn concludes the Fugue in a descending, rather than ascending, direction, and ends at the rather low pitch of D above middle C.

Unlike “Aus tiefer Noth” or the other chorale cantatas, all of which were part of the Lutheran Chorale Project and based on chorale
canti firmi, “Verleih uns Frieden” is not grounded in a chorale, but is an entirely original creation, a kind of nonsectarian cantique or sacred song. The text is simply a translation of the prayer for peace, “Da/Dona nobis pacem”, which is the concluding prayer in numerous liturgical contexts.

Although Mendelssohn gave the opening melody no specific designation, it would be quite appropriate to describe it as an Aria, precisely as he had explicitly titled the central movement of his cantata “Aus tiefer Noth”. Apparently not noticed until now, these two movements are intimately related; the opening eight bars of both the Aria and “Verleih uns Frieden” are virtually identical.

The intent, as Mendelssohn originally planned it, was simplicity itself: “a canon with cello and basses”. As the work progresses, however, Mendelssohn brings in more instruments and more voices, but without losing in any way the work’s crystalline purity. The principal melody that Mendelssohn called his “little song” (“das kleine Lied”) ranks among the most moving and beautiful ever to come from the composer’s pen, yet strangely, the cantata is rarely heard. Robert Schumann was among the first to recognize this “uniquely beautiful composition”, and announced that it “deserves to become world-famous”. After all, “Raphael and Murillo cannot remain hidden for very long.” (Robert Schumann,
Gesammelte Schriften, III.40).

After a short introduction by the bassoons, violoncelli and contrabass/organ, which sets the serene mood of the work, the melody is first quietly intoned in the bass (
p e dolce). Then, after the briefest of interludes, the alto repeats the melody (p e dolce) in dialogue with the bass. The use of low tessitura in both the choral and instrumental lines, to enhance the calm and peaceful aura that pervades the work, is characteristic of Mendelssohnian technique. Leading into the third and concluding part of the cantata the composer gradually introduces other instruments, and finally the full chorus enters in a conventional four part, hymn-like harmonization, but still at mezzoforte. In the final dozen or so bars Mendelssohn introduces a subtle figuration of the original melody and closes with a diminuendo to pp in all parts. Extending for a mere 102 bars, “Verleih uns Frieden” could perhaps also be described as a choral miniature. In the course of the entire cantata the range of every voice, with but a single brief exception, never exceeds an octave. —WM. A. LITTLE

Producer's notes:

This recording was made in two acoustics: Christ (Episcopal) Church and Fountain Court in the Memorial Art Gallery, both in Rochester, NY. Fountain Court, which houses Eastman’s historical Italian Baroque Organ is blessed with superb acoustics for a cappella singing. The organ solo works, and choral works with organ were recorded using the Craighead-Saunders Organ at Christ Church. This is our third recording on this instrument (see also Loft Recordings LRCD-1115 “The Craighead-Saunders Organ” and Gothic Records G-49278-2 “Bach: Art of Fugue”) and its musical flexibility never ceases to amaze this listener. In this recording in particular one can hear how readily the organ’s foundation stops blend with strings and the human voice, particularly in the final track where string instruments with gut strings were employed.

Recording sessions in both places used only two high-quality, omni-directional microphones. There were no transformers in the signal path, and no artificial “reverb” was added, or necessary. Soloists were recorded with their actual, natural balance to the other instruments and singers. The organ was manually pumped to provide wind pressure and as a result, bellows sounds can occasionally be heard in the background.

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