The creation of Charles Fisk’s organ building company in 1961 was motivated by his desire “to build organs truly suitable for playing early music, especially that of J. S. Bach.”1 Yet rather than copy any single surviving “Bach organ,” Fisk incorporated salient features of different historical styles into one instrument, creating a historically-informed eclecticism. This approach to organ design produced the magnificent instrument in Stanford University’s Memorial Church, an organ which has become famous for incorporating two tuning systems, a modified mean-tone and a well-temperament. Much has already been written about the Stanford Fisk; recordings by Robert Bates and Harald Vogel have demonstrated the versatility of the two tunings in French and German baroque music, leading up to the organ masterpieces of J. S. Bach. In this recording, I propose a different approach to the Stanford Fisk, limiting my registrations to the sounds appropriate to the interpretation of Bach and examining influences from the Italian style in his organ works.
The design of the Stanford organ betrays its north-German bias, with separate cases for the four manual divisions following the baroque Werkprinzip. The Great, or Werk, in the large central portion of the case, contains a 16' plenum, with 16' and 8' German reeds that blend well with the principals and mixtures. This division also incorporates a Violon 8 and Spillpfeife 8, labial stops of the sort that Bach endorsed in his recommendations for new organs.2 In true Werkprinzip fashion, the Rückpositive is an 8' counterpart to the Great plenum. The Quintaton 8 and Rohrflöte 4 provide timbres that were common on eighteenth-century Thuringian organs. The Rückpositiv case is divided at either side of the console like that of the Fritzsche organ depicted in an engraving of Heinrich Schütz conducting antiphonal choirs in Dresden.3 This type of divided case gives its name to the Seiten-(Sides) werk, located in small towers at either side of the Great case. With its beautiful Schwiegel principal and separable ranks of upperwork, including a 1' Sifflöte, this section of the organ convincingly renders Italian music. The colorful consort sounds of the Brustpositiv, enclosed in a small case just above the organist’s head, are not used for this recording since they belong to the north-German tradition and were not present on organs in central Germany where Bach lived. The Pedal division contains impressive reeds: a Contra Posaune 32 and a Posaune 16 with wooden resonators, like the instrument that Bach tested with Gottfried Silbermann at Naumburg in 1746.4 Although the Pedal has few independent stops because of space restriction in the organ gallery, a separate set of pallets in the Great windchest makes it possible to transmit several stops to the Pedal. Again, this aspect of design is based on historical precedents: some early German organs used “borrowed” stops to save money and space within the case.
Bach is often portrayed as a musical sponge, soaking up the diverse styles of French, Italian, and German composers to create a unique and personal idiom for the organ. Especially vital to the genesis of his organ works were aspects of Italian counterpoint and concerto technique. We know that he was greatly influenced by Italian masters. In a letter to Forkel dated January 13, 1775, C. P. E. Bach reports that his father “heard and studied the works of Frescobaldi,” an assertion confirmed by Bach’s ownership of Frescobaldi’s organ collection Fiori musicali, published in open score in 1635. These sources confirm Bach’s interest in the early Italian baroque style, an interest which bore fruit in his composition of stile antico fugues and the Canzona in d-minor. But the Italian influence on Bach does not end with Frescobaldi; perhaps the most salient aspects of Italian style in the organ works are the driving rhythms, virtuosity, and use of harmonic sequences borrowed from the late baroque concerto. Organ transcriptions of orchestral concerti of Vivaldi attest to Bach’s careful study of these works. His mastery of the “old style” Italian ricercar was supplemented with elements of the lighter contrapuntal style of Corelli. The Fugue in b-minor, an adaptation for organ of one of Corelli’s movements for string orchestra, may be the result of an exercise in the Italian style. Whatever the case, some of Bach’s most famous organ works owe much to the Italians. It is the goal of this recording to explore this influence with the timbres of the Stanford Fisk organ.
J. S. Bach (1685-1750: Toccata and Fugue in F-Major, BWV 540
The bravura of the F-Major toccata, with its pedal solos and manual virtuosity, contrasts sharply with the rather sober opening of the Fugue. The two pieces may not have been written at the same time and in some modern performances they are not played together. However, both are included here to represent two diverse aspects of Italian influence: the motoric rhythms and sequential passagework of the Toccata, and the traditional alla breve counterpoint of the Fugue, with its chromaticism, harmonic suspensions, and uninterrupted succession of subjects and answers. Both pieces are unique in Bach’s oeuvre; the Toccata is his longest extant organ prelude and its pedal part reaches to f1', an note not usually included in the pedal compass of Thuringian organs. (Some have deduced from this that the piece was composed for the organ in the court chapel of Weissinfels whose pedal range extended to f1'.) The Fugue is the only thorough-going double fugue, where two subjects are exposed in separate sections and then combined to produce enhanced by the increasing rhythmic activity of the second subject and by the more frequent use of modulation in the final section of the fugue.
Antonio Vivaldi (1675-1741): Concerto in d-Minor, BWV 596
Largo e spiccato
Bach’s study of Italian concerto style first manifests itself in organ transcriptions he made while working at the Weimar court between 1707 and 1718. These include three organ versions of concertos by Vivaldi, including the concerto in d-minor for two violins and cello obbligato, Opus 3, No. 2, published in Amsterdam in 1711. The first movement is noteworthy because it contains some of the rare indications of registration in Bach’s hand. The composer specifies that the opening should be played by the two hands on separate manuals using the 4' Octava of each, while the Pedal plays an 8' Principal. Later, an 8' Principal is added to one of the manuals as a 32' Subbass is added to the pedal. These instructions provide clear evidence for the addition of stops during the course of this movement, requiring the assistance of a registrant. (Such registration changes will not, however, be heard in most of the other works recorded here because this can distort the voice leading of contrapuntal writing). The Grave provides a chordal introduction to the following fugue. I have attempted to ornament between these chordal passages in the top voice, as a first violinist might provide connecting material to serve as an upbeat for the next entry by the enire orchestra. A fugal movement is unusual in a concerto, and in his transcription of Vivaldi's Fuga, Bach makes no distinction between the tutti and solo groups that are present in Vivaldi’s original. Perhaps he felt that the textural changes between statements of the subject and the episodic material provided sufficient contrast. The long sequence of the fugue subject is particularly Italian, and Vivaldi’s treatment of this theme in the four-part invertible counterpoint gave the transcriber flexibility in distributing the parts so that they would conform to the manual and pedal compass of the organ. The third movement is an accompanied solo, introduced by the orchestra with dotted rhythms evoking the siciliana. The indication “largo e spiccato” suggests the detached bowstrokes of the strings accompanying the solo violin, imitated on the organ with the Violon stop. The final movement is an exciting display of Italian virtuosity, with quick repeated notes, fast scale passages and rapid manual changes.
Girolamo Frescobaldi: Excerpts from Fiori musicali
Toccata avanti la Messa della Madonna
Canzona dopo l’Epistola
Recercar dopo Il Credo
These excerpts from Frescobaldi’s Fiori musicali reflect the early Italian style that Bach studied; they also provide an opportunity to use the meantone temperament of the Stanford Fisk. The Toccata is a short improvisatory introduction to the organ pieces for the Mass of the Blessed Virgin. Frescobaldi’s use of fleeting motives that pass between the four parts of the composition harkens back to the style of his longer and more elaborate keyboard toccatas. The Canzona was intended to be played after the reading of the Epistle. Its lively style derives from the French chanson, a song containing spirited imitation of a repeated-note motive. Frescobaldi’s Canzona is built around two such subjects, first presented in the soprano and tenor. A rallentando leads to the second section of the pieces and a characteristic shift to triple meter. A precursor of the fugue, the Recercar (from the Italian verb “ricercare” meaning “to search out”) is based on contrapuntal manipulations of a subject. The chromaticism in this example benefits from the meantone temperament, whose different sizes of semitone add expression to the melodic line. Unlike most of the other pieces in Fiori musicali, the Bergamasca does not have a prescribed liturgical function. Its title implies that it is based on a dance tune originating in the vicinity of Bergamo in northern Italy. The intricate counterpoint and changing meters employed to vary the tune present many problems for the performer, problems of which Frescobaldi was well aware, for he prefaced the piece with this remark: “Whoever plays this Bergamasca will not have learned little.”
Bach: Canzona in d-minor, BWV 588
Bach’s Canzona in d-minor may stem from his study of Italian forms, particularly the canzoni of Frescobaldi. As heard on the previous excerpt from Fiori musicali, Frescobaldi’s pieces are based on repeated-note themes, with lively imitation of short motives in all parts and a sectional form based on shifts from duple to triple meter. Although it begins uncharacteristically, with a long solo line in the bass, Bach’s Canzona resembles the Frescobaldi prototypes in its second section, which features a change to triple meter and a repeated-note variation of the opening theme. Attentive listeners will notice the use of meantone temperament for this piece, which yields many beautiful consonances at the small expense of a few sour D#s. The conservative harmonic range of this piece profits greatly from the older tuning system; other works that modulate into distant keys, such as the F-Major Toccata, demand the flexibility (and diminished euphony) of the newer circulating temperaments that were being developed during Bach’s lifetime. The two tunings available on the Stanford Fisk make it possible to impart to the listener this transitional aspect of Bach’s organ music.
Bach: Fugue in b-minor on a theme of Corelli, BWV 579
There is some question about the attribution of this piece to Johann Sebastian Bach since there is no surviving autograph manuscript. But I have included it here, transposed to c-minor to avoid the harshness of F#-Major and B-Major chords in the Stanford well-temperament, to represent the study and cultivation of Italian music by German composers. The two subjects are taken from the Vivace movement of the fourth sonata in Corelli’s Sonata da Chiesa a Tre, Opus 3, published in Rome in 1689. While the organ arrangement differs in many respects from its apparent model, the Italian style is clearly heard in the contours of the double theme and the use of suspension and sequence to create harmonic tension.
Johann Ernst (1696-1715): Concerto in G-Major
Bach came into contact with Prince Johann Ernst of Sachsen-Weimar when he was court organist to the Duke of Weimar in 1708-1717. The Prince was an avid music lover; from 1711 to 1713 he studied at the University of Utrecht, with trips to Düsseldorf and Amsterdam to widen his knowledge. After his return to Weimar from Holland, he had Italian music sent to him, and he took lessons in composition from J.G. Walther, the organist at the Stadtkirche. Ernst’s appreciation of the Italian style led him to compose orchestral concerti, including the one recorded here in an organ transcription by Bach. The piece is characteristic of the Italian concerto, with three contrasting movements which feature alternation between an orchestral ensemble and a violin soloist with continuo. The changes between tutti and solo in the first movement are rendered on the organ be changes between manuals. The slow middle movement also contrasts the sounds of two different manuals. Because of the speed and virtuosity required by the last movement, no manual changes are made; nevertheless the original ritornello structure is clearly heard in the alternation between arpeggiated sections with pedal and the more articulate two-part textures.
Bach: Toccata and Fugue in d-minor, BWV 538
The influence of the Italian concerto is evident in this freely composed Toccata, where alternations between the main Werk and Rückpositiv are clearly indicated. The animated dialogue that results from these manual changes is heightened by incessant semiquaver movement and harmonic modulations produced by numerous sequences. The following Fugue presents a sudden change of mood and texture. Like the F-Major Fugue discussed above, it contains aspects of the alla breve style: 2/2 meter, contrapuntal complexity, and frequent harmonic suspensions. This is one of Bach’s longest and most intricate organ fugues, with two counter-subjects and canonic writing in the episodes separating the subject entries. Despite this contrapuntal emphasis, there are many striking harmonic passages which I have tried to accentuate with an exceptionally full registration.
-- Kimberly Marshall
1. Robert Cornell, “Stanford: A Rare Opportunity for Organ Building,” The Diapason LXXV/6 (June, 1984): 12.
2. Hartmut Haupt, “Bach Organs in Thuringia,” J. S. Bach as Organist, George Stauffer and Ernest May, eds. (Bloomington, Indiana, 1986): 26.
3. Barbara Owen; ed. Charles Benton Fisk: Organ Builder, Vol. II (Easthampton, MA, 1986), p. 73; also Cornell, p. 12.
4. Ulrich Dähnert, "Organs Played and Tested by J. S. Bach," J. S. Bach as Organist, George Stauffer and Ernest May, eds. (Bloomington, Indiana, 1986): 20.