Max Reger – the master of variation

Dear friends,

last news appeared since more than one year, but sorry, too many tasks stopped all activities to continue our expedition in the world of Max Regers organ works. I hope, you understand it.


In last news I began to present organ works by Reger played at historical instruments in Germany. Now I will continue.


Let’s begin now recalling the special situation for organists playing a historical organ. Organists have a big chance with their old instruments. Such organs are installed in their original location. In the same church, at the same place in the church, where the organ builder created the sound, exactly adapted to the sound conditions of the building. What a chance for good interpretation of relating epoch in organ in music!


Dear friends of the organ, to realize this chance, you need the simple imagination, that musicians today in most cases play in modern rooms. Material, construction, architectonic conception, all this represents the spirit of  o u r  time, not favorable to develop emotion corresponding to the past. Especially ensembles for ancient music depend upon industrial production. In our time industrial production of music has an important influence, modern electronic equipment  allows to create any desired sound, where-ever musicians played. Sound ingenieurs don’t like to remove for historical locations. They prefer the studio, prepared for all purpose: symphonic or chamber music, soloists or singers, choirs etc.. And digital electronic equipment add the suitable  accoustics! It’s very easy to understand, that the style of interpretation is influenced by this daily experience. Concerning historical music played with historic instruments that’s fatal, because this modern circumstances don’t have good effect for the manner of playing old instruments. But music of the past is expression of the past, not expression of our time.The percentage of historic concert halls or rooms is unimportant and a lot of time musicians today have to play in recording studios with extreme technical ambiente. Poor people indeed! Organists with their original locations are favored! The old building and the old instrument guide to find good interpretation.


Now there is no alternative, I go to present Reger music, recently recorded at the same splended authentic organ as at the end of last news.


Reger and variation!

A connection like Faust and Mephisto! The two sides of the same medal. Reger admired old german organ music, studied it meticulous, transformed it in his own musical language, his own ideas. His ideas, there is no comparison with other composers. In last news I presented Choral preludes and parts of the “Phantasie” about ‘Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme’. Theses pieces are based on a pre-existant melodie, varied by a composer. In all periods of music you find variations. But Reger, indeed, is one of the greatest master in variation.


So, the venerable genre of Passcaglia fascinated him, too. The Basso obstinato, the “never ending” repetition of the same theme in the bass, the voices above forming variations, one after another; the old masters Muffat, Buxtehude and others gave examples of highest level. And Bach! His genius add the fugue as apotheose. And – incredible! – the idea to start with the theme alone played by the pedals. A great moment in history of music indeed!

Reger composed several Passacaglias for organ, in op. 63, very fine, and the splendid one in op. 127. But there is a remarkable one in ‘Introduction und Passacaglia’ d-Moll, o. Op., in spite Reger not signated it with an opus number.

Created to help for the project of a new organ in the Rhine region, this task for the “routinier” Reger did not pose any problem. Result? Perfect proportions, stuped effect, technical difficulties limited. And good to understand for listeners without special experience. In fact, a truly Reger, not too sophisticated, not too modern, good for a real hit in organ music.


Here the beginning of Passacaglia. Attention! The bass stops in Reger time are big, sonorous, fundamental. And Reger begins with the Pedal alone, how his idol Bach. The first variation start in mystical sonority, very far, molto delicato. And you will see, movement becames quicker: quavers, quaver triplets, semiquavers. The first five variations are polyphonic constructions, each presents new ideas, but the sequence rests a homogeneous evolution.:



Variation 6 change to homophony, continuing until the end. Variation 8 surprises, because Reger presents, as counterpoint to the regular bass theme, a new Passacaglia theme in Soprano. Apart from the crazy idea to introduce a second theme in Passacaglia rhythm that’s ingenius in balancing the proportions: 5 variations in polyphonic style, 2 variations in homophonic style, variation 8 polyphonic (two themes as counterpoint) succeded by four variations in homophony enriched with figurative passages, altogether 12 variations. The dynamic level continual growes from ppp to ff with each variation. Now variations 7 to 10:



Before I tell some observations concering the end of Passacaglia first it follows the ‘Introduction’. In real Reger style you hear solemn harmonies by the full organ contrasting the two manuals and forming an impressive preparing and concentration for the Passacaglia theme, following immediately.



The last variation for me it is something like an “éclat triomphale”. The severe d minor turn over in the bright D major. A last time one can hear the Passacaglia bass by the full organ, now combined with the reprise of Introduction theme at the end. A wonderful framework for a real master piece by Max Reger.


Take pleasure in listening this marvellous music!




Have a good time!


Andreas Arand