Max Reger – Mastership and Appropriation

Dear friends,

in last News I spoke about Reger’s op. 59 for organ. The recording you heard I realized at the historical Seifert organ in Koblenz with its marvellous stops, which give the correct colours for Reger’s musical poems.

This collection of ‘Charakterstücke’ by Reger marks a moment of great importance for our composer, still a rather young author in the field of modern organ composition of those times. Working very hard, Reger reached a high level in projecting and realizing large compositions for organ. Using a so modern and revolutionary musical language, which never existed in earlier times. And so difficult to play it! Most of organists did’nt believe, that one can realize it.

But the consequences for the editors?

Which editor was crazy enough to presume, there are organists, who buy such compositions? But such publishers, they existed. “Melomanes”, enjoyed to promote young genious musicians, to push modern art, to be a little adventurous, economy a part. And so Reger found the ‘little’ publishers as “Forberg”, “Aibl” or “Lauterbach und Kuhn” for his ‘extreme’ opp. 40, 46, 52, 57.

And now we see: one of the most important, famous and very ‘traditional’ editions, the “Edition C. F. Peters”, came to a deal with Max Reger – not without strict conditions: Reger had to agree writing a collection of short organ pieces, not too difficult to play, accessible for ‘normal’ organists: the naissance of Regers op. 59!

The success: overwhelming. Reger arrived in the fine society of established composers, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Brahms, included famous editors as C. Czerny, Fr. K. Griepenkerl.

And this idea by C. F. Peters initiated Regers further collections of such short pieces, the opp. 65, 80 and 85.

Here two impressions of “Intermezzo” from op. 80:

One can consider, this piece is rather moderate, but in any case we hear Reger speaking his own charming language.

Another gem from op. 80 I present here, “Gigue”. My colleague Martin Weyer in his compendium “Die Orgelwerke Max Regers” asks “where are the organists, who play this ‘Kabinettsstückchen'”? Andreas Arand plays it here:

We are embarrased by Regers ideas. The view back to the times of Bach and Händel don’t produce a simple copy of the old dance, but Reger composed a sophisticated Trio for organ. Only the rhythm provoke a delicate reminiscence, music lets appear Bach and Händel in the famous old paintings…, but very far in earlier times. And what a fine articulation, a delicate task for touching the organ!

These collections in genre ‘Charakterstück” were so successful, that Reger continued writing similar collections. One among them we find in op. 129, “Neun Stücke für die Orgel”. The number 5 named “Capriccio” is a very surprising organ piece. The whole monothematic composition presents a motorical mouvement. What’s surprising? Regers idea is a permanent Ritardando. Starting fast the tempo is reduced in permanence, combined with a Diminuendo in permanence, a very strange impression, very modern in Reger’s times, unique!

In German tradition during 20th century the judgement  about these collections by Reger is less favourite. Concert organists focussed upon the masters “big” operas like opp. 46, 52, 57, 60, 73, 127. In order to earn reputation. We must regret this neglecting practice, I think. I cannot see, that Reger is not so engaged in his collections. To judge so, I mean, is a neo-classical reflex.

The three short examples given here underline the very outstanding level of Reger’s collections. I never understood, why, all over the world, organists fail so often to present to their listeners these splendid pieces. Each audition containing some of them whould be an eminent enrichment in organ music. How many other compositions in organ recitals show much less good taste! Never I will stop to regret this lack (except in case of Reger’s presence in each organ recital). It’s no doubt, that many of these fantastic “Charakterstücke” is accessible for each organ player. And for newcomers in organ audition it’s profitable to enter in Reger’s world in a such agreeable manner.

Occasionally some words about my recordings. Most of them I made by myself. I first used traditional German equipment, later some digital componends, too. Position of the microphones is very important. In this matter I have my own philosophy. Clear and distinct reproduction of articulation of organ pipes (“Ansprache der Pfeifen”) is first priority. Because this is one of the main mediums in interpretation of organ music.

Therefore it’s my opinion, that microphones have to be positioned so near, that this effect is observed. I know, many organ recordings are made in contrast with this demand. Many producers intend a mystic effect and reproduce the acoustics of the (big) church. But missing clearness of articulation is boring to hear: you are buffled to understand the performance. Except, the matter is simple music. But Reger’s organ works belong to this category?

My experience: it is not easy to realize a good position of microphones in churches. Often we must find a compromise. I hope you like my solutions.

Let’s continue in Reger’s organ works.

The nimbus of Reger, of course, is based on the famous “great” and “big” compositions for organ.

Let’s have a look on the masters development in organ music. In the period of op. 59 and op. 80 Reger is more interested in chamber and symphonic compositions. It was Karl Straube, who provoke the creation of the two so important large organ works of Reger in this time: op. 73 and op. 127, both dedicated to Straube and for his own purpose! A part of these singular organ works his activity in organ music is minimal.

But at the end of Reger’s (too short) life time the composer comes out for a final coup: “Phantasie und Fuge d-Moll” op. 135b, published one year after Reger’s death. Dedicated  to “Meister Richard Strauß” (n.b!). A master piece comme il faut! The reason for this composition is rather mysterious. There are no indications, neither by the author, nor by the publisher. I presume, the answer will be the dedication. But there is no evidence.

I’m very glad to present this incomparable organ piece here. In light bright colours and in cascade manner broken cords fall down to arrive in a pool of harmonies. Suddenly we hear a sort of Lamento in dark colours. But soon a fountain of running movement, skips, trills brings back the initial atmosphere. What a beginning, so surprising, so attractive, so concentrated! Indeed very contrasting with other large organ works by the “servere” Reger.

In second decade of 20th century Reger reached a new stage of style. Among the earlier compositions for organ by him we find the genre “Phantasie und Fuge”. Since Bach it’s used very often in the repertoire of german organists. But we saw, Reger in most cases prefers a ‘Cantus prius factus’, a melody given before, a ‘Choral’ or ‘BACH’ (op.46) for example. In op. 135b Reger avoid it. All thematic material is free invented by the composer, perhaps a sign of sovereignity. It’s very evident, that Reger intended an important work. Although the duration is moderate, Reger is very ambitious. Contrasting sequences in the “Phantasie”, a very artistical double fugue. There is no doubt: Reger figures among the great german composers of his time.

The whole piece shows us a new aspect of the composers development. The contrast between quick passages and calm sections dominate the beginning, a four-tone motif becomes important as thematic basement. For me the beginning is lightness, an atmosphere of a summer day. And I enjoy the omnipresent D-Major sound. And even all chromatism seems to be peaceful. Three times change occurs. The first just in the 5th bar, we heard the beautiful solo flute singing it’s Lamento. A second interruption, very different, brings a polyphonic structure, beginning in deep position, but ascending fast in order to fall down till ‘ppp’. Follows a single bar “Piu Adagio”, we are displaced in another world: diatonic sequences of thirds above, based by a deep ‘point d’orgue’. A short moment. I like this wonderful idea, underlining it by the ‘Vox coelestis’. A very special colour among organ stops. I refuse current using of this string stop, it’s not good taste, but often to hear.

You heard, it’s only a little interruption in our summer day, perhaps a small dark cloud or a quick view into a deep wild valley? But Reger is Reger. He guides us higher and higher. Before reaching the summit a moment of consternation: a single cord in ‘ppp’, i.e. the third interruption.

This real breath-taking effect leads the listener to the end (Reprise), the overwhelming panorama. Far off the lovely valley of the beginning. Around us the rocky mountains of cords, above us the brillant sun of the D-Major-tonality. A top moment in organ music!

After this outstanding “Phantasie”, you can imagine, that Reger is successful in the following fugue? Each composer must solve the problem to find a good proportion between “Phantasie” and “Fuge”. In op. 135b the task is very hard, indeed, after this “Phantasie”.

Our composer decided to write a fugue with two subjects, both of his own invention. That’s to remark, because in several other fugues by Reger one subject is a pre-existed melody. No one will be surprised, that the two subjects are contrasting with one another. Here the beginning of the first one:

This subject and its development seams very simple, but for me it’s extraordinary: appearing in crotchets eleven tones of the octave form the subject in dodecaphonic manner. Only one tone is missed (B), one tone is doubled (D). It is clear, Reger never wrote dodecaphonic music, but the idea to use all chromatic degrees is very important in Reger’s life time.

It’s so wounderful, this subject, its relaxed character, a sort of peaceful aura, neither boring construction, nor sentimentalism. The development of this first fugue voice by voice proves Reger’s ability and skill to invent polyphonic structures without any schoolmaster attitude. Triumph of craftsmanship! You agree?

Let’s come back to the organ. I very admire Reger’s raffinesse in disposing stops and manuals in order to produce a convincing crescendo. You see, our master knew specific organ technics.

The second subject underline the high level of this op. 135b. Aspects of lightness and free and careless movement in “Phantasie” come back now. The fine and delightful articulation indicated by Reger shows us his intention to avoid servere character presenting clarity and variety.

The idea of large climax demonstrated in “Phantasie” we can see also in the development of the double fugue. The very logical manner in combining the two subjects belong to tradition, but Reger’s elaboration in this case cannot be admired enough. The two subjects sound perfectly together, the various constellations are extremly charming. And it seems, to prepare understanding the complication by the simultaneity of both the composer demands reducing of the tempo.

Step by step voices are added, subjects appear in extrem positions more and more, the sound is growing continuously. This process is propeled only by these two subjects, ending with a large point d’orgue in D-Major tonality. This ending excel the “Phantasie”, a real apotheosis by the whole majesty of organ sound.

The organ I used in this life recording is constructed in the sixties of last century. In spite of neo-classical times its sonority shows traditional aspects, very profitable for Reger’s works. You see, romantic tradition never disappeared totaly in Germany.  However, in case of such instruments the interpreter must be successful in choosing the good stops for Reger’s music.

What a good luck, that Reger – just before his death —  gave us this op. 135b! Unique!

Concerning ‘Edition Peters’:

1915 op. 135b was published by edition “Simrock”. But in 1928 Peters became owner of Simrock shop, until today. So twelve years after the composer’s death they could add at least one large composition for organ by Reger to their catalog. Only one, but one of Reger’s most successful ones!

I very hope you like it.

Best greetings!

Andreas Arand