Max Reger and the miracle of pneumatism



Dear friends,


in precedent news we saw the very special style of organ works by Max Reger, very different to compositions by his contemporaries. Later composers didn’t continue Reger’s style, time had changed, romantic period was over.


In fact, Reger’s creative period is extremly short: about 15 years, not more. Too short to achieve a real establishment in adapted organ building. Fatal consequence: no chance for organ builders to realize anywhere instruments with the sound and features needed for these rather crazy creations in music by Reger. Indeed, earlier instruments must surrender in face of these compositions. So we very admire some german organ builders, who in this moment designed ingenious organs equiped with fantastic features never invented before, exactly to realize ideas by Reger: Walcker, Steinmeyer, Sauer etc. Unfortunately the first World War interrupted this very golden epoc of pneumatism. And after the terrible conflict the neo-classical style in organ building stopped Reger tradition. Music and instruments of Reger time became obsolet.


Playing music for organ by Reger require several features of the modern german pneumatic organ type of the early 20th century. Most important: the sonority of the stops. Construction and intonation of pipes are very different to the earlier and to the later organs in Germany. All organs in history show the fundamental idea of combination of several or many stops to have variety in sound effects. One can say, the special character of organs consists in the opposition between very different sounds, that means, in our times single stops and families of stops you can clearly distinct and they represent their types: strings, diapasons, flutes, reeds etc. Alone, but allthough combined: ever you can hear the different sorts of used stop families. Aliquot stops for the harmonics (2 2/3’,  1 1/3’, 1 3/5’ etc.) and mixtures in each manual are a general demand.


German pneumatic organs in Reger’s lifetime are antipodal: fundamentals in 16’, 8’ and 4’ types dominate. Harmonics and mixtures became marginal. Organ sound should be a 8’ sound as in the symphonic orchestra. 16’ and 4’ sounds are added respecting the predominance of 8’ sound. German pneumatic organs provide a large variety in 8’ stops – many called “Charakterstimmen” — capabel as solo stops, but , more important, in numberless combinations too. A special aim of organ builders was a crescendo effect between ppp and fff, a real sophisticated task in organs. Because listeners should not hear nor the special sound of a single stop color neither families of stops. Even in case of reeds it’s a stupend effect, that they reinforce the crescendo  w i t h o u t  adding a reed sound!  And listening the last degree of the crescendo, managed by addition of the mixtures and producing a wonderful brillance, avoiding ugly sharpness, we must admire the unique art in mastership of these organ builders.

This  conception is the condition for the famous german “Walze”, i.e. the roller (“Registercrescendo”), which is composed by the organ builder himself to have the perfect crescendo. Craftmanship and art of this people! Nobody in our time is able to imitate it, they will keep their top secrets forever.


The technical features of german pneumatic organ must evoke our admiration too. The wind system is radically transformed to deliver each quantity of organ wind, conditio sine qua non to realize the intended sound. Traditionel chests (“Schleifladen”) are overtaxed , because they limit the size of pipes and don’t allow high pressure and different wind degrees. A Solo Flute 8’ (for exemple ‘Adagio’ in op. 52,2) ever sounds too thin with Schleiflade. To have the full expressive effect you need chests with devided wind system, the “Registerkanzelle”. It’s not the question of loudness (that’s also possible with the Schleiflade too), but a question of stability of tone in the big building (resonance).

This system delivers the real good resonance in each building. It is possible to have each size of pipe to reach a noble singing sound without restrictions of limited wind resources.


Let’s start now the verification of this facts by comparing different instruments in the same organ music by Reger. The first instrument shows a modern technic, but also an important quantity of original old stops aged about hundred years. Nevertheless there are many modern stops to play interpretations of other styles in organ music, Bach for exemple or modern french compositions, very en vogue today. This organ I presented in earlier News with op. 59 by Reger. I choosed first a pleno passage of Toccata op. 59.5 to demonstrate the f and ff sound.



This sound is very distinct and clear. You can hear the mixtures and reeds with her individual colour. Articulation of tones is very exact and clear in the big church.



The same piece on the pneumatic organ is very different. The ff sound is much less aggressive, but much more homogeneous. Mixtures and reeds are integrated in the fundamental sound  of 8’ and 4’ level. Intensity of the ff sound is lower, but stability and sonority is better. Articulation is no so aggressive, more symphonic, more like the strings in the big symphonic orchestra. But it’s important to notice: that’s not a question of quality in organ building, but a question of style and preference and taste of listeners. With regard to the crescendo the pneumatic organ earns superiority. Here the end of the Toccata on the two organs:




Preceded excerpts demonstrate the ff sound. Follows now a passage in the fugue of op. 59,6. Reger intends a permanent crescendo during the whole piece (“Steigerungsfuge”). A general problem in each modern organ is to find a climax without distinct degrees provoked by adding new stops. The ideal of romantic sound is Wagner’s orchestra: listeners cannot distinct the single instruments, the impression is a sound permanent growing louder and permanent becoming softer.


Here you can compare the two instruments concerning the crescendo effects in the fugue.


The stupent Wagner effect of the pneumatic organ, it’s marvellous, wonderful! You aggree?


A very important stop in romantic organ music is the Flute 8’ of the Great. Intensity, stability and predominance among the other flutes and strings are the main conditions for a good interpretation of romantic repertoire. And here the wind problem carry weight.


I give you an exemple with a passage in “Canon” by Reger, op. 59,4. Compare the melody and its accompainment on the two organs.


The flute in the first organ is rather good, but the flute in the pneumatic organ much more better. Intensity and sonority of the first flute is reduced by new intonation and new chests. Preserved intonation and original chests in the second nothing else than superb. It’s hopeless to seek this sound in a modern organ.


We must notice also the registration of the left hand in the score by Reger: 8’ 4’. The 4’ stops in modern organs are ever too clear, not delicato, exceptions are very rare. Not so in our pneumatic type. The discret character of the fine 4’ flute here gives a real ‘romantic candle light’ to the more important 8’ sound.


I very hope you enjoy this comparisons. It’s evident, that untouched pneumatic organs are overwhelming in case of Reger works. But – on the other side – it’s true, that many organists and amateurs prefer the modern organ type adapted to all styles (“Universalorgel”). In our time such instruments we find all over the world. Pneumatic organs aged more than 120 years, manufactured by german organ builders during Reger’s lifetime you find rarely, even in Germany. And I mention a very special aspect: the sophisticated construction needs permanent inspection and frequent interventions, defects occur often. Only specialists can help.


I spoke about symphonic character of the german pneumatic organ. Indeed in Germany symphonic music during the 19th century achieved a single level, admired in all over the world. Symphonic style became the most important aspect in all sections of music, even in religious music. That’s the main reason and the main motivation to create symphonic organs. Among all musical instruments the infinite possibilities in organ construction gave the chance to invent a completly new organ type. News ideas and inventions came out in all periods of organ history. But the radical new vision of the pneumatic organ earns the specification as a revolution.


I will give you a splended example for the perfect ability of the pneumatic organ to cooperate with a real symphonic orchestra. I you present the beginning of


Josef Rheinberger’s “ Konzert für Orgel, 2 Hörner, 2 Trompeten, Pauken und Streicher Nr. 2 g-Moll, op. 177”.


I played it on the same pneumatic instrument as you heard in first part of this news. Here the beginning of the first mouvement ‘Grave’. In all of these various symphonic constellations between organ and orchestra this organ delivers a perfect sound according to the orchestra colours. To play this piece on this organ with a big symphonic orchestra: a very happy experience for me indeed!


Rheinberger’s idea in this op. 177 is to integrate the solo organ in the setting of the orchestra. Organ here is not isolated as a solo part, it is  part of the orchestra itself. Very significant: woods are replaced by the organ. Orchestra sound in this case is not disturbed by an aggressive and non conformed organ sound. The case is opposite. The organ gives stature, ground, even majesty to the whole orchestra. The flexibility of the big orchestra corresponds perfectly with the flexibility of this organ sound.


I very regret, that Max Reger never composed a concerto with organ.


I hope you like this live performance like me – in spite of some imperfections, but doubtless with very authentic german “Ausdruck” – in my opinion. In any case an exceptional sound.



This splended pneumatic organ dates from 1900.

And just in the same year Reger composed one of the most admired and genious of his organ pieces:

Phantasie und Fuge über den Choral ‚Wie schön leucht‘ uns der Morgenstern‘ op. 40 Nr. 2.

Here I present you some impressions of this master piece, I played it on the same marvellous pneumatic instrument. All mentioned aspects become obvious here too, the composer’s imagination finds its perfect realization. Let’s start just with the unique Introduction.


Can you imagine a more symphonic organ sound?  And what a music! And now imagine the poor listener of 1900, familiar with traditional organ music of 19th century!  The blanc revolution in  church.  The extreme ambitus between ppp and fff, it corresponds to the extreme ambitus in musical expression by Reger music. You ever heard a more amazing decrescendo by an organ?


And: all this without any electronic  feature!!


The incredible decrescendo at the end, that’s the effect of the”Walze” (roller), which is a pneumatic feature.


The following variation 1 of the Choral you show another example of the outstanding dynamic expression by this instrument. Hear the very symphonic manner of growing intensity, adding of stops is next to imperceptible, with very good taste. The strong character of organ sound become elegant, expressive, various.


The miracle of the Adagio mouvement brings about the never toped expression of the Great Flute. We must observe, too, the delicate crescendo effect by adding stops without changing the character of the Flute sound. This Adagio mouvement comes up to the highest level in Regers musical inventions. And it was Karl Straube, who inspired our composer to write this  incomparable Adagio, a special moment between the two friends.


The high level of art in organ building and organ composition cannot be disturbed by the prosaic technical defects belonging to the pneumatic system: noising pedal chests during this recital remind us, that the sophisticated pneumatism is hard to preserve in our time, this organ is aged more than 100 years! But in this audition we can hear the voice of the authentic instrument itself, the real instrument of the real epoc! Considering this fact litle lacks in technical perfection are supportable, I think.  You agree?


At least the final point in this news: the last part of the splended fugue of ‘Phantasie und Fuge über den Choral ‚Wie schön leucht‘ uns der Morgenstern‘ op. 40 Nr. 2’. Brillance throughout, mastership throughout, emotion throughout.




Greetings until next news!




Andreas Arand











Reger’s op. 59 Second Volume

Hallo, dear Reger enthousiasts,

hallo, dear organ enthousiasts,


some friends said to me, why you don’t present any videos showing your organ playing? Indeed, in this homepage you only find information by words and reproduction of my interpretations to hear. Mouvies, videos, pictures, designs you easy find it in internet. Narrative manner is my passion, to tell some reflexions, experiences, knowledge accumulated in many years. And, certainly much more efficient, music played by myself hoping you like it. I don’t like videos with artists in music (there are few exceptions). Very often I feel sorry for musicians in motion-picture, camera near. And the special seat of the organist with his pedal playing and all these technical features around him: which advance one can expect for the listeners concentration in music?

Let’s return to music itself, to Reger and his op. 59.


The second volume of these 12 pieces surprises in evoking religious music. Four pieces reflect roman-catholic tradition in organ music: Kyrie, Gloria, Benedictus, Te Deum. In Gloria (No. 8) and Te Deum (No. 12) Reger uses well-known liturgical melodies. In catholic mass the priest intonate „Gloria in excelsis deo“. You hear this melody first in soprano in homophonic style. In the following parts it appears in multiple constellations.


‘Benedictus’ follows, the absolute contrast to ‘Gloria’. Extremely lyrical, I feel lovely, smooth, indeed a moment of highest imagination of Reger and… the dearling of listeners since the appearence in 1901.

What a melodic passion! But a sort of „unendliche Melodie“ (infinite melody). All caracteristics of romantic melody is abandoned: no periodic structure, motives, phrases, cadences are placed without any symmetry like a prose speech. All this a very innovation. On the other side the significant reflex of tradition: ‘Benedictus’ in catholic masses ever is a lyrical piece (Haydn, Mozart, Dvorak etc.). The text „Benedictus in nomine domini“ is followed by „Hosanna in excelsis“ in Allegro movement. And indeed, after the first lyrical part Reger continues with an Allegro-fugue and one can sing the theme with the words „Hosanna in excelsis“! N.B. the text is not indicated in the score.

That’s Reger: revolution and tradition forming a new kind of music.


It’s evident. One can say, Reger’s op. 59 is a collection of character-pieces („Charakterstücke“), a sort of compositions frequently used in 19th. century (Mendelssohn, Schumann, Grieg), especially in Piano-literature. In the same time one can say, Reger’s op. 59 is a sort of „livre d’orgue“, collections composed by Grigny, Couperin, Clérambault etc. (17th and 18th century). The same genre is Frescobaldi’s ‘Fiori musicali’. You see, Reger is orientated in the precious heritage in order to transform it in modern music of 1901.


For further exemple now ‘Kyrie’ (No. 7). The first section is dominated by a theme in reminiscence of the famous Luther Choral „Aus tiefer Not“. The meaning of the text is the same as ‘kyrie’ in Greek. Reger presents a large development formed by a continuous crescendo followed by a continuous diminuendo. This realised by using as medium the melodic (arising/falling), rhythmic (slow to fast to slow) and dynamic (piano-forte-piano) aspect. It follows an intermedium section with a contrasting theme.


But instead to repeat the first section in tradition of 19th century Reger begins a disputation of the two themes, which remains until the end without returning to the earlier sections. A very extraordinary modern conception proving Regers outstanding qualities as composer. I let you hear the end with the disputation of the two themes during a continuous diminuendo. In the last bars I use the Prinzipal 32′. Molto grandioso!


‘Te Deum’, the great Finale, sets the famous gregorian song (hymn of Ambrosius) in unisono with the fff organ, before the theme appears in the pedals, a real good task for the Posaune, the big read stop for bass function in the great organ sound. The expressive tension growes, the movement becomes quicker, the theme in soprano is followed by cords in fff , which give high emphasis, very adapted to the liturgical tradition.



This group of four pieces in the second volume of op.59 with it’s correspondence to catholic organ music tradition is opposed by two caracter pieces, placed between ‘Benedictus’ and ‘Te Deum’. That’s ‘Capriccio’ and the well-known ‘Melodia’. The title Melodia is very justified, because one hear a free invented, calm flowing melodie in phrases with very wide dimensions. Regers melodic conception is obviously unusual and extremely modern in the beginning of 20th century. And this melodic pearl requires the best colour in sound, here in Koblenz St. Josef it is the moment for the wounderfull Flaut major 8′ in the Great.


For each organist it’s rather delicate to play this composition. The reason is Max Regers own recording of it, the famous Welte roll. The question:  what’s to do: to try an imitation of Regers interpretation? To try an interpretation in emotional distance? I think: neither nor! I play my own interpretation, and I know, many details differ from the composers version. But we shall not leave this marvellous piece without hearing the fine end with his clear sounds of the vox coelestis:


At the end of our ‘tour d’horizon’ through Max Regers ‘Zwölf Stücke für die Orgel’ op. 59 a conclusing return to the religious pieces with the fugue in five voices about ‘Te Deum laudamus’ , the apotheose in this collection, realised by the splendid full sound of the Seifert organ in Koblenz St. Josef.


Many greatings!


Andreas Arand