Max Reger and the Protestant Choral


Dear Friends!



Since last News UNESCO declared organ building and organ playing in Germany as World Heritage!


You can imagine, organ builders and organists in our country are very proud and all music friends too. And the enthousiasts and amateurs of the organ and the organ music all over the world participate in this joy. In Germany there are more than 50.000 organs in use, there are ca. 400 workshops with about 2.800 people. The number of professional organists is about 3.500. They all feel now very estimated. And we can hope, that’s a good help for protection of the art of organ building and organ playing in all countries where exist organ tradition.


Now let’s continue with Max Reger and his organ compositions. In last news I spoke about his op. 59 containing some pieces with religous reminiscences. In that case it was catholic tradition (gregorianic themes), and Regers origins are catholic ones. But protestant tradition became very important for him, too. During his childhood in Weiden the church of this town was used by Catholics and Protestants. Reformation in 16th century introduced the popular songs in German („Kirchenlied“ or „Choral“), that means melodies much more simple in comparison with the rather sophisticated gregorianic songs. They became very popular and their musical structure offers – until today – an unlimited inspiration to invent all sorts of variation. And Regers talent as composer at first is the talent to variate a musical theme, whatever it is.


So you can understand, that we possess several collections of Choral Preludes created by Reger, i.e. organ solos about these melodies (opp. 67, 79b, 135a). Regers intention to limit the difficulties for the player is very obvious: these pieces are possible for diletante players too! The following example brings the choral “Morgenglanz der Ewigkeit” in the right hand as c.f., the accompaniment is rather simple in spite of polyphonic movement and cromaticism:


Indeed, the effect is a special religious emotion. Slow tempo and soft stops represent the style of liturgical music in 19th century in Germany. But Regers capacity surmount all concurrents with his unique Espressivo: an extremly personal style.


Please remark the outstanding rank for the cantus firmus here: Clarinette 8’, “durchschlagend” (“anche libre”), original pipes from the beginning of 20th century. That’s a soft reed-stop with smooth articulation. It belongs to the Klais-Stahlhuth-Organ in Bonn, you heard this instrument in older news. We very must regret, that ranks like his disappeard so often in times of neo-classicism. Here you have the chance to hear the authentic sound of the year 1914.


A second example for the esthetic conception in organ building of those times in Germany you find in “Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende” (op. 79b). The c.f. in soprano is realized by several flutes, among them the marvellous “Harmonieflöte 8’” (Flute harmonique), which gives a big, full sound in the ‘forte’ parts of the c.f.. The great art of harmonisation developed by the organ builders in late 19th century in Germany is like a miracle: ascending notes in the c.f. give a crescendo effect without swell (!) and at the same time growing espressivo! Today no one achieve this high level in organ building.

In this kind of Choral preludes Reger refused a registration of the c.f. in contrast to the other voices in the left hand, for example Sesquialter or strong reed stops. He intended the effect of the modern Piano or String Quartett: main voices should be distinguished by dynamic, not by colour. Judge yourself!


The character of Choral Preludes – of course – had to be determined by the text: “Morgenglanz der Ewigkeit” is a lyric evocation of the eternal God, so I choosed the Clarinette 8’ to have a correspondence to the image of ‘Glanz’, a sort of fine luminosity. The Choral “Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende” brings the reflexion of mortality, here the dark and melancholic sound of the flutes is dominating.


Third example: festivity and confidence in the power of God, the creator. Here christians thank their God for his creationship. Corresponding to this theme full organ is used. Polyphonic style and the whole range of sound combined with permanent Crescendo give the splended effect of Thanksgiving. And Reger is able to realize it with a rather simple composition. Great, isn’t it?



But Reger is Reger: ambitious. The protestant Choral serves to his genius  projecting a new kind of organ composition in big measure, never realized before: the ‘Choralphantasie’. Reger studied extensivly the old german tradition of variations about a Choral. Samuel Scheidt, Franz Tunder, Dieterich Buxtehude, Johann Pachelbel and … Johann Sebastian Bach. And he combined with it the very modern “Symphonische Dichtung”, i.e. Symphonic Poem. Melodie and text here become a poetic idea, which is realized by Reger with all fine colours of modern instrumentation, inspired by modern orchestra.


I you present the famous “Phantasie über den Choral ‘Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme‘“ op. 52, 2. In the beginning the poetic idea is the atmosphere of a cimetery, which provokes special emotions of the listeners. The peaceful situation is interrupted by a catastrophic flash of lightening and thunder, immediately followed by returning to the first quietnes: one of the most impressive inventions of Max Reger.


After that dark sounds return, you hear dissonant and dark harmonies, undefined bass notes create anxiety, diminuendo til ppp and then the change: in the pedals, played with the two feed, the simple clear fifth, followed by a lovely innocent flute, the beginning of the Choral “Wachet auf”, a real consolation. Indeed the voice of the other world. The apocalyptic picture of the earlier world is not the last word, human beeings are’nt lost! Nevertheless the two worlds continue to fight against one another.

What an incredible power of inspiration, where you find something to compare it with that idea?


Not simple to imagine, how Reger is capable to continue conserving the same high level. His disposition: 3 movements for the 3 verses of the Choral.


First movement:

Development of each melody section in various kinds of variation, c.f. in soprano, tenor and bass.


Second movement:

Adagio, presenting a solo espressivo in the right hand.


Third movement:

Fugue with Allegro theme. It shows big dimensions and Reger demonstrate his mastership in counterpoint style by adding the Choral melody to the theme step by step: bass, tenor, soprano. A climax never to top!


Here some extracts:


First and second movement:



Third movement:



You heard: what Reger promises in the introduction, he fulfills in the following sections, a perfect proportion between the 3 movements, a firework of musical ideas. And finally the climax of the ecstatic conclusion: full organ, Choral in Soprano.


You don’t agree? Impossible!


In all tracks you heard the Klais-Stahlhuth-Organ of Maria-Magdalena in Bonn. In spite of its limited resources of ranks  and some regretable modifications in modern times it sounds very authentic in Regers works, representing the ideas of the epoch, rare in our time.


And now – as a modest compensation for long waiting – I you present a “Schmankerl”, a sort of Encore, belonging to our theme in this news.

Another Choral Prelude composed by Max Reger:
‘Christus, der ist mein Leben’ (op. 79b). That’s a very recent recording, a rarissime document. This organ date from 1913 and in opposition to the preceding instrument never renovated. Chests, pneumatic, console, all (!) pipes, these elements never leaved their place. And the lovely church, never modificated too, conserved the original acoustics. Made by a great organ builder, so you can hear his marvellous tuning, a cosmos of sound never possible today, we make a real “Zeitreise”, we omit more than 100 years!



And to show you the range of colours and nuances in this outstanding instrument here some bars of Regers fine Toccata from op. 129, last example for the genius Reger here. I very hope you like it.




Good by for next News!