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CD128   Reubke & Liszt

 

CD128

Reubke: Sonata, The 94th Psalm
Liszt: Fantasy & Fugue on "Ad nos,
ad salutarem undam"

Roberta Gary, organist

The Organ of The Most Holy Name of Jesus Church
Montréal, Québec, Canada

  • Notes in English and French by Robert Schuneman
  • 62'15" total playing time

CD128     $15.95

Purchase from Canticle Distributing

 

CONTENTS
Julius Reubke (1834-1858)
   Sonata, The 94th Psalm / Sonate Sur Le Psalme 94
      1. Grave - Larghetto - Allegro con fuoco - Grave
      2. Adagio
      3. Allegro (Fugue)
 
Franz Lizst (1811-1886)
   Fantasy & Fugue on the Hymn "Ad nos, ad salutarem undam"
   composed for Organ or Pedalpiano by Franz Liszt and dedicated to General Music Director    Meyerbeer wit the highest respect and honor. A Fantasy and Fugue on the theme from the    opera, "Le Prophète" by G. Meyerbeer. Dedicated to the composer of the opera, G.M.
      4. Moderato - Allegro - Tempo giusto
      5. Recitativo - Adagio
      6. Allegro deciso - Allegretto con moto (Fugue) - Adagio

Listen Listen:

First section of fugue from Fantasy and Fugue on the Hymn “Ad nos” by Liszt

 

Visionaries

So, let's start with the teacher, though the disc begins with the student's work.

How do we comprehend Franz Liszt's work? It may be easier than understanding his life which has intrigued many for 150 years. Virtually everything about the man was visionary, dreaming to the future, advanced to the edge. As we say today, he "pushed the envelope" both in his lifestyle and in his art. We will leave the non-musical rumination for the biographers. But understanding some parts of the biography do inform the music.

The past century (ours) has spent copious efforts to classify and pigeon-hole the national traits of composers and their music. It has generally enhanced the ability of musicologists to make their case when necessary. In most cases it has explained the salient generalities of any particular composer's music. There are some things, however, that elude almost every attempt at simple classification. Liszt and his music easily falls into that category of resistance. (There, we have remained true to our era by exercising the oxymoron of classifying him as "unclassifiable.")

Born in Raiding, near Sopron, Hungary in 1811, Liszt grew up in an elite musical atmosphere, his father being in the employ of Prince Nikolaus of Esterházy. By 1821 the family moved to Vienna so that Franz could pursue studies with Czerny and Salieri. The latter was important as the pre-eminent senior court composer; the former was probably the pre-eminent keyboardist resident in Vienna. It only took two years for Liszt to outgrow the resources of Vienna, and the Liszts moved to Paris where Franz was refused permission to enter the Conservatory by its director and senior composer, Cherubini. Was Cherubini afraid of this 12 year-old? Or did he just know that this young fellow simply did not need the conservatory, so great were his gifts? Father and son traveled to England in 1824, 1826, and 1827. The father died in 1827. Franz had already (at age 16) established himslef as a gifted performer as well as a composer. His social circles in Paris involved all of the important literati and musicians of the time. He stayed in Paris until 1835, a long stay if measured against his tenure in other places. He moved to Geneva in 1835, married Marie d'Agoult, and lived in Geneva and Italy during 1836-40. From 1840-48 he split his time between Weimar, Germany, and Russia. He became the permanant conductor in Weimar in 1848, continuing until his move to Rome in 1861. The years 1861-69 were spent principally in Rome. But the final years from 1869 until his death in 1886 were again divided between Rome, Weimar and Budapest. Throughout his career he traveled as a performer. During the first half it was as the extraordinary showman-performer and champion of new music; the latter years were more devoted to charity and helping the cause of other performers and composers. The bare facts are these: born an Hungarian/Austrian, raised as an Austrian (briefly) and a Frenchman (with a nod to England), and finally adopting all of central Europe and Italy as "home." His venue was every important musical capital of Europe, and his audience spanned the whole of the European continent.

A look at the music leads one to believe that it is difficult to call it anything other than very advanced Western-European Romanticism, far outreaching its time and place. Is this music French? Or Austro-German? Or Italian? Probably none of the above, but still recognizable in lessening degrees as some of all of the above, i.e., more French than German and more German than Italian. Oh well, these things probably pale as somewhat irrelevant when faced with the task of trying to explain the characteristic details of this music, the forms are so large, the harmony so diffuse in its chromaticism, and the imaginative scope so broad. This music is so advanced for the period as to have pushed into the techniques that led to the dissolution of 19th century harmony and style in music. It certainly jumped right over Wagner and Brahms (to name two dissimilar and warring stars of the time) to the edge of Mahler and Schönberg. Indeed, if one considers Liszt's use of chromaticism, it does not take much of a leap to realize that this chromaticism, if carried to its logical conclusion, would actually culminate at about three-quarters of a century later - a place where the tonal system was felt to be exhausted, and on the brink of twelve-tone chromaticism. What is obvious in Liszt's work is the increasing dissolution of the diatonic harmonic system. He heralds (even in 1850) the logical move to a non-tonal use of the chromatic scale in twelve tones. Liszt certainly was the harbinger, and his 1850 Fantasy on "Ad nos" is a splendid example of this, and much more.

Put simply, Liszt has painted in music a very broad set of dramatic scenes, almost operatic in their content. We don't have to know exactly what he imagined for these scenes. But the music tells a lot. The "hat" on which this drama is hung is a tune sung by the Anabaptists in the first act of Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera, Le Prophète. The actual operatic scenario is probably irrelevant to Liszt's work except as a noble theme from a composer friend whom he wished to honor, one on which to hang his own dramatic cloak. In that way, every performance would honor Liszt's friendship with and respect for Meyerbeer and his work. The drama, however, remains all Liszt's. As he had so excitedly heard Berlioz do in the Symphonie Fantastique, he turned from the classic Sonata form to Berlioz's technique of "thematic transformation." Thus, the melody borrowed from Meyerbeer (the idée fixe) would in Liszt's hands "travel" through the scenes of this drama, transformed to a different mood in each one. At first solemn and serious, at other times lyrical as in an aria, then sinking into a misty, quiet background, appearing as angelic choir in the distance, passing accompaniments of flutes and bells, continuing as a processional brass band march, rallying in fanfares, following itself through a labyrinthine fugue, and finally herocially heralding its own fantastic triumph - that is only a portion of the places where this idée is found. This is the technique of virtually all of Liszt's large works - symphonies, tone poems, concertos, and even the huge Sonata for Piano. This one is an organ symphony. I won't tell you here my particular version of this drama, or even Roberta's. It is more fun for you to listen and imagine those scenes for yourself. It isn't hard. Liszt gives you plenty of grist for your dream-mill! Liszt is supposed to have revised the work in the 1870s (how?), but that revision has been lost.

And, as teacher does, so does the student. Young Julius Reubke was familiar with organs because his father was a well-known builder of large, important instruments in Germany. After studies in Quedlinburg and Berlin, he finally came to Weimar in 1856 to study with Liszt. This was probably because he had heard Wagner's Tannhäuser in Berlin (conducted by Lizst) and was fascinated by this new style of music espoused by Liszt and Wagner. Alexander Winterberger, a classmate of Reubke in Berlin and a former student of Liszt, was also instrumental in getting Reubke to Weimar. (Incidentally, it was Winterberger who played Liszt's Ad nos at the dedication of the new organ in the cathedral of Merseburg in 1855, substituting it for Liszt's large work on BACH written for the occasion. Winterberger played the BACH the following year.) Reubke also played the premiere of his tone poem on the 94th Psalm on this organ. This work and the epic Sonata for Piano are the only surviving large works by Reubke. He died in 1858 at the age of 24. One wonders what would have streamed from this engaging fellow's pen had he lived longer (and if he had, would we be able to play it?). Again, thematic transformation, this time on an original one by Reubke, is the generating principle, and there is no doubt that the composer had the drama and scenes suggested by the psalm itself. It still challenges our imagination, even though we have some textual help from the psalm, and we are left to attach the various moods and "places" of the psalm to the actual music. Once again, the theme is noble. It arises out of the romantic mist of the hills, travels through manifold mountains and valleys, interior and troubling places, changing its mood in each one, laces itself to the technical test of both performer, instrument, and music in the fugue, and emerges confident and triumphant, not just once, but twice.

And now to the instrument. I mentioned the idea of French style above. It is germane here. There are precious few organs (and players, for that matter) that can adequately deliver what is needed here. These are huge works requiring manifold resources, large rooms and spacious acoustics. The problem is that organists are tempted to play these works on too many instruments that are inadequate in rooms that do not "like" this music at all. Even most of the so-called "best" instruments fall short in the end. Even when one desires to find "THE Authentic" instrument (in this case, Merseburg Cathedral or a similar one), one still yearns for more resources. It is the large French instruments that begin to ring the bells of recognition in this regard, and this is what led us to Montréal. We said that we wanted a large instrument with lots of stops, in a big, resonant, but warm acoustic. What came to mind for this producer was, of course, the splendid 1915 organ at the parish of Très-Saint-Nom-de-Jésus (The Very Holy Name of Jesus) in the Maisonneuve district of Montréal, an organ now lovingly and beautifully restored to its original condition by the firm who built it in 1915, Casavant Frères of St. Hyacinthe, Québec. What we wanted was an organ that had extraordinary breadth from the tiniest murmur, the quietest little suggestion of a sound, to the majestic, massive, triumphantly sonorous and truly heroic sound of the full instrument. And we wanted lots of color and infinite stages of dynamic in between. Oh yes, and clarity - not the kind that exposes every individual note, but the kind that melts complex sound into a pleasing, discernable whole, similar to a fine orchestra in a good hall (like Symphony Hall, Boston). There is no doubt in our minds that we found what we were looking for in this instrument.

Finally (ah, yes!) the player. These works require a foundation of extremely well developed piano technique. The style of writing is based on pianistic stuff such as arpeggios, octave passages, and very fluid passage work of a coloristic kind. So inextricably intertwined was the style of both organ and piano that Liszt's Ad nos was published with the piano version interleaved between the keyboard and pedalboard staves of the organ version. The pianists of that period understood the manner of writing and its sound, and today any pianist familiar with works of the period will understand how to play it, even on the organ. But again, these works test the technical mettle of even the best. Roberta Gary's playing speaks eloquently for itself. I hope you are as moved by her powerful and moving portrayal of these works as I am. Hang onto your hats. If your speakers are good, the sound of this music on this instrument is hair-raising!

--Robert Schuneman