Virtuoso English organist Robert Costin presents two great mid-19th
German classics from Liszt and Reubke on the magnificent romantic
symphonic organ of Wellington Town Hall, New Zealand. In the notes
Costin describes the instrument as, “…a very fine, and extremely
rare example of an English symphonic style organ”.
organ of Wellington Town Hall was built in 1906 at a cost of
£5000 by the eminent firm Norman and Beard Ltd. of London and
Norwich. It was almost de rigueur in the late 1800s and
early 1900s in many countries for a prestigious public building
to have a substantial organ constructed. Norman and Beard benefited
from this fervour for organs and were the builders of the organs
at Norwich Cathedral (1899), Cheltenham College (1905), Winchester
College Chapel (1908), Emmanuel College Chapel, Cambridge (1909),
Usher Hall, Edinburgh (1914) and also the organ of Johannesburg
Town Hall in South African.
June 1901 the foundation stone of the Town Hall at Wellington,
New Zealand was laid by the Duke of Cornwall and York, who later
became King George V with construction commencing in May 1902.
The Wellington Town Hall is recognised throughout the world
for its wonderful acoustics; often referred to as near perfect.
In the 1970-80s a successful campaign was fought against the
possible demolition of the Town Hall. Subsequently the organ
was restored in 1985/86 and its original specifications have
been retained. For the technically minded this splendid Norman
and Beard organ consists of four manuals and pedals, 57 speaking
stops and 13 couplers.
first work for organ the Fantasia and Fugue on the chorale
‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam’, S.259 originated from
his highly productive early period in Weimar. This version of
the score came about as a result of a commission to write a
work for the inaugural recital of the magnificent organ reconstructed
by Friedrich Ladegast at the Merseburg Cathedral. Liszt visited
the Merseburg Cathedral organ a number of times before it was
completed in 1855, an instrument that in fact inspired several
of his organ compositions.
theme for the Fantasia and Fugue is based on a chorale
from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s highly successful French Grand Opera
Le Prophète (The Prophet) in 5 acts from 1849
to a libretto by the eminent Eugène Scribe. Robert Costin writes
that Liszt, “went to see the opera (Le Prophète)
himself in Dresden and was impressed by much of Meyerbeer’s
music…Meyerbeer’s melody clearly intrigued Liszt; its harmonic
and melodic characteristics permeated every aspect of the work,
lending it an impressive structural coherence”.
Fantasia and Fugue was published in 1852 as the last of
a set of four pieces entitled Illustrations du Prophète,
S.414 (1849/50); the first three of the set were for piano.
Liszt biographer the composer Humphrey Searle states that the
Fantasia and Fugue, “…is certainly not an operatic fantasy.
It is based on a chorale sung by three Anabaptists in the first
act of the opera, where they call the people to seek re-baptism
in the healing water.”A Meyerbeer’s Latin text
sung by the trio of Anabaptists Ad nos, ad salutarem undam,
iterum venite miseri ad nos, as nos venite populi can be translated
as To us, to the water of salvation, come to us again, you
who are wretched, come to us, you people. Liszt dedicated
the score to Meyerbeer and undertook several revisions on the
Fantasia and Fugue before its 1855 première performance
by soloist Alexander Winterberger at Merseburg Cathedral.
Fantasia and Fugue on the chorale ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem
undam’ is a substantial score lasting just over thirty minutes.
Cast in a single continuous movement the score has three discernable
sections: Fantasia, Adagio and Fugue. Part
of the chorale theme, that was Meyerbeer’s own, is located at
the start of the opening Fantasia section. Here I was
struck by the power and terrific resonance of the Norman and
Beard organ. The complete chorale theme is heard in the Adagio
in F-sharp, sometimes known as Liszt’s mystical key. I loved
Costin’s subtle playing in the meditative Adagio section
that has a rather remote feel. Drama abounds in the final section
a muscular and vigorous double fugue leading to the exultant
recommendable alternative version of the Liszt’s Fantasia
and Fugue is performed with drama and assurance by Andreas
Rothkopf on the Wilhelm Sauer organ of the Evangelische Stadtkirche,
Bad Homburg, Germany on Naxos 8.555079.
son of an organ builder Julius Reubke only lived a short life
before being struck down in his mid-twenties with tuberculosis.
Two years before his untimely death in 1858 Reubke had studied
with Liszt at Weimar following a recommendation from Hans von
Bülow. Liszt took Reubke under this wing and allowed the young
man to live at his Altenburg house. I first came across Reubke’s
music hearing his Piano Sonata in B flat minor (1857)
a couple of years ago at a recital at my local concert society.
Sonata on the 94th Psalm from 1857 has a substantial
single movement span in three sections. It lasts around twenty
six minutes and has considerable programmatic elements. The
first edition of Reubke’s score contained printed verses from
the 94th Psalm that were closely linked to the score’s movements.
Bearing a dedication to Professor Carl Riedel, the composer
gave the première of the score on the Friedrich Ladegast organ
at Merseburg Cathedral in June 1857.
not sure how often Reubke’s Sonata on the 94th Psalm is
played today. The world famous organist Sir George Thalben-Ball
(1896-1987) who served at the Temple Church, London for sixty
years had the Reubke score in his repertoire. Thalben-BallB
first played the work in 1918 on the Father Smith organ (destroyed
by bombing in 1941) at a public recital at St. Clement Danes,
The Strand, London. There is a recording of Thalben-Ball playing
the Fugue from Reubke’s Sonata on the 94th Psalm on
a recording of ‘British Organists of the 1920s’C.
the opening section of the Sonata on the 94th Psalm Robert
Costin provides a heady kaleidoscope of mood and instrumental
colour. The central section Adagio is steeped with a
sacred character. I was struck by Reubke’s adventurous writing
especially the dark and shadowy excursion to the low registers
of the organ at 2:28-2:59. Brisk and joyously uplifting the
final section contains closing bars that aptly display the rich
and powerful sonority of the instrument.
Robert Costin who studied at the Royal Academy of Music and Pembroke
College, Cambridge is currently director of music at Ardingly
College, West Sussex. In these scores by Liszt and Reubke, the
assured Costin avoids the temptation to rush giving the music
ample time to breath. Displaying consummate control he expertly
demonstrates the range and luxuriant tone colours of the Norman
and Beard organ at Wellington.
*Robert Costin is a reviewer for MusicWeb International
A The Music of Liszt by Humphrey Searle - Dover Publications,
second revised edition (1966) - ISNB not stated. Pg. 87.
B George Thalben-Ball by Jonathon Rennert -
Publisher: David & Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon (1979) - ISBN:
0 7153 7863 5. Pg. 50.
C Fugue from Reubke The 94th Psalm Sonata
British Organists of the 1920s, Vol. 2 recorded 1913-1926 AMPHION
See also: Organ
Historical Society Catalog and Amphion