This disc has two subjects: the historical organ in the Church of
Our Lady of Tưn in the old city of Prague, and the organ works of
Josef Ferdinand Norbert Seger. The latter are used to demonstrate
the features of the organ. Pavel Kohout has added some pieces by other
composers, all from Bohemia or southern Germany, to complete the picture.
The organ was built by Hans Heinrich Mundt, a Bohemian builder of
German birth, who combined elements of the Bohemian and Italian schools.
The instrument in the Tưn Church which he constructed in 1673 failed
to meet the approval of the board. He added some stops, but they remained
dissatisfied. Mundt was ordered to revoice the organ in order to make
it louder. In 1823 some changes were carried out by Josef Gartner,
who became well known for his restoration of baroque organs. He treated
the instrument with great respect and as a result Mundt's organ
has survived largely intact. In 2000 a restoration took place, which
was not based on the original Mundt concept, but kept the changes
by Gartner. Even so it remains very suitable for the repertoire which
Pavel Kohout has selected for this disc.
The main figure is Seger, who was one of the leading composers and
performers in Bohemia in the mid-18th century. He attended the Jesuit
Gymnasium in Prague and graduated in philosophy at the university.
He worked as a singer and violinist, studied the organ with Cernohorsky
and counterpoint with Zach and Tuma. From around 1740 he was organist
of Tưn Church and that means that the pieces Kohout has chosen were
probably first played on this organ. It needs to be noted that Seger
was well acquainted with the keyboard music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
He arranged various parts from his Well-tempered Clavier for liturgical
use. He was also an important teacher; among his students were the
likes of Brixi, Kozeluh, Myslivecek and Vanhal.
The repertoire here bears witness to Seger's contrapuntal skills,
especially in his many fugues. These are various in character and
mood. The Toccata and fugue in d minor
is from a collection
of pieces based on the eight church modes. The Toccata and fugue
was written for Christmastide. The toccata has pedal
points which are a typical feature of pastorales whereas the subject
of the fugue is taken from a popular Bohemian Christmas carol. The
fugue from the Fantasia and fugue in d minor
ends with a
short coda in free improvisatory style. One could see here the influence
of Bach, and indirectly that of the north-German organ school, where
such pieces mostly ended the same way.
Another pupil of Seger - apart from those mentioned above - was Karel
Blazej Kopriva. He was a brilliant organist whose vocal compositions
are characterised by a great amount of expression. His organ works
bear witness to his mastery of counterpoint. A specimen is the Fuga
sopra cognomen DEBEFE
. 'Debefe' is a musical anagram
of the surname of Josef de Boeufe, a patron of music.
The compositions by these two Bohemian masters are supplemented by
music which was written by composers who were active in southern Germany.
That is a logical choice because of the strong similarity between
the organ in Tưn Church and south-German instruments. Johann Caspar
Ferdinand Fischer was Bohemian by birth, but mostly worked in Germany
and his music reflects the German style. He has become particularly
famous for his collection of twenty preludes and fugues through different
keys which were published under the title Ariadne Musica
It inspired Bach to compose his Well-tempered Clavier. His Aria
was originally intended for the harpsichord.
It is certainly not a liturgical piece but works very well at the
organ, also because of the variety in registration.
The form of aria with variations was quite popular in the 18th century,
and so was the passacaglia. In this case we hear a specimen by Johann
Caspar Kerll, who was born in Saxony and worked most of his life in
Munich and Vienna. For several years he was based in Rome, where he
was a pupil of Carissimi. After his return he worked for almost twenty
years as organist at the imperial court in Vienna. The Canzona
III in d minor
is in four contrasting sections, two of which
Gottlieb Theophil Muffat was a son of the famous Georg Muffat who
was a prominent advocate of blending Italian and French styles. His
oeuvre comprises almost exclusively keyboard music, and one of the
most significant collections is devoted to liturgical music. From
this set the Aria sub elevatione
is taken, also a theme with
variations, to be played during the elevation at mass.
Pavel Kohout is an expert in this repertoire as he has also shown
in other recordings. He demonstrates the many possibilities of the
organ which is not that large - two manuals and pedal - but has much
to offer in regard to contrast of colour. Kohout uses these possibilities
effectively, but not in a demonstrative manner. He largely avoids
changing the registration during play. The greatest contrasts are
between clear-cut sections or between prelude and fugue. The playing
is stylish in regard to phrasing and articulation, and the recording
engineer has also done a fine job.
This is a compelling portrait of an important and musically interesting
organ with repertoire which is largely beyond the mainstream. Organ
aficionados need not hesitate.
Johan van Veen