"Tradition and renewal" - that could have been the title of this disc. Like so many composers throughout history Johann Sebastian Bach had a circle of pupils from early in his career until the very end. They were often part of his household, participated in musical performances and acted as copyists of music by Bach himself and by others. Having been a Bach pupil was a testimonial when young musicians looked for a job after finishing their studies with the master. Bach was not the most celebrated composer of his time in Germany but he was generally considered the greatest organist.
Bach undoubtedly had a strong influence on his pupils. His style shines through in their own organ compositions as this disc demonstrates. Most of his pupils mixed this with more modern fashions, such as the galant
idiom or the Empfindsamkeit
. In some of the latest compositions of his direct pupils his influences are combined with classical or even early romantic elements. The youngest composer in this programme, Johann Christian Kittel, handed over the Bach tradition to the 19th century, not only in his compositions but also through his treatise Der angehende praktische Organist
(three volumes, 1801-08).
Bach was a hard taskmaster who may have pushed some too hard, and that goes especially for Wilhelm Friedemann. The music he wrote as study material for his eldest son, such as the six trio sonatas, and the obbligato organ parts in his cantatas which were probably played by him, all attest to Friedemann's great skills. He was the best organist in Germany after his father's death, but also a rather unstable character. More than his younger brother Carl Philipp Emanuel he had trouble finding his own path in life and developing his own style. In his keyboard works he constantly wanders back and forth between the style of the baroque era and the fashions of his time. It was one of the reasons that he sank into oblivion and died in poverty.
Emanuel was also educated by his father and his first compositions - mostly chamber music - were written under the latter's guidance. He later reworked them in his own more personal style but at least in the department of organ music he didn't need to compete with his father's heritage as he didn't make a career as organist. The organ plays a rather insignificant role in his oeuvre. The main part of his music for this instrument comprises the six sonatas he composed for Anna Amalia, the sister of his employer for many years, Frederick the Great of Prussia. She had an organ at her court and was an avid player of the instrument. These sonatas are for manuals only and can be played on a strung keyboard instrument as well. The Fantasy and fugue in c minor
has the features of so many of Emanuel's keyboard works: an unpredictable melodic discourse and adventurous harmonic progressions.
Bach's favourite pupil was Johann Ludwig Krebs. Stylistically he remains closer to his teacher than any of Bach's pupils. There are some compositions which are attributed to both which attest to their stylistic similarity. Especially in the two organ chorales recorded here one hardly notices any difference. The Toccata and fugue in E
is one of Krebs' most brilliant organ works; the toccata opens with an extended pedal solo. Krebs' oeuvre includes a number of trios; one is played here, a siciliano with the tempo indication andante
. The form of the trio was often used in organ music, including chorale arrangements, reflecting the popularity of the trio sonata in chamber music.
That is the case, for instance, in the organ chorales by Gottfried August Homilius. This part of his oeuvre is not very large: 38 such pieces have been preserved. He must have written them in his capacity as organist of the Frauenkirche in Dresden. From 1755 until his death he worked as Kantor
of the Kreuzkirche and Musikdirektor
of the three main churches there. This explains the large corpus of vocal music which has started to be explored recently. His organ chorales are quite expressive expositions of the chorales' content. Although there is no firm evidence that he was Bach's pupil it is very likely, and even if he was not formally taught by Bach, his chorales show the master's influence. Johann Gottfried Müthel can hardly have been Bach's pupil as he arrived in Leipzig only two months before the latter's death. His small oeuvre for keyboard includes a handful of pieces for organ. The Fantasy in F
is stylistically close to Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. The youngest composer in the programme is Johann Christian Kittel who was Bach's pupil from 1748 to 1750. From 1762 until his death he was organist of the Predigerkirche in Erfurt. Hans Fagius has selected four preludes from a collection of 16, published in two volumes in 1809. Stylistically they are different, suggesting that they have been written at various times. The most 'modern', including some early romantic traits, is the Prelude in f minor
Hans Fagius, born 1951, is one of Sweden's most prominent organists with a wide and varied repertoire. He has become especially known for his complete recording of Bach's organ works, which were included in Brilliant Classics' Bach Edition, released in 2000. In that project he used historical organs. Here he plays a modern instrument, built in 2010, but in the style of historical organs in Saxonia and Thuringia, with additional elements from South-German instruments. It proves to be a suitable instrument for the repertoire played here. The baroque features come off well, and so do the aspects which reflect later fashions. Fagius is a stylish interpreter and I have greatly enjoyed his performances. Only in Krebs' toccata did I miss some brilliance, probably due to the too moderate tempo. However, that is only a minor detail. With the exception of Emanuel Bach's works the programme comprises largely little-known items which only contributes to the attraction of this disc.
Johan van Veen