Thursday, December 24, 2009


Händel's Messiah is arguably the most widely shared musical experience in our culture. Each year the oratorio is sung by tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands o people in choirs and choral societies across the globe. Händel's music is indelibly part of our musical consciousness, with the "Hallelujah" chorus eliciting a level of recognition and emotional respose perhaps only otherwise achieved by the opening bars of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. No other composition is so generally familiar or so well loved. - John Scott Organist and Director of Music Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue

Please on this eve of Christmas enjoy some samples of the Washington National Cathedral Choirs live recording of Händel's Messiah:

Sinfony (Overture)
For Unto us a Child is Born
Pifa (Pastoral Symphony)
Glory to God in the Highest
"Hallelujah" Chorus
Chorus (revelation 5: 12-14)

Click to Purchase this album

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hear the Christmas Angels

"Christmas is maybe the most intimate of seasons. It taps something deep in the human spirit — a yearning to be connected to each other and to God. And it stirs an array of memories of home. We are nomads these days, but beneath our restless lives we often notice the longing to be with those we love, to have a sense that we belong, that there is a place in this universe for us. 'Our hearts are restless till they rest in You,' St. Augustine once prayed. Home is where love is, and where God is.

Christmas is one of the most profound and moving seasons of the year at Washington National Cathedral. During this holy time, the Cathedral welcomes visitors and worshipers from near and far, in person and online, who are seeking a home where they can celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, God coming in flesh to live with us. This event 2,000 years ago unleashed a movement of hope and peace that is still at work today. In the Christmas season more than a billion people will travel to churches across the globe to sing carols and songs of their own traditions as they tell this story again and experience its hopeful, liberating power.

The selections on this recording include some of our favorite hymns and carols. We hope that they will allow you to enter into the mystery and beauty of the Christmas season. And we hope too that as you listen to them, you will be touched by the spirit of this Cathedral and will be reminded that here you have a home, not only at Christmas but throughout the year." - The Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III

Hear The Christmas Angels is a spectacular selection of favorite Hymns and Carols from the Washington National Cathedral featuring: The Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys, The Cathedral Choir of Men and Girls, Cathedral Voices, The Cathedral Orchestra and members of the Washington Symphonic Brass.  Michael McCarthy and Scott Hanoian, directors and Erik Wm. Suter, organist.

Take a listen to these samples from Hear the Christmas Angels:

O Come All Ye Faithful
Angels We Have Heard on High
O Holy Night
Joy to the World

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sing in Exultation

From late November through the early weeks of each New Year, the world is alive with music celebrating the feasts and holy days of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. In times of prosperity or famine, and during years of uncertainty, conflict or peace, the many songs, carols and hymns, as well as the great choral and instrumental works composed for this season, have given voice to this festive Yuletide, expressing the world's yearning for peace and joy. This festive recording of carols and other music for Advent through Epiphany is a musical tour of both the massive and the more intimate spaces of the cathedral.

Feel the spirit of Christmas by listening to these samples from Sing in Exultation: Carols from Washington National Cathedral:

Processional: O come, O come, Emmanuel
O little town of Bethlehem
Gloria in excelsis
Lullay, lullay: Als I lay on Yoolis Night

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dr. Christmas Reviews/Teaser

Today we thought we would share a short review of two of our Christmas albums with the Washington National Cathedral Choirs. More important than the actual reviews though, is the fact that they were included in the "Dr. Christmas" "Nice List" during his annual CD review!

Every year since 1989, in the week or so before Christmas, UW Oshkosh sociology professor Dr. Gerry Grzyb has become "Dr. Christmas", bringing his astonishing array of holiday music to the airwaves of WRST-FM. Sizeable samples of over 2000 Christmas CDs have been played (there are 7000 in his collection!), with 172 added in 2008 alone. The diversity of the program lies in the fact that there is almost no genre of Christmas music that Dr. Christmas won't play, the one major exception being chlildren's music since it is obviously made for a much younger audience. Dr. C. likes it all, and plays it all, and the playlists provide ample evidence of that.

The good doctor has been honored in a number of ways.
Kyle Munson, longtime music critic for the Des Moines Register, wrote that he was “perhaps the nation’s foremost authority on Christmas music."

In recognition of his commitment to independent music, the Association For Independent Music (now defunct) named him one of the five judges in the Seasonal Music category for its Indie Awards (which were the independent music version of the Grammy).

A variety of musicians cite his reviews of their CDs that appeared in the Appleton Post Crescent on their websites.

His show has been written about in newspapers from Morro Bay, CA to Erie, PA, and it was listed as one of the distinctive ways people celebrate Christmas in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Munich's largest quality paper (roughly the equivalent of our New York Times).

In 2008 he was featured on WNYC, the public radio station in New York City. He took part in a debate about Christmas music as part of WNYC’s Soundcheck program.

Dr. Christmas is also heard on WRST's web stream. Last year, he had listeners around the country; click here for a map of them all! Stream listeners were also recorded in Toronto and its metro area, Dublin, Ireland, and even Hong Kong, China!

So here is Dr. Christmas' short blurb on our albums:

An equally big sound emanates from the multiple choirs, organ, orchestra, and brass ensemble assembled for “Hear the Christmas Angels” at the Washington National Cathedral. The fare is mostly familiar arrangements of favorite carols, including five from modern carolmeister John Rutter. “Sing In Exultation”, featuring the Cathedral Choirs of Men and Girls and of Men and Boys, aims to provide a musical tour of carols as well as the different acoustical spaces of that same D.C. landmark. There’s plenty of musical diversity here, including instrumental and organ pieces that make for a welcome freshness....Click to Read the full list of Christmas Reviews

It's an honor to be included in a list full of top-notch ensembles and labels.

Here's a quick teaser - We will be featuring select samples and information on these two albums plus one more throughout this week!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Wanamaker Organ and the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble

Since our recent Christmas release Christmas in the Grand Tradition features both Peter Richard Conte on the Wanamaker Organ and the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble, we thought we would give you a hint to what they sound like when playing together! Here is a video of the PBE & Mr. Conte as well as a chorus performing America the Beautiful during "Wanamaker Organ Day 2009!"

Click to purchase Christmas in the Grand Tradition

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wanamaker Organ and Peter Richard Conte

One of our Christmas albums this year is Christmas in the Grand Tradition and features the organist Peter Richard Conte on the Wanamaker Organ. So today we thought we would share this video of Peter Richard Conte being interviewed by CBS about the Wanamaker Organ:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tidings of Joy

Under the artist direction of Douglas Mears, this massive musical ensemble of 300 singers with full symphony orchestra has created a beautifully produced recording with imaginative orchestrations and arrangements.  Herald in the season with the Fairfax Choral Society and Orchestra’s first release on Gothic Records!

Music for Christmas: Tidings of Joy is a program that follows the cycle of the Christmas season beginning with four Advent pieces, then five Nativity focused pieces, followed by six pieces of Celebration, and ending with five pieces of Adoration!

"Music has always been an integral part of Christmas. The glorious announcement of Christ’s birth by a choir of angels, the gentle lullaby of a mother to her newborn child, the jubilant rejoicing of shepherds as they returned from Bethlehem—virtually every aspect of the Christmas story has inspired poets and composers for centuries, and generations of singers have raised their voices in celebration of the birth of Jesus.

Each December since its founding forty-six years ago, the Fairfax Choral Society has joined in this annual tradition, presenting Christmas concerts that have gained in popularity over the years and have grown to include performances by over 300 singers of all ages with a full symphony orchestra. In addition to the extraordinary variety of instrumental and vocal color these musicians can create, Christmas music itself offers a vast array of contrasting styles and moods.

Recorded live, this concert of sacred and secular favorites weaves a rich tapestry of carols from fourteenth-century England to twenty-first-century America. As diverse as these carols are, they all share in the wonder and delight of the Christmas season as they bring to the world tidings of joy." -Douglas Mears

1. Berceuse - Jean-Michel Vaccaro
2. Lost in the Night - traditional, arr. by Kyle S. Haugen
3. Spašéñiye sodélal - Pavel Grigorievich Chesnokov
4. Here is Joy for Every Age - from Piae Cantiones, arr. by Stephen Mager

5. Gloria - Randol Alan Bass
6. A Manger Carol - Douglas Mears
7. Fantasy on What Child is This? - traditional, arr. by Barlow Bradford
8. Ding Dong! Merrily on High - traditional, arr. by Stephen Mager
9. The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy - traditional, arr. by Mack Wilberg

10. Kling, Glöckchen, Kling - Benedikt Widmann, arr. by Stephen Mager
11. Three Little Birdies - Edmund Walters
12. Wassail - traditional, arr. by John Currie
13. Danse russe Trepak - Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky
14. The Very Best Time of Year- John Rutter
15. I Saw Three Ships - traditional, arr. by Mack Wilberg

16. Night of Silence - Daniel Kantor
17. Lux Aurumque - Eric Whitacre
18. Jesus Christ the Apple Tree - Elizabeth Poston
19. Il Est Né, le Divin Enfant - anonymous, arr. by Donna Gartman Schultz
20. Carol to the King - James C. Christian, arr. by Mack Wilberg

Click to purchase Music for Christmas: Tidings of Joy

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas in the Grand Tradition

A new recording on the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ.  Under the dazzling finger of organist Peter Richard Conte, the world’s largest instrument teams up with the Philadelphia Brass in this program of Christmas favorites.   Selections include Bring a Torch, Jeannette Isabella, O Tannenbaum, Silent Night, For unto us a Child is Born, and many others.

Peter Richard Conte is the Grand Court Organist of the Wanamaker Organ in Macy's, Center City, Philadelphia. Appointed in 1989, he is the fourth person to hold that title since the organ was first played in 1911. As Choirmaster and Organist of St. Clement's Church, Philadelphia, Conte also directs an eighteen-voice professional choir in the Anglo-Catholic musical tradition.

Previous recordings by Conte on the Wanamaker include Midnight in the Grand Court, Magic!, and The Wanamaker Legacy. Conte appears under the management of Phillip Truckenbrod Concert Artists.

Formed in 1988, Philadelphia Brass is on the roster of Pennsylvania performing Artists on tour, and was sponsored by the U.S. State Department in a recent tour to Bolivia. Repertoire is chosen from an array of classical and popular music, including new works commissioned by Philadelphia Brass with composers Daniel Pinkham, David Diamond, J.A.C. Redford, Larry Lipkis, and Dick Hyman.

The ensemble consists of Brian Kuszyk (trumpet), Scott Mendoker (tuba), Lawrence Wright (trumpet), Anthony Cecere (horn), and Robert Gale (trombone). Previous recordings include Eternity Shut In A Span.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A VocalEssence Christmas!

Make your Christmas A VocalEssence Christmas with Welcome Christmas - Carols & Lullabies from Around the World!

Welcome Christmas
Carols & Lullabies from Around the World
Phillip Brunelle, director

From across the United States have come composers and arrangers whose work contributes to this collection of Christmas music. These are carols from around the world brought together in arrangements that reflect an inherently American diversity and spirit. From Virgil Thomson's camp meeting setting of "The Holly and the Ivy" and Steve Barnett's swing verson of "Go Tell It on the Mountain" to Randall Davidson's homespun "Christ Was Born on Christmas Day" and Conrad Susa's magnificent Carols & Lullabies, commissioned from Susa specifically for VocalEssence. Maestro Brunelle has chosen carols-both familiar and unfamiliar-tied to one another by their inventiveness, charm and beauty in one of the year's most exciting new holiday discs.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

VocalEssence Target Commercial

Last month we shared our VocalEssence Thanksgiving music with you, and today we just couldn't help but share this video of VocalEssence doing a Target commercial for Christmas in Minnesota!

Click to view all of our VocalEssence recordings, including Christmas Music!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Händel's Messiah

As Christmas draws near, one of the most oft-performed classical works is Händel's oratorio The Messiah.

Recently, the Washington National Cathedral Choirs performed the oratorio, and so for those of us not fortunate enough to attend, there is a way to experience the magic of this choir in their magnificent space! The Gothic Catalog is very pleased to release a live recording of the 2007 performance of Händel's Messiah performed by the Washington National Cathedral Choir and Baroque Orchestra.

Washington National Cathedral Choir and Baroque Orchestra present Messiah

Please click to purchase at a special low price!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys - Washington National Cathedral Choirs

Since our Christmas albums are all performances by the Washington National Cathedral Choirs, we thought we would share a video with you of The Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys. This is one of the choirs on the Hear the Christmas Angels album.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

New Washington National Cathedral Choir Christmas Albums!

Check out our selection of new Washington National Cathedral Christmas releases available on NOW!

Hear the Christmas Angels - Washington National Cathedral Choirs

Hear the Christmas Angels
The Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys
The Cathedral Choir of Men and Girls
Michael McCarthy, conductor

Cathedral Voices
Cott Hanoian, director
Erick Wm. Suter, organist

The Cathedral Orchestra
Members of Washington Symphonic Brass

A collection of favorite hymns and carols from Washington National Cathedral.

Sing in Exultation - Washington National Cathedral Choir

Sing in Exultation
Carols from Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral Choir

Michael McCarthy, conductor

Recorded at Washington National Cathedral for broadcast by Public Radio International, the classic collection of carols and organ solos includes Lullay (The Coventry Carol), Adeste fideles, Verbum caro, and other favorites.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Christmas Echoes - Dale Warland Singers

In honor of Cyber Monday being today, we thought we'd give you some background music for your online Christmas sales shopping.

This is a broadcast from American Public Media about the Dale Warland Singers' Christmas music. We have a series of these "Echoes of Christmas" available at so feel free to do some of your Cyber Monday shopping with us.

Please click HERE to enjoy the broadcast (This should open the broadcast in iTunes).

To purchase these collections of holiday music, please click HERE.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Over the River & Through the Woods Feedback

Check out what others are saying about Over the River & Through the Woods on Facebook!

Jeffrey D.: "Having recently received a copy of Over the River & Through the Woods, I can assure you that this recording will become, in our home, as much of a Thanksgiving staple as its sister recording, Harvest Home. The juxtaposition of the Hopeful Gospel Quartet with the choral ensembles of VocalEssence is as endearing as cranberry salad and pumpkin pie! Add to that the wit and wisdom of Garrison Keillor, and you'll have a recipe sure to please at this - or anytime - of the year."

To Purchase Over the River & Through the Woods, please click HERE

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

Over the River & Through the Woods Audio Samples

Since it's Thanksgiving week, we thought we would share with you some samples from our Thanksgiving album Over the River & Through the Woods featuring The Hopeful Gospel Quartet, VocalEssence, and Garrison Keillor.

Simply click the "play" button next to the Song Title, and these are only teaser samples...

Will the Circle Be Unbroken
An Anthem for Thanksgiving
Thanks Be to God
Thanksgiving Recollections

Friday, November 20, 2009

There Really IS Music for Thanksgiving

We've been pushing the Over the River & Through the Woods album for most of this month, but there is a Reason! Most people think that there is nothing out there that can be considered "Thanksgiving Music." So, we are trying to show that there is an album of music that will get you in the mood for this coming Thursday!

Today we even read a blog from the New Haven Symphony bemoaning the fact that Thanksgiving is overlooked. The post is called "What is up With Thanksgiving Music?"

So once again, here is our answer to that question:

Over the River & Through the Woods

On a chilly November evening, the Hopeful Gospel Quartet — Garrison Keillor, Mollie O’Brien and Robin & Linda Williams — traded musical moments with the VocalEssence Chorus and Ensemble Singers in a concert at Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis. The evening seamlessly blended American folk traditions with choral masterpieces old and new, from “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” to “Now Thank We All Our God.” Garrison Keillor shared his Thanksgiving memories in a hilarious yet poignant monologue. Thanks to Minnesota Public Radio, the evening was captured for posterity in this charming two-CD set.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sing Out Reviews Over the River & Through the Woods

From Sing Out Magazine,

Over the River and Through the Woods
Clarion Records 937

According to the show’s creator, Garrison Keillor, A Prairie Home Companion began as a lark over 30 years ago. Who would have ever predicted the impact that
this two-hour live radio program would have? Not just on the world of broadcasting, but on the millions of listeners who have tuned in on Saturdays to hear great music, listen to fake ads and skits, and catch up on the news of a small town in
Minnesota that only exists in Keillor’s mind and in the hearts of his devoted audience…

Garrison Keillor’s obvious love of song has helped forge a wide variety of musical associations that have become a highlight of the broadcast over the years.

Over the River and Through the Woods is a two CD collection of American folk songs and choral masterpieces performedat Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis in November of 2004 in celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday. Conceived by Garrison and longtime friend and collaborator, Philip Brunelle, the album includes performances by the Hopeful Gospel Quartet, featuring Robin and Linda Williams and Mollie O’Brien, and the VocalEssence chorus with accompaniment from Richard Dworsky and Charles Kemper. There are readings and monologues sprinkled throughout making this concert and this recording a joyous feast for this unique American holiday.

These two new releases gleefully remind me of the many hours I’ve spent over the
last 20 years or so entranced by the magic of live radio and by the creative blend of
musical styles conjured up and presented with class by Garrison Keillor. — Matt Watroba

(c)2005 Sing Out! Used by permission, all rights reserved.

To Purchase this album please click HERE

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thanksgiving Music!!!

Though we already did our first Christmas commercial here yesterday, we know that there is a major holiday coming up before December 25th! And, we have music for it!!! By now you should know about our two releases from Garrison Keillor and VocalEssence, but if you don't please click Here, Here, Here, Here, and Here!

Here are what ordinary people are saying about these wonderful Thanksgiving releases:

Over the River & Through the Woods:

"Wonderful classic recording to start your holiday season. Excellent choice for Thanksgiving and into Christmas. If you like Prairie Home Companion than you will enjoy the feel of this recording." - Greg Russell on

Hymn to Potatoes:

"This CD pulls together Garrison Keiler's gentle humour and good Christian hymnology, well performed by an excellent choir, with an added touch of fun that makes it a delight to listen to - just as it is to listen to a session of Prairie Home Companion. It makes me feel at home, and it's also inspirational. Great recording!" - Martin Collin from

"What a wonderful 2 CD collection: good music, good humor... if you like a Prairie Home Companion and choral music, this is a winner." - AmazonAddict

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Christmas with the Dale Warland Singers

As we have begun seeing more and more Christmas commercials already, we thought we would share a review for one of our best-selling and most popular Christmas albums of all-time: Christmas with the Dale Warland Singers.

This review comes from

Ladies and gentlemen, classic Christmas choral music simply does not get any better than this. I have it on good authority that when we slip the surly bonds of earth, THIS is the music we hear as we move to that higher plain. Formed in 1972, the 40-voice Dale Warland Singers ("DWS") are a most remarkable ensemble; the singing is always first-class, the arrangements impeccable, and the production values flawless. If you are looking for the best "a cappella" group in the world singing a superb collection of classical holiday offerings, your search is over. In Christmas with the Dale Warland Singers, the DWS sets the standard, and the bar is extremely high.

This is far from the first Christmas offering by the DWS. In fact, the group's reputation soared through the 1980s in large part due to the extraordinary popularity of their holiday LPs. Now available on CD, these recordings include: A Rose in Winter, Carols for Christmas, Christmas Echoes Vol. 1, Christmas Echoes Vol. 2, and December Stillness. Christmas with the Dale Warland Singers is just the most recent in a string of musical gems; recorded last year, the CD came in response to DWS fans demanding a new Christmas recording. As a result, this CD includes new recordings of old favorites, as well as some spectacular new arrangements.

Christmas with the Dale Warland Singers is bursting at the seams with 21 tracks on over an hour of play time. The CD provides remarkable balance between the familiar and the lesser known. About half (11) of the cuts are performed "a cappella"; where there is accompaniment, it is minimal, lovely, and inobtrusive. Most listeners will immediately recognize at least six or seven numbers (such as Silent Night, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, O Little Town of Bethlehem) and other songs will take the audience in new directions. Picking "favorites" out of this group is almost meaningless; everything is done so well and sounds so right.

That being said, the most exciting moments on Christmas with the Dale Warland Singers include: the fragile opening of Il est né, le divin enfant, which builds in excitement and volume, moving into the English translation and back; the joyous exultations of Fum, fum, fum! and Patapan; the mesmerizing harmonies, key changes, and handbells driving Hark! The Herald Angels Sing; and the incredibly delicate, almost ethereal, Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (Lo, How a Rose)--the DWS rendition is the most beautiful interpretation in existence.

Like everything else the group does, the liner notes are outstanding--28 pages (including the front & back covers) of information about the DWS, the founder, the artists, and naturally the music. For each selection, the notes set forth fascinating background and all the lyrics. In addition, for those numbers not in English, translations are provided.

If you spend Christmas with the Dale Warland Singers, then that will be a season extremely well spent. For the fan of classical choral productions, this holiday offering should be on your "must have" list. Simply spectacular!

--Carol Swanson
(Reviewed in 2004)

From the liner notes:

Many fans were introduced to the Dale Warland Singers (DWS) in the 1980s through a series of popular Christmas LPs. Those recordings were the best thing one could place on the Christmas turntable: familiar tunes in new arrangements, or original compositions that were a mid-winter breath of fresh air. The DWS went on to make a series of award-winning CDs devoted to folk, sacred, and concert music. With this recording, they respond to those hundreds of requests which have come in over the years for a new Christmas recroding.

The Dale Warland Singers:

Soprano: Beth Althof; Margaret Burton; Sara Dick; Marie Spar Dymit (section leader); Pamela Marentetter; Melissa Morey; Deborah Loon Osgood; Sarah Schlomer; Dawn Schuffenhauer; Monica Stratton

Alto: Abbie Betinis; Sara Boos; Joanne Halvorsen (section leader); Lynette Johnson; Shelley Kline; Mary C. Maiden Müeller; Krista Palmquist; Kelly Sorkin; Momoko Tanno

Tenor: Jared L. Anderson (section leader); Lawrence Bach; Joel Beyer; Joel C. Fischer; Eric N. Hopkins; Justin Karch; David Nordli; Hal Snyder; Gregory Tambornino

Bass: Jeffrey Bipes; Bruce Broquist; Matthew Culloton (section leader); Dave Jacobson; Brian Kremer; Michael Meyer; Kevin Michael Norberg; Tim O'Brien; Brian E. Petty; Brad Runyan; Terry Sheetz; Brian L. Steele

This CD was recorded at the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota, in January 2002.

"Dale Warland--Founder and Music Director"

Celebrated American musician, Dale Warland, has made an indelible impression on the landscape of contemporary choral music both nationally and internationally. During his time with the Dale Warland Singers, he has shaped a vocal ensemble known for its exquisite sound, technical finesse, and stylistic range. From this platform, Warland not only masters the traditional repertoire, but has commissioned over 230 new choral works.

The choral world has responded by bestowing its highest honors on Warland, including a special award in 2002 from Chorus America and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) for Warland's "pioneering vision, leadership, and commitment to commissioning and performing new choral works at the highest level of artistry." Other awards and recognition include the 2001 Louis Botto Award for Innovative Action and Entrepreneurial Zeal; the 2001 McKnight Distinguished Artist Award in recognition of his lifetime achievements as a choral conductor; and the 1995 Michael Korn Founder's Award, the highest honor for a choral conductor in the United States, previously awarded to Robert Shaw, Margaret Hillis, and Roger Wagner, among others.

Warland's appearances as a guest conductor have taken him to the podiums of the Swedish Radio Choir, Danish Radio Choir, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Opus 7 Vocal Ensemble, the Utah Chamber Artists, the Grant Park Music Festival, and Israel's Cameran Singers.

Warland is committed to sharing his knowledge about the choral arts and has served on the faculty of the All-Japan Chorus League National Competition in Fukuoka, Japan; lectured on American music at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinnki; served on the artistic staff of the Tolosa Choral Festival in Spain; acted as co-chair of both the choral and recording panels of the National Endowment for the Arts; and completed a 19-year tenure as Director of Choral Music at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pipedreams Features Buxtehude

Today we wanted to share with you the NPR/American Public Media program "Pipedreams" (a weekly organ music radio program) from May 11, 2009 which features some historical information about, and music by Dieterich Buxtehude, and features two tracks from our very own Hans Davidsson recordings of the Complete Works of Buxtehude.

Hour 1: Track 3 is BUXTEHUDE: Canzona in C, BuxWV 166 –Hans Davidsson (2000 GoART Replica/Örgryte nya kyrka [Örgryte New Church], Göteborg, Sweden) Loft 1092/3

Friday, November 13, 2009

What is Mean-tone Temperament?

Hans Davidsson's latest album of Buxtehude works on the Schitger Organ features Mean-Tone Temperament, so we thought we would share an explanation of what that means.

A Question of Temperament

Temperaments have an enormous impact of the sound and interpretation of music, particularly music for keyboards. As the name implies, temperaments describe ways in which pitches are tempered, or mis-tuned so that the instrument can be used to play music in a wider variety of keys.

More specifically, temperaments deal with some specific mathematical problems which prevent a keyboard instrument from ever being perfectly in tune with itself. A temperament which has perfectly tuned fifths cannot also have perfectly tuned major thirds, for example. Some fifths must be “narrowed” (made flat) to allow for better major thirds, or the thirds have to be widened (made sharp) to allow for better fifths. Some temperaments favor fifths, and others favor purely tuned major thirds. In either case, some intervals must be “tempered”, hence the term “temperament.”

In equal temperament, used commonly for pianos today, all fifths are equally narrowed (made flat) by a small amount, and all major thirds are equally wide (made sharp) but by a larger amount. The approach of tempering fifths equally is a characteristic of mean-tone temperament, which uses the term “mean” to indicate averaging, or equalizing. Equal temperament is rather bland and rather useful for the same reason: all keys sound alike, and every chord of every key is equally out of tune. We’ve gotten used to it!

Tempering of a series of fifths by equal amounts can be applied to a subset of all the fifths. In the case of quarter-comma mean tone temperament, the most commonly-used fifths, which outline the triads of C, D, F, and G, are equally narrowed. In fact, they are narrowed enough so that the major thirds of these triads (E in C-major, for example) can be tuned pure. The remaining pitches in the octave are tuned as pure thirds as well, creating a temperament which strongly favors the sound of a purely tuned third.

When a pure third is played on a large organ, many pitches of many pipe ranks reinforce the harmonic series of many other pipes, and the resulting sound is harmonious in a way that is unique to modern ears. The effect of reinforcing specific harmonics exactly causes a change in the perceived timbre of the sound. The organ, which naturally sustains pitches at the same intensity and volume, amplifies the effect and sonic impact of these reinforced harmonics. The power of this “harmonious” sound, with the physics and the mathematics behind it, determined many ideas about cosmology and spirituality, which are often represented in the composition of the music itself. Although cosmology and composition might seem to be abstract concepts, the change in the nature of organ sound can be readily experienced by the average listener.

Other characteristics

Mean tone gives composers devices for creating expressive works that are inexorably tied to the temperament. For example, on quarter-comma mean tone organs, there are two different sizes of half-step intervals. The interval of F to F# is small, and the interval between A and B-flat is larger. Special effects can be created by crafting a musical theme which ascends or descends through the scale chromatically, shifting back and forth between large and small minor seconds.

The use a sharp accidental or flat accidental in the score can also assert a significant effect in the harmonic progression---effects which simply do not exist on a modern equal-tempered instrument. The extensive use of chromatic pitches on a mean tone organ can give the composer or improviser tools for truly bizarre, and shocking chord progressions, or ones that are strangely beautiful.

Limitations with quarter-comma mean tone temperaments

The most significant problem with quarter-comma meantone is the limitation imposed by the number of keys per octave. Each sharp key (as in “the black notes of a standard piano”) is tuned to be either a sharp (ie. A-sharp) or a flat (B-flat), then it cannot be used for both. One would like to have access to pure versions of both pitches so that when the music calls for an A-sharp, you can play one, and when the music calls for a B-flat, you can play that as well.

For a period of time, this problem was addressed through the use of subsemitones – a second set of raised keys that were higher than the standard sharps, and placed slightly rearward (away from the organist). Through the use of subsemitone keys, additional pitches can be available, making a mean tone organ playable in more keys. However, additional keys on the manuals and pedals of the organ requires many more pipes, and considerably increased complexity for the organist.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Holiday 2009 Catalog

Today we wanted to share with you our Holiday 2009 Catalog. This is our mail-order catalog that lets you know about all of our recent releases, as well as some that are yet to come. However, it isn't just a mail-order anymore. It is now available as a PDF Download! So, check it out and see what The Gothic Catalog has to offer you!

To download the current mail-order catalog, right-click HERE: The file is a PDF and requires the free Adobe Acrobat Reader. Filesize is about 4 megabytes.

To get your copy of the Adobe Reader, click HERE

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Another Imaginary Conversation - Buxtehude and Bach

Today we wanted to share one more of Hans Davidsson's Imaginary conversations as it explains a little about the music on this release.

Buxtehude and Bach in Lübeck 1705: A Discussion on Registration and North German Organ Concept, and the Music on this Volume

“So, you want to learn about the North German organ art and my method of playing?” Buxtehude smirked while he poured the black tea in their cups, and then looked out the towers of St. Marien. The young organist from Arnstadt, who according to rumor had struggled quite a bit to get his leave and to make the journey to the far north, had waited for him at the west entrance of St. Marien at one p.m., punctually, and as agreed. They greeted each other respectfully in the cold November sun, sheltered from the cold wind in the narthex, and proceeded into the sanctuary. After a rather brief tour of the two organs, they stopped for another hour at the cathedral to see and play the new Schnitger organ, and then strolled back towards St. Marien, behind the cemetery and up the stairs to the little workspace and office in the Werkhaus where Buxtehude spent most of his time studying, and in his capacity as Werkmeister, organizing and writing. “Yes, indeed, I do, I do...” the young Sebastian answered a little too eagerly, as he gratefully took the cup and warmed his hands. It was already quite cold in the churches. “Well my young man let us start by doing away with our titles, you don’t mind, do you?– you already showed me that you are a great musician, and I was quite surprised to hear that you are well acquainted my ideas on the chorale “Nun freut euch lieben Christ gmein.” Nevertheless, you are right, there are a variety of ways to render its various sections, –you know, registration is not only about clarity and balance, although that is always the most important – but also about Affekt. The connection between the text and the musical figures is actually the first step in the inventio and you cannot develop them without a particular Affekt in mind and a registration that is suitable for the mode, character and Affekt. Indeed, that’s the approach you should take in my little organ sermon on “Nun freut”. The text is really the point of departure, and in fact, I have sometimes had somebody sing the phrases of the chorale between the sections– just like some musicians have texts recited or sung in dramatic keyboard ex tempore performance. That gives more time for your assistants to change the registration! By the way, we should have tried the new Vox Humana with the tremulant for the lamento section on the strophe “gar teuer hat ers erworben”! However, it is hard to manage with the dialogue and echoes of some of the sections if you do not have an organ with four manuals and pedal. Indeed, the version of the work that you studied and played was conceived for the large organ in St Nicholas in Hamburg. I developed the inventio of this work when I visited Arp Schnitger for the first time, some twenty years ago, I believe. Time flies, doesn’t it. Yes, it was a very interesting encounter, and our discussions about the concept and sounds of the organs never seems to end…”

“Yes, Mr. Buxtehude” the young Sebastian said.

Buxtehude gave Bach a playful mock frown, and then smiled.

“Hmm, Dieterich” Sebastian continued and cleared his throat, “please tell me what you see as the differences between Stellwagen and Schnitger. I mean I heard and played organs of both builders, also in Hamburg, but how would you describe their features?”

Buxtehude paused for a second, took a thoughtful breath while he leaned backwards in his chair, and slowly put his hands on the armrest.

“Well, you see, they actually have more in common than what sets them apart.” While rubbing his hands, he continued “The main tradition of sacred music in the seventeenth century is that of multi-choral music, ultimately with four ensembles, reflected in the four-manual organ concept of the organs of all famous builders here in the north. Both Stellwagen and Schnitger dreamed of building such organs, but Stellwagen only had the opportunity to add a fourth manual once in Lübeck, a Brustwerck, to the organ built by the Hamburg organbuilding master Hans Scherer in our neighbor church of St. Aegidien. Anyway let’s talk about the ideas behind the four-manual concept. That’s also what Schnitger and I often talked about” Buxtehude laughed, and cautiously took a sip of his tea. “Hmm, still too hot,” he thought, while continuing. “At least three and often four of the divisions of these organs contain similar sounds suitable for echoes and dialogues. Think of the various categories of stops as the groups of instruments in a multi-choral performance: the principals like a string consort, the flutes as gentle woodwinds, the short-length resonator reeds as the real woodwind ensemble, and, finally the Trompeten and Posauen like the brass instruments. You can carefully combine the reeds with some flue stops, but you should always think about the flutes and the principals as separate entities. When I play continuo in the Abendmusiken, I always have these categories in mind, and I accompany the musicians from the various six balconies in suitable ways, and as I hear them at the console. When all play together in ripieno, I accompany with the Principals of the Werck and the Posaune 16–or the new Dulcian 16–in the pedal. In our case, it is actually an advantage to not have a Rückpositif that shelters the organist, but to play in the open space between the divided Unterwerk cases, in my little Organist-house. Schnitger and I agreed that we would not change this design in the renovation. The possibility to hear and stay in touch with all musicians is too valuable in St Marien. And I often have the multi-choral concept in my mind when I play some of the models for Preludes and Toccatas that I have developed over the years. You find sections with repetitions and echoes, and I selectively play them on the various divisions of the organs, mostly with similar but sometimes also with contrasting registrations–it depends on the context. The same pertains to the chorale works, in which the echo figures are even more common. I usually play the echoes, or the sequential patterns you find in the Preludes and Toccatas, as many times as I have manuals with similar sounds available.”

Buxtehude paused briefly, discovering that his tea finally had the right temperature, and then continued. “Of course, that is something you usually do not find in the scores. It is part of our practice, which is always dependant upon the instrument and context. The ‘R’ and ‘O’ you often find in the scores only shows what should be played as solo and as accompaniment. We always like to play this way: “Auff 2. Clavier”. It is of course necessary in most chorale works for the cantus firmus and solo, and it is better for the clarity of the sound, and for the wind of the organ. The outer parts of the texture become clearer, and the movement of the wind is distributed over a greater number of windchests and divisions, which makes the sound calmer. The larger chorale works including echoes require at least three manuals. As you know, in the north almost every city organ has three manuals – you already played three today! The concept of all of these organs is basically the same, however you probably agree that while elegance and beauty characterize Stellwagen’s organ, color and force dominate Schnitger’s instrument, right?” Buxtehude reached for the kettle.

“Indeed,” Sebastian answered, emptying the Chinese teacup, thereby following the example of his host, “but many of the organs in Sachsen are different, and they are usually two-manual instruments.”

“Well,” Buxtehude continued, “if you would like to play the elaborate music from the north on a two manual organ, you can always exclude or adjust the echo sections according to the instrument, play parts of them, or simply use some of their ideas and develop something similar. I used to do that when I was organist in the Marien churches in Helsingborg and Helsingør, and played the elegant, beautiful but smaller organs there.

“Please tell me more about the large chorale works,” Bach continued.

“Well, in the large chorale fantasias, solos that can be engaged in dialogue or echoes, depending on the texture, could be played on two or three manuals with similar sounds. One manual division should be chosen for the accompaniment, and the pedal should usually serve as the bass, sometimes as a solo, and occasionally it should have the function of both. When the solo turns from treble to bass, the choice of contrasting sounds of a kind that enhance the register, for example a reed registration in the bass, should be chosen. I am sure you remember that when I played the solo of the Trumpet and the Zinck with the Flute and Nasat chorus from the Hauptwerk in the large Stellwagen organ, I asked you to add the Cornet to the pedal when I played the cantus in canon with the right hand solo, then take it away when I simply played the basso continuo in the pedal, –and that I played the Trumpet and Zinck solo in dialogue with the Baarpfeiff of the Underpositif when the right hand solo part went to the bass. This is the well-known registration used by Jacob Praetorius the organ preacher in Hamburg St. Petri, we continue to talk about it as the Praetorian registration. But he played the middle parts on the Principal of the Rückpositif, not like I did today in the Brustpositif. Well, I can assure you that we enjoyed playing the organ of Master Jacob, the Organ Preacher, in St. Petri, and followed his method like we heard it from his student Matthias Weckman, who used many new figures and dissonances, and modulated throughout all keys. The Petri-organ had the extra keys, the subsemitonien, for g#, a# and d# in all keyboards, so that you could indeed play in all keys with pure major thirds, and add chromatic and dissonance figures to explore the meaning of the text. That organ is a remarkable and wonderful instrument. It was in Petri that I developed the inventio for a Praeludium in f-sharp minor, the experimental Lamento that I played for you today. Because of the character and sourness of the key it has shocked several over the years – I will tell you more about that later. Schnitger and I have always admired the sound quality of this instrument, and similarly that of the Stellwagen organs here in Marien. One can hardly wish for more.

But, of course, nowadays one sometimes desires more gravitas, force and brilliance for the accompaniment of the congregational song, improved speech and a different timbre of the reeds, as well as better-balanced mechanics of the organs – the exact characteristics that you heard and sensed in the Dom today, some of Schnitger’s features. These things could also be integrated in the old organs, like he did so masterfully in his four-manual organ in Hamburg St. Jacobi. In some sections of the chorale fantasias we like to employ similar sounds in multiple divisions, something you perhaps could have done more of in the middle sections of “Nun freut during the phrases of “Was Gott an uns gewendet hat, und seine süße Wundertat”. Think about using flute combinations like the 8 and 2 foot flutes, the colorful short-length resonator reeds, and the Sesquialtera, Rauschpfeiffe and Nasat combinations. The new Sesquialtera in my large organ at Marien makes it possible to play dialogues and echoes between the Brust and the Unterwerk with this combination. You heard how I used this sonority in the Praeludium in A [CDII:7; BuxWV 151]. I developed this idea for Epiphany with arpeggios in recitative style and sequential patterns with rotating figures to illustrate the powerful and guiding light of the Bethlehem star, and the imitation sections to illustrate the wise men’s walk toward the star and the child in the manger. The multiple similar sounds in the north German organs inspire us to excel in echoes and other ornate and colorful effects.

The Hamburg master organ teachers, Heinrich Scheidemann, and, particularly, Jacob Praetorius, always recommended that one should restrict oneself and put these ideas into context and balance with the music and its function. Let me tell you, it was not always so easy… However, we were more interested in the new concerto-style with its dialogue between soloists and tutti, interspersed with solo improvisations– it remains popular in most vocal and instrumental music– and, of course, the oratorio and opera, with their respective recitatives and arias.

Some of my organ chorales are like arias. We studied these styles and tried to integrate them in our compositions, also in the keyboard works. In fact, there are many similarities between my vocal and instrumental music and the organ and keyboard music. The multi-sectional form with contrasting sections is often very similar, and in particular the continuous pairing of strict, mostly polyphonic, and free, harmonically generated sections, sometimes elaborated with passaggio and other string-idiomatic diminutions, is indeed characteristic of my method and style. The concerto- and chamber-music style that you know from my organ music is best served by selected groups of stops reminiscent of instrumental ensembles, primarily strings and woodwinds. The meditative, homophonic sections are particularly well-suited to the string-like stops, for example the tin-rich Schnitger Principal 8 of the Rückpositif that you heard in the Dom today. Sometimes when I develop these sections in the style of a recitative, I like to play the solo on a reed stop such as the new tender Vox Humana, or the old rich and penetrating Zinck.

In the imitative, fugal or sonata sections you could of course also use one or a few principal stops, or the multiple categories of softer and more carefully selected stops, reeds, flutes and principals in combinations, and sometimes even play “Auff 2 Clavier,” as Weckmann used to do in some of his chorale verses; He used similar sounds as in his instrumental sonatas. He played the bass with the left hand on the Trompet 16 of the Werck, the tenor with the Trompete 8 in the pedal, and the upper parts on the Principal of the Rückpositif, like violins on top of a dulcian and a trombone. You see, the possibilities for consort-like registrations can be expanded by the use of two, or even more, manuals and pedal. The French excel in playing Quartet fugues on four different divisions of their four manual organs. We have similar, and actually many more, possibilities to play consort fugues with various sounds on multiple divisions at our large organs, I call them Sonata-registrations. This approach makes the voices of the counterpoint appear like different personalities, just like the various angels on the organ case in the Dom with their string and wind instruments seem to play various parts of the celestial fugue. The voices enter, engage in dialogue, take turns, disappear and return in a way similar to what I can imagine the angels would do if they move in and out on the theatrical stage at the west end on the balcony, and then, suddenly, they are joined by the heavenly choirs in massive sound cascades.”

Buxtehude left his chair and went up to the window. The sunset cast narrow streams of light between the chimneys of the houses across the cemetery and shadows on the stairs.

“That’s when we pull all the stops of the full organ, the pleno, and with the new, large mixtures, Schnitger’s mixtures, we hear a kind of brilliance and brightness reminiscent of the sparkling light and sunshine that we miss so much during the long winters in the north… And together with the reeds, primarily in the pedal, they embrace and support the voices of the full congregation in the hymn singing.”

“Yes, tell me how you register the full organ please. You use the pleno in the Praeludien too, don’t you? Not only for the accompaniment of the full church?” Sebastian asked, not sure if he should rise from his chair and follow his host to the window. He hesitated. Buxtehude turned around and started to light the lamp on a small table near the window and continued.

“Indeed, the point of departure for the performance of the preludes and toccatas is a pleno registration using the principal chorus and the mixtures–in the same way we begin and end the liturgy. In the large organs we use all manuals selectively, sometimes in succession, sometimes alternating in dialogue, quite often “Auff 2 Clavier,” all according to the texture of the music, and sometimes also coupled together. The new organs by Herr Schnitger have maximum freedom in terms of the variety of pleno registrations that can be achieved. This includes mixtures of different kinds: mixtures with almost continuous progression–no audible breaks–in the highest register suited to polyphonic textures, and mixtures with repetitions–often with higher pitches–that enrich and fill out homophonic textures, suitable to playing dense chords and accompaniments. All these mixtures and combinations can be used either based on a sixteen foot or eight foot plenum. Another kind of pleno, mezza ripieno, without the mixtures, can be registered with the principal-chorus and one or more of the principal-scaled combination stops like the Rauschpfeiffen and the Sesquialtera. The Sesquialtera with its tierce is mainly used as a tierce mixture. Be careful not to use the Quinta 3 and Octave 2 when you pull the Rauschpfeiff. These ranks are contained in the combined stop and should not be doubled. The organ often sounds out of tune when you double these ranks, and the texture does not get clearer, but rather the opposite.”

Sebastian began to make notes in his notebook. And, simultaneously, he could not resist thinking about how he could use the Sexquialtera and the Dulcian solo alternating in a chorale fantasia on…“Ein’ feste Burg.” He would try this for his host tomorrow.

“Similarly, the Mixtures that often contain 2 and 3-foot ranks, at least in the treble, should not be doubled. Listen, judge and select carefully! Finally, you can use the principal choir alone, for example the 8, 4, 3, and 2-foot stops; the 8, 4, and 2-foot stops; or sometimes only 8, and 4-foot stops. Schnitger’s tin-rich Octave 4 is often so rich with overtones that you imagine you hear the pitches of higher ranks although you have only pulled the Principals 8 and 4!”

Buxtehude laughed and gently nodded his head while he returned to the working desk, which temporarily served as the afternoon tea table. “You should avoid large mixtures with repetitions in polyphonic textures. That obscures the individual voices and the clarity of the music. However the full pleno can be used–without loss of clarity–when the music is less complex, in transparent textures, which are often the case in joyful Affekts, and in triple meter. You see, the choice of registration, musical figuration and texture are so closely intertwined that they should always be carefully considered and selected together. We need to listen to the character and balance of the sounds from the sanctuary, not only from the balcony. You should continue to write down the combinations of stops that we discuss, then listen to them in the sanctuary and memorize the ones that balance well, experiment with which textures and Affekts that suit them well, etc. This approach and insight is the single most important factor for organ playing. This is also the way that you need to approach my models and methods in the Praeludien and Toccaten. They are invented and developed in quite different Affekts and styles. Simply study the choice of keys, meter and musical-rhetorical figures, and please pay attention to the shifts of texture and Affekt that often occur. You should perform and render these as an actor, or, if you will, a well-versed singer in a recitative. When there is a dramatic shift of character, you could for example alternate between the Pleno of the Werk and the façade Principal of the Rückpositif, like we briefly discussed earlier. These contrasting changes are very similar to what we find in the Toccatas of Frescobaldi, and the unusual dissonances, the durezze and ligature, typical of his Elevation Toccatas can sometimes be found also in my music. In fact, some of the Praeludien, dominated by this style, lend themselves very well to a performance primarily, or exclusively, on a selection of principal sounds.”

Buxtehude glanced at the clock on the working desk, and thought: “Already seventeen hours. Soon time for the Abendbrot. We can always continue the discussion in the dining room… but then he cannot make notes. Well, let’s finish here.” Buxtehude sat down in his chair again, and Sebastian took the opportunity to ask: “I noticed that you did not always play the bass in the pedal. What are your ideas about this?”

“Well,” Buxtehude answered, “the use of the pedal is also somewhat selective, usually not precisely indicated, and to be compared with basso continuo playing. In ensemble and cantata performances, you sometimes play with more, sometimes with fewer bass instruments, and similarly you play the bass with and without the pedal in the organ works. My friend Andreas Werckmeister recently sent me a printed collection of Toccatas of one of his colleagues in the south, George Muffat. In this text it is indicated very carefully, actually precisely, when the pedal should be played alone, together with the manual, or not at all. Approach my music in the same way! It is sometimes better not to play the pedal–at least not all the time–when the texture is dense and filled with dissonances, for example in some fugal sections. Bass solo passages generally sound best and are most exciting to play in the pedal, and you can sometimes enhance them by playing them in the manual and pedal simultaneously. In general, we in the north use our large pedal divisions quite frequently, and in a variety of textures and sounds: the usual basso continuo, the unusual and by some fancied double pedal in polyphonic texture–two parts played simultaneously in the pedal, and in virtuosic bass and pedal solos, like in the opening of my organ Batalla, a Praeludium in C rendering the combat between David and Goliath [LRCD 1090:1; BuxWV 137]. I suppose I did not play that piece for you today, did I?”
“No, you did not,” Sebastian replied while looking up from his notebook, “but I know it quite well–like several of your Praeludien that have been circulated and studied in the Dresden and Leipzig area–at least, I believe, since I was born. As a matter of fact, the organist in Leipzig, Mr. Kuhnau, recently published Biblical Sonatas including a musical rendering of the combat between David and Goliath inspired by your inventio. So you usually explore various musical ideas or programs in your works, like you mentioned to me after you played the Christmas chorales today, right?”

“Yes, indeed, I do,” Buxtehude replied, in the relative darkness. Suddenly bothered by some dirt on his glasses, he started to clean and polish them quite intensively while he stated, “But not systematically. I would be interested in reading these Sonatas. Did you bring them? Are they published? I never intended to publish my organ works, like I did with my instrumental Sontatas. You see, my students and friends study, copy and memorize my organ compositions, and I often continue to develop their ideas as my students work with them.” He looked through the glasses, focused his eyes, and then again turned to the young Bach without giving him a chance to reply.

“Well, in any case, and instead of the Batalla, you heard some inventios in F-major. This key is very well suited to topics like scenarios of the nature and the Pastoral, and the latter, as you very well know, are quite suitable for the Christmas season. I developed them several years ago, and, quite recently–we rapidly approach Christmas, don’t we?–I started working on them again. The Praeludium in F [CD2:1; BuxWV 145] the first piece you heard, contains bird song–all the birds in the countryside from near and far, the wood and the valley, sing in duets and echoes, in ever-changing order. As you recall, I played them on the 8-foot pleno of all manual divisions, consistently interchanging, and most of the time with the bass in the pedal. The Toccata in F [CD2:5; BuxWV 156] has the typical story-line of a Pastoral, organized according to a libretto, as I told you while I was playing, right? After the peaceful introduction with the shepherd’s pipe in solo and joyful ensemble, the playful pastoral scenes in consort style and canzona figuration followed, suddenly interrupted by the trembling of nature and a sudden storm of thunder and lighting. However, the thunderstorm soon disappeared, the birds started singing again, and the shepherds approached the manger, in which Mary tenderly sang lullabies for her child, showing him to the visitors, who in return and under the open evening sky with the Bethlehem star responded with rejoicing and joyful music. It worked quite well with the registrations we chose, didn’t it?” Buxtehude asked, quite curious but not enough to stop his explanation.

Although he was getting a little tired, he was also getting hungry, and therefore eager to share his thoughts with the attentive and talented young organist as efficiently as possible.

“In my toccatas and preludes you do not only hear a variety of styles, but you often find musical programs of this kind, most of them quite easy to understand, but some more difficult and unusual, like the inventio in f-sharp minor [CD3:6; BuxWV 146] that I promised to tell you about earlier. During our study time, Reincken, my friend in Hamburg, and I enjoyed doing informal and friendly competitions, for example when we did our transposition exercises–you know, playing various things through impossible keys like c-sharp and f-sharp minor etc. Once, I took an idea suitable to g-minor–that’s why I played this piece for you firstly in this key and with the full organ–and, just for fun, transposed it to this key. The sourness of the key makes it sound unbearable, unless you reduce the registration to a minimum, perhaps only a Principal. However, this experiment inspired me to explore this key further and to develop the inventio into a Lamento, and I had a particular program in mind: Christ’s Maundy Thursday drama. The whole work is characterized by the ambivalent fluctuation between melancholy and despair, and it is only in the last part, after the recitative, that the Affekt gradually changes and approaches a sense of balance or perhaps even moderate joy. It musically renders the spiritual drama and conflict that Our Savior encountered in Gethsemane. The final chord of the recitative – a long and harsh c-sharp minor–represents the point of change, when Jesus fully understands the will of His Father and accepts the suffering ahead of him, and the final chord of the piece, the f-sharp major chord renders the peace brought to his mind, and to our world, when he confirms his consent to his sacrifice. The sourness of the key and the never-ending successions of dissonances and slightly impure intervals generate a strong need for relief, and it was such a remarkable and beautiful effect to play the final chord in Hamburg St Petri with the a-sharp producing a pure major third in the penultimate f-sharp major. I have occasionally tried parts and slightly different versions of this work on organs without subsemitones, and sometimes with full registrations for a different purpose–it helps the church elders to accept that the organ needs maintenance and tuning!” Buxtehude chuckled with ill-hidden delight.

“But you miss the main point of my intention with the work by doing so. However, as you heard–and I did notice that you were quite surprised–” Buxtehude laughed and continued smilingly, “there is another way of doing this. If you play the final section on a single Principal, or as I did “Auff 2 Clavier”, you only need to retune one single note–the a-sharp–to get the final pure major third in the f-sharp major chord. I have retuned three pipes of the Gedackt in the Brustpositif, corresponding to the subsemitones in St Petri, including an a-sharp, and by playing the ending on two manuals, “Auff 2 Clavier”, you manage with only this stop for the middle parts. Also quite useful to have these notes when you play continuo in remote keys, right? But it is of course not like the full sound effect of St. Petri in Hamburg. Originally, my friend Schnitger and I developed a fabulous organ design for the Lübeck cathedral, a four-manual organ like St. Nicholas in Hamburg, not as large as that nor as large as Hamburg Jacobi–there is not space for a 32-foot in the façade–but with all the stops and colors that belong to the four-manual concept, and with several subsemitones in all divisions–something that Schnitger so far has never built. What a dream-organ that would have been! Unfortunately, a dream that did not come true…” Buxtehude sighed quietly, and looked at his hands.

“With such an organ at my disposal, I could have played all of my musical ideas with the optimal contrast between dissonance and consonance, the maximum expression of Affekt, and the ultimate variety and richness of color and sound.”

The young Bach paused his note taking and thoughtfully observed his older colleague as he shook his head and continued.

“Schnitger is used to having things his way, so he was quite frustrated, when the church elders decided to scale-down the concept. They told him that the new organ did not need to have more stops and divisions than any other organ in our city, and we could not afford any unnecessary devices–period. I could not do much about it. I had to be careful with all the patrons and supporters of the Abendmusiken, and I of course had my hopes for the organs at St. Marien. Well, Schnitger was not used to disappointments–the only ones he would mention were the organs that he did not get to build for Copenhagen in Denmark and Uppsala in Sweden–but with his usual dynamic creativity he developed the design and concept of the wonderful three-manual organ that you played today, and asked one of his most skilled journeyman, Hans Hantelmann, to head the building of the new organ, so that he could turn his attention to other, and even larger, projects in the Netherlands. Well, most likely you will soon be able to talk to him in person. Master Arp let me know that he intends to visit with us for the extraordinary Abendmusiken that I have organized this year–indeed, I am pleased that you have offered to be part of the performance. I look forward to showing you the music”–Buxtehude said with a gentle smile, again turning his full attention to the young listener, “On 2 and 3 December we will perform the new oratorios Castrum Doloris and Templum Honoris. Who knows, Sebastian, maybe you will help Arp to bring some of his not yet materialized dreams come true? Why not a four-manual visionary organ of this kind in your region, or perhaps in Denmark or Sweden? Are you planning to continue north? Indeed, what are your future plans?”

Buxtehude curiously looked at his guest. He was well aware of that he needed to find a successor in St. Marien in the near future–and somebody who was willing to marry and to take care of his daughter.

“Daddy, my dear, the Abendbrot will be served in a few minutes,” Anna Margreta, who recently turned 30 years old, the oldest of Buxtehude’s three daughters, and who took care of most of the daily household for her parents, opened the door to the study chamber, and smiled lovingly at her father.

“My dear Anna Margreta, thank you so much. Indeed, I am beginning to starve, and I am sure that our young visitor Sebastian is as well. You see, we have been talking music all afternoon. Most exciting! And perhaps you can take him to his room after the meal. You left your luggage downstairs, Sebastian, didn’t you?” Buxtehude asked his guest.

“Yes, I did,” Sebastian said and could not avoid carefully observing the lady at the door. She was of his length, had dark hair and brown friendly eyes–a similar smile as her father–and firm hands.

“Welcome to our house, Mr. Bach,” she said as she walked over to shake his hand. Bach withdrew his hand faster then he intended, turned his eyes to the floor, and studied the pattern of the woven carpet more carefully than it perhaps deserved. Unfortunately, she was considerably older than he was. He looked up again.

“Thank you very much for your hospitality and kindness. We will soon be ready with our discussion, and I look forward very much to join you and your family for Abendbrot,” he said with as firm a voice as he could, ”and of course to get to my room.” She smiled kindly at him and then turned to her father.

“They would make a nice couple,” Buxtehude could not help but think this thought–he cared about his daughter’s future, and Sebastian would definitely be a most-qualified candidate for the organist position at St. Marien– “I have to admit that I look forward to the next few weeks, and the fellowship with this young man,” he quietly reflected, while he thanked Anna Margret again, and assured her that the two men would be at the table within five minutes.

“Well time flies, doesn’t it,” Buxtehude said again to young Bach, and continued, “before we end this discussion we should make a plan for our work during the coming weeks. I would like to share with you three of the most important aspects of our profession and calling as organists. In our capacity as organ preachers, we are always supposed to make music exploring the meaning of the texts, usually of the hymns–that’s our focal point, right? Therefore our first focus will be on Organ-Chorales (CD I). The relatively short aria-like form of the organ-chorale that I continue to explore, usually used as a prelude to the hymns in the liturgy, is a method that all organists should exercise and explore. We would need a collection of well-crafted organ chorales of diverse character and method for the whole church year, but I am afraid that this will never come from my little Organist House in St Marien. There is always too much to do, and I am not getting younger, am I?” he joked.

“But you, Sebastian, should start working on a collection of organ chorales for the liturgical year, a little Organ Book. That would be important and useful at the same time–and wouldn’t that be quite an exciting challenge? Let’s discuss this further. Our second focus will be the various themes, musical programs and Affekten that can be explored in Praeludien, Toccaten, Canzonen and other forms. Let’s continue to work with themes and programs that are related to the upcoming season of Christmas (CD II). We already talked about the inventio I developed for Christmas Day, the Toccata and Pastoral in F, and the celebration of Epiphany in the Praeludium in A [CD2:7 BuxWV 151], and I have some more works I want to let you hear and play as well. Finally, we will focus on the art of the canon, simple and double counterpoint, and fugue. In Hamburg, Reincken and I studied such techniques with Thomas Selle, Matthias Weckman, and with the group of composers who later wrote for the Collegium Musicum– Weckman’s ensemble–including visitors like Christoph Bernard and Johann Theile. We learned that counterpoint is the alchemy of music, and that it brings a spiritual dimension and value to the music regardless of the perception of the listener. Composing with contrapuntal techniques transcends into a spiritual exercise. Counterpoint can be used for various emblematical meanings, for example to reflect the order and orbits of the planets. I will show you how I for this very reason use permutation fugue techniques in two chorale works with different symbolical implications: in “Ich dank dir schon durch deinen Sohn” [CD3:3; BuxWV 195] to represent God’s never-ending grace which is new every morning–reflecting that he is the same yesterday, today and in all eternity–and in “Ich dank dir, lieber Herre” [CD3:5; BuxWV 194], to render the sense of darkness and fear in the middle part, and, in the final section, the never-ending praise on earth and in heaven–all in accordance with the text of the stanzas respectively. The contrapuntal techniques can also be used to instill meditation and generate reflection on the shortness of human life, as in the complex polyphonic funeral music I composed on the text “Mit Fried und Freud fahr ich dahin” [CD3:4; BuxWV 76]–music for the eyes, too–, and which I published together with an aria, a Klaglied [CD3:8], in memory of my deceased, dear father. The text is an expressive, personal prayer and farewell to him and to the earthly life. You see, in the alchemy of counterpoint lies the greatest secret and meaning of music. We will explore these techniques and see how they can be used in the chorale works as well–thus, learned counterpoint and chorale fantasia (CD 3) will be our third focus.

“And, Dieterich,” Sebastian Bach said, beginning to feel more and more comfortable and at home at the Werkhaus of Dieterich Buxtehude, ”would we have an opportunity to explore the four-manual division concept that you have talked so much about?” he asked, wrapping up his notebook and writing utensils.

“Of course, Sebastian, let’s go over to St. Agidien already tomorrow morning, and I will let you hear another version of the chorale fantasia “Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein [CD3:9; BuxWV 210].” Although only with forty stops, this organ has four manuals. However, for the experience of the large, full-sized four-manual organ, you have to travel to Hamburg, or,” Buxtehude continued chuckling while he opened the door to the stairs for Sebastian as they left his studio,” you have to talk to Arp Schnitger–the King of Organ Building in our time–and convince him to build such a dream organ for you. But that would probably have to be somewhere else than here in Lübeck.” The two organists laughed heartily, and continued to chat as they walked down to the evening meal. They looked forward to exciting music making, composition and discussions in the hours, days and weeks to come. Indeed, time flew, and ultimately Sebastian Bach stayed two months longer than intended with the kind Organ Master in St. Marien and his family.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

An Imaginary Conversation

Today we thought we would share an article written by organist Hans Davidsson entitled "An Imaginary Conversation between Buxtehude and Schitger." As you should know Hans Davidson has been working on the Complete Organ Works of Buxtehude, and Volume 3 was recently released. Research has found that BBuxtehude's visit with Arp Schnitger in Hamburg in 1687 began an association that lasted for many years and resulted in the building of the four-manual organ at the Cathedral in Lùbeck, as well as modifications to the organ at Saint Marien. Hans Davidsson explores the encounter between Buxtehude and Schnitger using the four-manual organ in Gothenburg, Sweden in this final volume of the complete works of Buxtehude.

An Imaginary Conversation between Buxtehude and Schnitger during the 1687 visit to Hamburg

Dieterich Buxtehude and Arp Schnitger:

The Visit to Hamburg in 1687

“Yes, after I meet with the church council next week you will be informed of when you can expect an invitation. I know you are very busy in the months to come, but I look forward to seeing you in Lübeck as soon as time and God allows! We have much to accomplish and to discuss, yes?”

The bright voice of the lively, middle-aged man turned to laughter. He energetically shook the hand of his somewhat taller and younger friend, entered the coach, turned around, waving and smiling warmly as he took his seat next to an elderly lady.

“So, you have visited with our young master organbuilder Arp Schnitger”, she said, not without curiosity, as she attempted to give some more space to her fellow passenger, who was attempting to maneuver a viola da gamba case between them.

“My name is Frau Schmidt, and I am the wife of one of the church elders at St. Nichola’s, the congregation where Mr. Schnitger has been building for the last five years. It will be the largest organ that ever was built in our city, perhaps even in the world! Did you see the magnificent façade? Did you hear some of the completed voices? I gather you’re a musician?”

“Indeed, I am,” he said with another laugh and another futile attempt to make the gamba take up less room in the cramped coach. “My name is Dieterich Buxtehude. I am Organist and Werkmeister in St. Marien in Lübeck, and indeed you are right, the new organ with its four manuals and pedal and sixty-seven stops is the largest organ in anywhere in Christendom.”

Suddenly, the coach started to move, and Mr. Buxtehude looked out through the window and waved a final farewell to his host.

“Well, I am glad that you did not bring the whole organ with you,” said Frau Schmidt, now beginning to chuckle herself.

As they traveled along the Gänsemarkt and northwest out of the city, Dieterich Buxtehude started to gather his thoughts. Since he left Lübeck last Monday, he had found much time to think, and he had learned even more in his four days in Hamburg. “The visit had been most valuable, and indeed inspiring. Not only stimulating visits to instruments, but pleasant music making at the home of my old friend and musical brother, Jan Adam Reincken with some of his other friends, and, of course, good food and fine French wine!”

Buxtehude had been relieved that the church council in Lübeck sent him to visit before the St. Nichola’s organ was finished. “You learn so much about the organ builder, his craft, philosophy, the quality of his business and his workers when you see the installation in progress,” he said almost to himself. “And most of the flue stops and some reeds were already playable.”

The new organ was clearly going to be a masterpiece. Mr. Schnitger had developed the concept brilliantly, and he and his team were completely capable of building this enormous instrument. Buxtehude was convinced that Hamburg and northern Germany had not seen an organbuilder of this potential and caliber since the days of Gottfried Fritzsche, or perhaps Friedrich Stellwagen from Lübeck, who built the two marvelous organs in his own church, and worked on all the other organs in the city too. In fact, it was his late teacher Scheidemann who had brought Stellwagen to Hamburg to carry out the large rebuilding of the organ in St. Katharinen in the 1640s. “How much I enjoyed playing this beautiful organ during my apprentice years in Hamburg!” he smiled to himself, “and dreamed of once becoming the organist of a great instrument brought to life by this master. Well, for twenty years, I have had the good fortunate to play two of them!” Frau Schmidt, seeing her companion beginning to mumble asked a pointed question of her companion: “Herr Buxtehude, if your instruments are so grand, why are you considering a new organ? I follow music keenly, you will not lose me and we have much time before us.”

Buxtehude brightened and began to speak animatedly to his travelling companion. “At the time when I arrived in Lübeck, almost twenty years ago, the large organ in St Jacobi was substantially renovated by Joachim Richborn but since then nothing has been done. Now it is absolutely necessary to do something about the organs in Lübeck, not only in St Marien, but in several churches, and the Dom needed a new organ. And this time it my responsibility to see to it that the famous instruments of Lübeck will be revived and renewed by the best builder of our time. Mr. Schnitger already has an indisputable reputation as a very capable and gifted builder, as you well know. His instrument in Stade is already almost fifteen years old. He has substantial experience. The impression of the last three days of your new organ at St. Nicholas, and my time with the builder himself has convinced me that Arp Schnitger is the man for the organs in our city. I have made up my mind. I will bring him to Lübeck for a longer visit to examine and study all the organs of our city, and we will develop a plan that could be pursued with the representatives of the church and city councils.”

His entrepreneurial soul shivered with excitement. He sensed an unusual opportunity. However, also a considerable challenge... They needed a vision and a joint collaborative effort of a unique kind that had most likely not been undertaken in a long time.

“Would you like a piece of chocolate,” Frau Schmidt said awaking him from his second lapse into silence.

“Yes, thank you very much,” Buxtehude said with a gentle smile. And, as the conversation unfolded, his mind started to develop the scope and strategy for a long-term plan, an organ initiative that would again equip his city with well-working state-of the-art instruments.
—Hans Davidsson