Articles and CD reviews – English

The articles appear here in reverse chronological order

1) CD review – Armin Becker – „Morning Owls“

2) Organs –  St. Lukas and Stockwerk – „Moonlight and Roses“

3) CD reviews – Pavel Kohout, Prague

4) Organs – A new stepper system by Burkhard Fischer of fionic

5) Tales of a Travelling Dep(p) – „The Credible Queen“

6) CD review – Wolfgang Capek – Augustinerkirche, Vienna

6)

A Viennese CD Series
Review for „The Organ Club Journal“ (2016-II)

Members who took part in the Club’s legendary 2003 „Danube Tour“ will recall the Augustinian Church, one of our Viennese highlights. The current principal organist, Professor Wolfgang Capek, kindly welcomed the Bournemouth Organists to his church on the „Viennese Tour“ I organised for them last year, and I received particularly enthusiastic reports on his playing. It was one of my „remote-controlled“ tours, i.e. I did not accompany the group personally – they managed with maps, instruction sheets and some friendly help from my colleagues on the spot!

Intrigued by such praise, I finally managed to hear Professor Capek in action on my visit to Vienna this Easter. The occasion was a 90-minute High Mass in the Church on Low Sunday; the choir and soloists performing, amongst other works, Schubert’s C Major Mass, and Wolfgang Capek giving a stunning performance of Dupré’s „Résurrection“ as a voluntary.

This reminded me of how impressive the organ was too, and I acquired one of the discs in the extensive series featuring the Augustinian Church choir, their orchestra and some of the church’s various organists. They represent typical Sunday services and thus largely feature Masses by Mozart, Haydn and Schubert, but also by Beethoven, Gounod and Puccini, and usually include various motets. Obviously, not all of these include the organ. However, there are also CDs featuring trumpet and organ, plus the exciting-looking disc „Große Postludien in St. Augustin“ played by Wolfgang Capek (Bach, Franck, Lefébure-Wély, Elgar, Schmidt, Saint-Saëns, Vierne, Widor, Capek, Mailly and Mulet).   

The CD in my hands is quite a discovery. The choral works are Widor’s „Messe solonnelle“ in F# minor as well as Vierne’s „Messe solonnelle“ in C# minor. More than that: we also get Widor’s „Regina cœli“, Saint-Saëns‘ „Ave verum“ and Vierne’s „Tantum ergo“. To crown it all – in my eyes – the organist plays Widor’s „Marche pontificale“ (1st Symphony) and „Intermezzo“ (6th Symphony), plus Vierne’s „Scherzo“ (2nd Symphony) and „Finale“ (3rd Symphony).   

This makes for magnificent listening. There is stupendous, vigorous playing using plenty of reeds, and a very accomplished choir – conducted by Robert Rieder – capable of a wide dynamic and expressive range. The recording was made in 2013 and provides sufficient acoustic clarity while not being uncomfortably close to the voices.   

It is interesting to regard all these works in a liturgical context; interesting too, to hear settings of the Mass which feature the organ so prominently. In the booklet I read that the Widor Mass was originally written for two choirs and two organs, while the Vierne Mass was composed for choir and two organs – Vierne and Widor playing the organs at the première in Saint-Sulpice. However, on this recording versions for a single organ have been chosen.   

The booklet is in German and English and is enjoyably informative despite one slight historical inaccuracy (Beethoven was a pupil of Albrechtsberger, not vice versa). This series reflects the unbroken tradition of Roman Catholic church music on the Continent. The CDs are available via the „Hochamt“ website, where you can listen to snippets first, and cost EUR 15 each.   

I’m looking forward to hearing Wolfgang Capek’s solo CD played on this organ, a 1976 Rieger IV/47, which was overhauled by Eisenbarth in 2002, just before the Club’s visit. The specification is not on the Augustine Church website, but can be seen on the link below.

CDs: http://hochamt.augustiner.at
Spec: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustinerkirche_%28Wien%29

5)

Tales of a Travelling Dep(p) * (1) „The Credible Queen“
Article for „The Organ Club Journal“ (2012-II)


* „Depp“ is a dialect word and can be roughly translated as „twit“. Maybe it is folly that continually propels one out and into the unkown …

On New Year’s Eve 2011 I was sitting in my hostel at 17.23 just beginning my tea (lovely hot tea with thick cream in it and some bread and cheese) and looking forward to some festivities, when my mobile rang. It was a colleague: „Can you get to the ‚xyz‘ church for 18:00?“. Change of plan …

As so often around the festive season, I was depping in Vienna, staying at the the Hostel Ruthensteiner – fairly near the Westbahnhof tube station. The church in question was only a few stations away, near the Cathedral and the Stephansplatz station. Still, it was a panic to clear away my tea, rush upstairs to my dorm, grab music etc., get all my warm jackets on and run down the road to the station. I knew I might have no choice but to „overshoot“ to Stubentor (the next stop) and run back, because on New Year’s Eve they close down the Stephansplatz station at some point for security reasons. In that case I reckoned to reach the church at about 17:56.   

Fortunately, Stephansplatz was still open. Unfortunately, the whole area was rapidly filling up with merrymakers, making it increasingly difficult to run. Somehow I arrived at the church at 17:46! This was good, because although I had heard the organ I had never seen the console. The first challenge, however, consisted of searching a dark courtyard for the outside entrance to the sacristy, as all the doors inside the church were locked.   

I ran into the sacristy and introduced myself to the sacristan. He took me into the church and a kind lady appeared and gave me a hymn list. The sacristan unlocked the door to the gallery and I ran up, found all the relevant switches and checked out which manual was which. At that moment another kind lady rushed up to the gallery and told me that I wouldn’t need to play any music at the Communion because they would play some music on a CD. I finally managed to get the first hymn and an appropriate prelude lined up just before the Mass bell sounded. So far, so good, and nothing really out of the ordinary for a dep. But the real fun was about to begin …   

After the Gloria the entire music desk, including the big heavy Gotteslob hymn book 1), my clipboard etc., suddenly detached itself from the console and crashed down onto my knees. I got enormous bruises! I examined the desk and saw that it had only been glued on. Well, one day it would have fallen down anyway. It was not possible to stick it back or anything. (I normally have small screwdrivers, sellotape, elastic bands, paper clips etc. in my music case – but not an electric drill.) I put it on the floor and wondered how to play the rest of the Mass. In a dark corner of the gallery I discovered an antique music stand made of metal. I dragged it round to the organ, but it proved to be too tall and too stiff to adjust – and there was no way of getting it close enough to the bench to really read from.   

Time was running out and I had to play the Hallelujah next, so I decided to continue with the Gotteslob lying beside me on the organ bench. So in addition to the injured knees I got a bad pain in my neck. The final voluntary and one of the hymn preludes, however, were photocopies of mine, and I was able to peg them onto a bit of loose wood hanging above my head in front of the lamp. (I always have several clothes pegs with me.) Hard to see so high up and with the bulb shining through the paper, but a change from the twisted neck.   

Anyway, when the Communion began I was prepared to hear the worst: pop music, Taizé, or something „homemade“. However, Kind Lady No. 2 announced that she would play a CD of Mozart! My first thought was, „But I can also play Mozart!“ My second was, „What kind of organists do they normally have here, if they prefer no live music at the Communion, but bring CDs?“   

So I drew the stops for the following hymn and sat down at the front of the gallery to take a rest. However, nothing happened. After several minutes it seemed that there was something wrong with the CD or the CD player! Suddenly the priest turned round and waved up at me: „Spielen Sie uns etwas!“ 2) he commanded.   

Well, fine … I sprinted back to the organ, pushed in all the stops except the 8′ flutes on both manuals, and played a piece of Handel that happened to be lying on the top of my music pile on the bench. (I would have had a nice arrangement of Mozart’s Ave Verum but that was not quite so handy, considering that the Communion was almost over anyway.)   

But the tale isn’t over yet! In the middle of the sermon I had been obliged to sneak down from the gallery to consult one of the Kind Ladies. There was a misprint on the hymn list! The title and the number of verses for the final hymn were indicated, but there was no hymn number; there had been no time to study the list in detail before beginning, so while running up the spiral steps I had merely glanced through it and mentally prepared the first part of the Mass. The name of the hymn in question – „Glaubwürdige Königin“ („Credible Queen“) was a new one on me, and of course it was not listed in the Gotteslob, the standard RC hymn book.   

Thinking it could be one of those local favourites on a faint photocopy or dog-eared manuscript, I had first raided the music cupboard next to the organ (which turned out to contain a surprising quantity of Hungarian hymns, but nothing resembling „Credible Queen“ in any language known to me), but to no avail. However, after a lot of head-scratching and page-flipping under the wary eye of the preaching priest, we finally construed that the hymn must surely be „Glorwürdige Königin“ („Queen worthy of glory“) – indeed a regional favourite, as it is in the Viennese RC hymn book but not the Bavarian one … we found the number in the Diocesan appendix and I raced back up to the gallery. As the congregation had been issued with the identical hymn list someone had to announce the correction when the time came, which caused some amused eyebrow-raising!   

Before the final blessing the priest specially thanked me for my „fine playing“ and for the fact that I had played the correct hymns, jumped in at the last second etc.   

After the final voluntary I took the enormous solid wooden music desk down with me to hand over to the sacristan. Because I know from experience as a dep that if you only report „xyz is broken“ this may make little impression, or they may just forget it. I walked through the church where all the Kind Ladies were waiting to congratulate me. Then they spotted the gigantic piece of wood I was carrying under my arm! I said they were lucky I was able to play any music at all after the Gloria!

1) measuring approx. 30x23x5 cm when closed and weighing in at over 2 kilos, as mentioned in my OCJ 2011 article
2) „Play us something!“

4)

News from Munich – „A new stepper system“
Article for „The Organ Club Journal (2011-I)

Dear Club Members,

This time I would like to tell you about a ground-breaking retrofit stepper system which has only just hit the market. It is a registered Utility Model and has been developed by Munich-based Burkhard Fischer of „fionic GmbH, Ingenieurbüro für Softwareentwicklung“. Burkhard Fischer is an organ-player and engineer in one – but modestly declines to be regarded as a kind of „organists‘ Einstein“.

One of the most striking aspects of the fionic system is the fact that it is external. Everything can be prepared with great ease and at lightning speed with a few simple mouse clicks on a small laptop or „notebook“. Another handy feature is that there is a menu in which you can store your combinations alphabetically (e.g. by composer), numerically (e.g. by BWV number) or even by recital date or type of church service.

Installation, carried out by Burkhard Fischer personally, is unobtrusive. There are only some cables at the back of the console; the couple of new pistons/toe pistons go virtually unnoticed and the only other thing you see is the laptop itself, which is normally placed somewhere on the console near the music desk, and which can be disconnected and locked away after use.

The dimensions of this new invention can be more readily grasped when you consider the rather unwieldy five-manual console of the Theatinerkirche here in Munich, which basically has just the typical three rows of „free combinations“ on offer. This is obviously enough to accompany a Mass, but clearly presents a concert organist with severe limitations.

One of the most hair-raising hazards in the Theatinerkirche is the fact that several rows of vital couplers etc. are located effectively out of sight behind the music desk. Once you’ve put up a Bach album or the gigantic RC hymnbook (measuring approx. 30x23x5 cm when closed and weighing in at over 2 kilos) you have no chance whatsoever of checking – let alone spontaneously altering – what’s going on there.

When playing at this console you have to swivel your head wildly from left to right, run your eyes up and down extensive arrays of knobs, scan across all the thumb pistons and squint down around your feet if you suddenly feel the urge to check which ranks and couplers you’ve actually drawn while in the middle of a hymn. This is exceedingly difficult. Especially if you are simultaneously trying to keep one eye on the tiny monitor (located during Mass on the top left of the console) focused on the priest, and the other eye on the capricious bulky gadget designed for the organist to indicate the hymn and verse numbers for the congregation in the nave (located on the music desk next to the outsize hymnbook, or somewhere else where it’s equally in the way and prone to fall down). With the fionic system you only need to glance once and in one direction to see which ranks you’re playing on – i.e. at the laptop. Everything you have currently drawn is „green“ on the screen, while the other ranks and couplers remain „grey“.

Burkhard Fischer also speaks English and French, and I will include his own description here. Please understand, of course, that we cannot take the lid off all the secrets which comprise the invention!

„With this new system most organs can be equipped with a brand new stepper system without much effort. The system provides all common stepper functionalities and enables some new approaches for registration pre-programming.

Contrary to all console-integrated steppers, the new system runs on a Linux notebook with a graphical user interface. This means: programming the combinations is no longer done physically on the organ console but on the notebook. There you can switch each stop on and off, save your stop combinations, create and save sequences for individual music pieces, save them into the file system of the notebook (and organise them for easy looking-up in your preferred way) and combine several sequences together to a new sequence (e.g. if you want to play certain chosen pieces for a concert and just cycle through this combined sequence during your concert).

You have a lot of editing tools for your sequences, such as the insertion of additional steps, the overwriting of existing steps, deletion, copy/paste and even undo/redo. In each sequence the step numbering starts from 1 and has no upper limit. Therefore you don’t need to worry anymore about available free space in this system. When your sequence is ready you can step through it using additionally installed +/- pistons or push buttons.

Apart from that, there are 5×5 separate combinations available which can be freely programmed. They are independent from the step sequences and are used mainly to store your favourite instant combinations, for example for use during services. These combinations can also be activated by additionally installed independent pistons or push buttons.

A big advantage of this system is that all your stored combinations are login protected. That means other users can’t overwrite them. The number of possible users is unlimited.

Another very interesting feature is that there is a preview mode where the stops in the organ are not switched when you select them in the user interface. This allows you to check or to modify all your settings without any noise – which can be quite useful just before or during a service.

The export of all your settings via USB stick is also possible. With the exported data and a Windows variant of the stepper programme you can review your combinations at your own PC. Modifications can be made or new sequences created and can later be re-imported into the Linux notebook at the organ.

Apart from the installation of some pistons and push buttons, the console isn’t modified and can therefore be used without the new stepper system as before, which is important if your instrument is of historic interest.“

Burkhard Fischer installed the fionic stepper system in the Theatinerkirche in September 2009, and it has been successfully used since then by a variety of concert organists and church service deputies (including myself). Two further installations have been completed in churches in Bavaria, and more are in the pipeline. As you can imagine, costs vary depending on the instrument. However, to give you a general idea, one would reckon with roughly 5,000 euros net costs, including the laptop, cables and other material, and the working hours. (Travel expenses would also be incurred for work abroad.)

A short note now on the Theatinerkirche. Its official name is St. Kajetan and it is run today by the Order of Dominicans. It was completed in 1690 (the façade being completed in 1768), and is separated from the Residenz (the royal palace) by the historic Feldherrenhalle, which was built by King Ludwig I in 1844. On 9th November 1923, Adolf Hitler and his followers marched to the Feldherrenhalle in an attempt to take over power in Germany (the „Beer Hall Putsch“). Several Kings, Emperors and Electoral Princes are buried in this church, mainly in the crypt. Sitting at the general console you can look directly into the crypt through a large round opening in the floor which is covered by a simple iron grating. The Theatinerkirche is one of the grandest and most famous landmarks of the city of Munich. War damage was, alas, horrific.

The two-manual side organ is housed fairly high up in a nave chamber opposite the pulpit and was built by Orgelbau Carl Schuster of Munich in 1950. It can be played alone from a console at ground level in the nave. This is sometimes the case for „smaller“ services such as Vespers. For Mass we usually couple the two organs together.

The main three-manual organ was built by Orgelbau Eisenbarth of Passau in 1960. Along with the side organ, it is played from the awe-inspiring five-manual console mentioned above, which was provided by Orgelbau Eisenschmid of Andechs. This is on a small movable ground-level platform directly in front of the pipes yet separated from the current position of the altar by a somewhat makeshift wall-to-wall curtain.

The main organ was overhauled in 2009 by Orgelbau Schingnitz of Iffeldorf. It sounds firm and forceful when you sit at the Eisenschmid console, but the spacious acoustics and sheer length of the building lessen the impact somewhat, which is why we couple it with the Schuster organ when leading a big congregation. When you play the side organ alone from the Eisenschmid console there is, of course, a rather marked delay before you hear what you’ve played.

Richard will kindly insert the specifications of the Theatinerkirche organs and some photos. More photos as well as further information on the fionic stepper system, on the Theatinerkirche as well as on Munich and some of its major organs and attractions can be found on the homepages listed below. If anyone would like to consider possible stepper solutions for their own or their church’s or building’s organ, please feel free to contact me or Burkhard Fischer at no obligation. He has recently devised a solution for a pneumatic organ, and has no end of formulas up his sleeve!

I hope you’ll enjoy exploring the homepages!
www.fionic.de – contact: stepper@fionic.de / www.theatinerkirche.de

3)

CD: Prague – The Baroque Golden Age – Pavel Kohout, organ
CD: Anima Aurea Bohemiae – Pavel Kohout, organ
Reviews for „The Organ Club Journal“ (2009-III)

I’m delighted to be able to recommend two recent CDs from Prague in this issue of the OCJ. Both feature the Czech organist Pavel Kohout. The first CD was recorded in 2007 on the 1673 Mundt organ of the Church of Our Lady before Týn, the second in 2008 on the 1738 Katzer and Weltzel organ of the Church of the Nativity in the Loreto Monastery.

I clearly remember enthusiastic reports on the Týn Church organ from those members who flew to Prague for the start of the Club’s 2003 „Danube Tour“ – I joined the tour later on, in Vienna. In the OCJ of October 2003 Roger Tucker wrote fittingly: „Its priceless asset is a virtually unaltered organ of 1673 … and now that it has been superbly restored by Klais it is one of the world’s most precious. Although not large (II-29) it has the most majestic, breathing plenum, which I found utterly moving; to talk of the „tingle factor“ is not adequate … It is worth a trip to Prague just to see and hear this unique instrument.“

With Roger’s words ringing in my ears, I was fortunate enough this August to make it to Prague at last, a city I had only visited once for a day in around 1990. I enjoyed six days there with members of the North Hampshire Organists‘ Association headed by John Mansfield (returning just in time to prepare this review). Pavel Kohout was our Artistic Tour Leader and he had arranged for us to see, hear and play a rich assortment of organs including the instruments on these two discs, which discs I bought on the spot.

The Týn Church CD, „Prague – The Baroque Golden Age“, presents works by Josef Ferdinand Norbert Seger (1716-1782), Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer (1665-1746), Johann Kaspar Kerll (1627-1693), Gottlieb Theophil Muffat (1690-1770) and Karel Blažej Kopøiva (1756-1785). Johannes Klais of Bonn revoiced and restored the organ between 1998 and 2000. The tuning is not given in the booklet, but Hans-Wolfgang Theobald of Klais told me on the phone that it’s „a modified Kirnberger III“. The pitch is a1 =444 Hz at 22° Celsius. The 36-page booklet is in French, Czech and English. There are 11 tracks and 63:47 minutes. (Editions Hortus: Hortus 053)

Pavel Kohout writes: „The intention of this recording is to help give the music of Josef Seger and the organ of Hans Heinrich Mundt the recognition they deserve. To this end, I have chosen contrasting pieces which demonstrate a variety of compositional forms and the sonorous possibilities of a unique historical instrument. It is hoped that this performance will transmit the spirit of the music as well as that of the instrument.“

The Loreto Monastery CD, „Anima Aurea Bohemiae“, presents works by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706), Kerll, Georg Muffat (1653-1704), Johannes Speth (1667-1719), Seger, and an anonymous Toccata dated around 1760. Restoration work was carried out between 1989 and 1992 by the master organ builder Vladimír Šlajch of Borovany using 95% of the original pipework. From the booklet: „Another special feature of this organ is the fact that almost the entire pipework is made from expensive precious metal, including Copula Major 8′ and Copula Minor 4′ on the Positiv. Wooden pipes are only found in the Pedal (Subbass 16′, Octavbass 8′ and the largest of the pipes for the Principalbass 8′); and also in the lowest pipes of the Principal 8′ on the Great. The Loreto Organ has a total of over 1,076 pipes, of which 38 large pipes are made entirely of wood.“ The tuning is Werckmeister III at a1 =438. The 34-page booklet is in German and English with a note on the performer in French. It is the first solo CD to be recorded on this instrument. There are 14 tracks and 60:31 minutes. (ifo Classics: ORG 7231.2)

Pavel Kohout writes: „In putting together the programme for this CD I have tried to create an appropriate compilation of organ works that are to some extent specifically tailored to the Loreto Organ in Prague: i.e. a baroque repertoire of original compositions. They ideally demonstrate the splendid sound of this unique 18th century historic organ and cleverly illustrate the synthesis between early Italian, South German and early Bohemian organ building.“

Exceptional care has obviously been lavished upon both discs. This applies equally to the sound quality, the texts, the graphics and the CD cases – the photos in the Loreto booklet, in particular, are a feast for the eye. The registration used in each piece has been noted in each booklet. 1) The microphones are always close enough to prevent the music from sounding „disembodied“ from the instruments, while incorporating ample ambience.

Pavel Kohout, who wrote the eloquent (and well-translated) texts on the composers and the pieces himself, is currently studying for his Ph.D. in the historical performance practice of South German baroque organ music at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. A graduate of Prague Conservatory, he also studied at Amsterdam Conservatory and has been awarded an impressive array of prizes. It is clear in everything he says and writes that he cares deeply about the music as well as about the instruments involved on the CDs.

Having told you all this, there would seem to be very little left for me to say! Indeed, words are not only inadequate but entirely superfluous. You will understand when you hear the music

My first personal impression of both recordings was one of sheer amazement. I had simply not known until now that anything mortal could sound so indescribably beautiful. The whole has become in some mysterious way greater than the sum of the parts – which of course begins with the right music played on the right instrument in the right building by the right player and recorded by the right technician on the right day (this in itself no mean feat).

But it’s not simply more than all that; it’s cumulative. I think this is because we are invited to as it were rest awhile in Pachelbel’s world and that of his contemporaries … rather than being nudged down a supposedly logical (yet artificial) „timeline“. 2)

The word „gold“ appears in the titles of both CDs. Take Track 4 of the Loreto CD, for example, which opens with an intangible, mystical golden glow. It’s the Man. II Principal 8′ with the Bifara 8′, a „classic Italian principal beat“. I could scarcely believe what I was hearing. Take Track 3 of the Týn CD, which opens with the subtle golden gleam of the Man. I Copula maior; marvel at the proud dazzle of the Mundt Mixturas or at the two delicately glittery Cymbelsterns … But I’ll leave you to open the rest of these two treasure chests for yourselves.

Pavel Kohout’s playing is a class apart and will be a hard act for anyone else to follow. The contrapuntal voices are like spun and woven threads of gold. Suddenly it all makes sense and falls into context. His exciting ornamentation, masterly articulation and daringly sensitive interpretation are spell-binding. This music is not „old“! 3) Pavel Kohout fuses scholarliness and playfulness; in him, humility and inner conviction become perfectly compatible. This is the wedding feast of Grace and Grandeur. This is – Golden Baroque.

Now I really have no more to say. The quotation „Music begins where words end“ (Goethe) is the first statement on Pavel Kohout’s homepage. Here one can discover more and also enjoy his generous selection of audio and video clips including works by, amongst others, Bach, Buxtehude, Dupré and Rawsthorne (Hornpipe), plus a Dvorak transcription of irresistible elegance. This will tide you over until you can obtain the two CDs and/or a ticket to Prague.

I don’t have UK prices for the CDs at the time of going to print; however, should it prove difficult to obtain them in any country please let me or Richard know and I will gladly be of help. My contact details are on my Networking Homepage. I wish you many hours of enjoyable listening!
Pavel Kohout’s homepage (in English): www.PavelKohout.org

Further reading (in German):
– „organ – Journal für die Orgel“ 2009/02, Schott Music. „Orgelland Böhmen“ – various articles on Bohemian organs. www.schott-music.com
– „Ars Organi“ 2002/1, Gesellschaft der Orgelfreunde. Includes a detailed article on the Týn organ by Hans-Wolfgang Theobald of Klais. www.gdo.de

1) In the Loreto Monastery booklet, the abbreviation „T.“ (German „Takt“) stands for „bar“
2) For example. from Pachelbel as a kind of hors d’oeuvre to Bach to Mendelssohn to Vierne etc. Hearing a piece of Mendelssohn (who knew Bach’s music) after hearing a piece of Bach is one thing. Hearing Bach (who did not know Mendelssohn’s music) followed by Mendelssohn is somehow different, and presumably influences the effect of Bach’s music upon the listener. The next time I am invited to give a little „Orgelabend“ comprising the classical „Gang durch die Epochen“ I may oblige by beginning with Franck – or Tritant – and progressing era by era to Froberger. This can surely be no less logical than working one’s way „forwards“ from Froberger to Franck.
3) How could it be? Pachelbel’s music either is – now, i.e. the moment we hear it – or it is not. It cannot be put in another place or impaled on a timeline. Sound cannot gather dust.

Notes from Munich (2) – „Moonlight and Roses“
Article for „The Organ Club Journal“ (2006-II)


 At the end of „Notes from Munich (1)“ I left you gazing at the specification and the console of the 1936 Steinmeyer (opus 1620) in the Protestant Markuskirche. The spec and photos of the second organ in the church, the exciting but decidedly spiky-sounding 1967 Ott, which Karl Richter had built as a three-manual baroque counterpart to the Steinmeyer, can be seen at www.st-markus-m.de.

For those who collect Steinmeyers, there is a CD called „Deutsche Orgelromantik“, recorded in 2005 in St. Markus by the present organist, Holger Boenstedt. The pieces are: F. Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: Sonata No. 2; J. Reubke: The 94th Psalm; F. Liszt: Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H; M. Reger: Phantasie über den Choral „Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme“.

Armin Becker (see „Notes from Munich (1)“) has provided me with a brief English summary of the CD:  „With his unsentimental playing, which remains transparent even in the most rhapsodic passages, Boenstedt manages to give a good survey of the sound and the style of the Steinmeyer organ. Enjoy the contrast between wide and narrow flutes in the Adagio of Reubke’s sonata and the reeds in his Allegro fugue, the 8′ Quintade which introduces the first verse of Reger’s „Wachet auf“, the wonderful solo voice in his Adagio con espressione and, above all, the swell Oboe, one of my favourite stops, in Mendelssohn’s Adagio.“

We’ll be visiting two further Protestant churches with Steinmeyers in Munich in the course of my Munich Notes series. Today I’d like to take you to the majestic instrument in the Lukaskirche, opus 1568, which boasts four manuals and some 74 stops. It was built in 1932 and was quite a talking-point at the time with its Rückpositiv, the first in the city. Interestingly, Albert Schweitzer gave a recital here in 1912 on this instrument’s predecessor, which was also a Steinmeyer.

The Lukaskirche bears a most remarkable architectural resemblance to „Maria vom Siege“, a Roman Catholic church in Vienna’s „Fünfhaus“ district, and I discovered another Steinmeyer there, opus 138 (II/24), on one of my frequent trips to Vienna. I’ve taken a liking to this quaint instrument and its historic console, despite its rather heavy, „doughy“ touch due to its old cone chest. Further details on these churches can be found at www.sanktlukas.de andwww.mariavomsiege.at; more on the Lukaskirche organ at www.gerdkoetter.de.

Gerd Kötter, by the way, is the current organist of the Lukaskirche. When I told him about Maria vom Siege he reported back that there is a Steinmeyer with a corresponding II/24 spec, now called the „Stephanusorgel“, in the Protestant church of St. Lorenz in Nuremberg. It’s the Steinmeyer opus 34, which was built in 1862 and began its life in the Hersbruck Stadtkirche. See www.lorenzkirche.de.

I’d like to move on now to an extraordinary new organ in an office building, which was inaugurated by leading Munich recitalist Stefan Moser in April 2006; and my stepping-stone is the space-age console used for the recitals in Stefan Moser’s „Münchner Orgelpunkt“ series in the Lukaskirche. I love this photo – the timeless instrument brooding contentedly in the late afternoon sun, while the sleek new creation of olivewood, aluminium and Plexiglass is glitteringly poised for flight. The combination system allows for 4000 settings, and the crescendo pedal can also be programmed by the player. This beautiful console was designed and constructed by the organ builder Markus Harder-Völkmann in 2004; the electronics and the midi technology are by the physicist Jürgen Scriba.

Stefan Moser founded his Orgelpunkt series in 1991, spectacularly setting off with 76 recitals in the Munich Gasteig, our Philharmonic Hall (seats over 2,380: www.gasteig.de) – the first of which featured Dame Gillian Weir as guest player.

The grand Klais organ (IV/74) is indeed a multi-faceted instrument, but the acoustics, of course, are much the opposite of what one would find in an average church. I went to the organ recital entitled „Mozart light“ in the Gasteig’s „Happy Birthday, Mozart“ event on January 27th, 2006 – it was the final item of a long day, and began at 11 pm! (Talk about the organ being treated as a „Nischeninstrument“! Literal translation: a „niche instrument“. Not that one generally stands much chance of stashing organs away unnoticed into niches …)

The present curator of the Klais, Friedemann Winklhofer (who was Karl Richter’s „Munich Bach Choir“ assistant from 1977 until Richter’s death in 1981), gave a most tasteful performance of various works and arrangements, including Zsolt Gárdonyi’s „Mozart changes“ and the „Vier Stücke für die Trompetenuhr“ by Peter Planyavsky (- who we met and heard play at the Stephansdom in Vienna on the 2003 Danube Tour).

Yet the experience was slightly disappointing. As I noted after the recital, the lovely big sound reaches out to you with a promising smile, but instantly recedes into oblivion like a Cheshire Cat when the player takes his hands off the keys. Somehow I can’t quite cope with that. So we’ll take the tram back down to St. Lukas.

After the Steinmeyer had been renovated in 2002, Stefan Moser began to use it regularly for his legendary recitals featuring large-scale orchestral transcriptions, maintaining that this was the ideal intrument (in ideal acoustics) for such music. However, apart from the fact that the console in the gallery proved inadequate for the registration options required, the recitalist was determined to emerge from behind the gallery pipes and position himself as close as possible to his audience. Christian Stock, an organ enthusiast and one of Stefan Moser’s long-standing fans, heard of his vision and generously pre-financed the costs of the new console out of his own pocket.

But that was just the beginning of the story for dynamic business man and office building owner Christian Stock. Inspired by Stefan Moser’s musicianship, his phenomenal virtuosity and his technical mastery of the instrument, he decided that he, too, would like to possess a pipe organ: „just like St. Lukas“. He’d install it in one of the big open foyers of his office building and have it played pianola-style – not being an organ-player himself!

Fortunately, though, he was persuaded to purchase a console along with the pipes, and has never looked back. His office complex, „Stockwerk®“, which is a trip out of town to a place called Gröbenzell on the suburban S-Bahn and bus, has been hosting art exhibitions and events since 2004, and organ recitals have now become an integral part of the programme (see www.kunst-im-stockwerk.de).

The organ foyer, know as the Bistro, is a spacious, bright area with an open staircase, lots of glass, potted shrubs, sofas and a small coffee bar. The main body of the two-manual organ (Manual I and pedal) is located along the corridor of the first floor, together with the console; the bar being situated directly beneath. The Manual II pipes are on the opposite wall on a separate gallery. There are 1,369 pipes in total – so far! During recitals, the organist may be seen from various different angles on a large screen on one of the other wall

Let us now take a closer look at this organ. Its backbone consists of a neobaroque instrument by the organ builder Faust dating from 1953, and which had stood in a church in Duisburg which was due for demolition. There are 16 ranks on electro-pneumatic purse chests. Various new multiplex ranks on all-electric cone chests have been added, thus providing 15 extra extension stops, supplemented by two tremulants. One of these is on Maunal II, the other on the new solo reed chest. There are six different wind pressures (80, 85, 95, 105, 115 and 130 mm), and the 15 new stops can be freely assigned to either manual by the organist.

Obviously, it’s a particularly bold hybrid. While the core is a church organ founded on the „Werksprinzip“ with very few 8′ foundation ranks, the flexibility of the unit system provides whatever enrichment is desired. Christian Stock specified that the organ should be capable of playing the entire baroque to romantic organ repertoire, plus orchestral transcriptions as well as entertainment music and cinema organ music – Stefan Moser also accompanies silent movies – and so Markus Harder-Völkmann aimed to provide a compact instrument along the lines developed by British organ builders at the beginning of the 20th century.

One thinks instantly of Robert Hope-Jones and his exploitation of the opportunities opened up by electro-pneumatic action in order to combine the practices of extension, duplexing and borrowing – and, as far as the pedal division is concerned, one might call to mind the Harrison & Harrison in Ely Cathedral (1908) and the Henry Willis in the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral (1912). Yet the concept of „floating divisions“ had already been implemented by T.C. Lewis in 1884 in his organ in The People’s Palace, Mile End.

Some of the known disadvantages of the multiplex system have been solved in this pioneering instrument in Gröbenzell. For example, classically built unit systems are plagued by „borrowing holes“, which occur when a keystroke it routed to a pipe that is already sounding because it has been borrowed from another stop. In the Stockwerk® organ, the newly-developed routing processors now play a fresh attack of the note within a couple of hundredths of a second, effectively masking the „hole“. The organist can play polyphonic intercrossing runs without the listener noticing the double function of the pipes.

Another key aspect is the fact that there is a third, virtual manual which, while possessing no keyboard of its own, enables the organist to deploy an independent third division consisting of any unit ranks drawn. This division may be played either by coupling it to the „second touch“ of Manual I or by playing it independently on the then-quiet Manual II by means of changing Manual II’s function (III-II). It’s possible to fathom the coupling systems if one really puts one’s mind to it!

Visually, the Stockwerk organ corresponds to the „form follows function“ principle. Johannes Klais developed the idea of instruments with no casework in the early 1930s in conjunction with German „Bauhaus“ architects. Walter Holtkamp experimented in a similar way in the USA. In the Stockwerk building, office workers are able to peer in, around and over large sections of pipework on their daily march up and down the first floor corridor. Mind-boggling   Jürgen Scriba devised a completely new type of electronic action for the Stockwerk® organ. Both stop and note control are transmitted through the entire instrument via a data bus. Decentral and modular steering units command the new single rank chests as well as the soundboards from the original instrument.

On an idle evening, when the office workers have all gone home, it’s perfectly possible to download midi files from web libraries, arrange them on the computer, and then let the organ play them. Alternatively, one can re-play via midi data stream a recording of music made during a live recital. And vary the registration at whim. For still more variety, one could connect some purely electronic synthesisers to the organ.

The inauguration took place on April 21st, 2006, and caused such a sensation that Stefan Moser was obliged to play his entire programme twice in one evening! It included several of Christian Stock’s favourite works – J.S. Bach: Toccata in D minor (BWV 565); M.E. Bossi: Scherzo in G minor; E. Grieg: In the Hall of the Mountain Kings; D. Bourgeois: Serenade in Bb major; R. Elmore: Rhumba in Bb minor; C. Gounod: Funeral March of a Marionette; M. Duruflé: Toccata in B minor (Op. 5); E. Lemare: Andantino in Db major, „Moonlight and Roses“; C.M. Widor: Toccata in F major (5th Symphony). Still later in the evening, Sven Wortmann played a selection of cinema organ standards, and various recitals since then have featured Stefan Moser as well as Armin Becker.

The unstoppable Christian Stock, who spends his free time singing in a Gospel choir, has already ordered a second trumpet rank (a Liebliche Trompete) and an assortment of new mutations – purely-tuned unit ranks, needless to say. And there’s soon going to be a Glockenspiel, a Marimbaphon, an accordion and a piano integrated into his organ … to which I promise to return in one of my future articles!

(I am indebted to organ builder Markus Harder-Völkmann for his time and patience. He explained his organ’s innovative aspects to me at the console itself, and provided me with extensive notes in German and English. His homepage is: www.tastenklang

1)

Article „Morning Owls“ for The Organ Club Journal, 2006 – „Notes from Munich (1)“ by Maggie Pemberton and John Mansfield

No, I can’t resist the pun and yes, there are some real hoots here, too! With a CD like this programmed to wake you at 7 a.m. you’ll slip effortlessly into the day, saunter nonchalantly into work and smile knowingly at those who were propelled out of their dreams by a manic bell or that brainless bullying beeping. (The implications are surely worth considering.)

This is the low-down: 42-year-old Armin Becker, already one of Munich’s most popular recitalists and classical organ players, is making an international name for himself with jazz, tangos, Latin and blues on the organ. And we’re not talking about Wurlitzers or Comptons. There are 4 different Steinmeyer organs (from the 1930s and 1950s) featuring on this CD as well as 4 tracker-action instruments, two of which were built in the 1990s. All are in churches. Three are in Munic

So how does he do it? „How will he do it?“ I asked myself, as I led the touring group of the North Hampshire Organists‘ Association to Armin Becker’s jazz recital in August 2005, wondering if I had made the right choice for their evening’s entertainment.

We had arranged to meet him before the recital and there he was in the church, charmingly modest, easy-going yet courteous – putting me for a moment in mind of Phil Kelsall in the 1970s – ready to treat us to a private mini-demo and close look at the historic consoles of the two organs; a Steinmeyer (1936) and an Ott (1967). Both are in the gallery that goes round three sides of the church.

Let me mention that this took place in Munich’s St. Markus church. Karl Richter’s church. I had never expected to hear jazz on those instruments! I love them and have heard them on many occasions. Bach’s larger works in particular can come across with a monumentality which is almost literally stunning and which sends excitement down my spine. Was taking guests to hear a jazz recital there labelled „An Organ Journey to Paris“ simply sticking my neck out? Mais – je ne regrette … I’ve become an addict!

But before you begin to think that I am just recommending a local colleague, let me pass you over to the President of the North Hampshire Organists‘ Association, John Mansfield, who has recently prepared a review of Armin Becker’s CD.

John writes: „There is a strong affinity between jazz and organ playing: organ playing was originally (and still is to some extent) based on improvisation, like jazz. But there is a world of difference between formless meandering over the organ keys while waiting for the service to begin and keen, rhythmical jazz. Keen, rhythmical jazz is what Armin Becker promises us on his CD simply called Jazzimprovisationen, eleven tracks of undiluted jazz played on nine different organs in the south of Germany, and all but two recorded live.

One of the organs is built by Hermann Eule, whose surname means „owl“ in English. So owls make their appearance here: the first track is called Morning Owls to correspond with a piece originally played on an Eule organ by Barbara Dennerlein which she called Night Owls. The other owl is a Latin one – „Strix“. Blues Strigis (track 3) uses an unusual stop: when it is drawn a wooden owl comes around from behind the organ case and hoots at you. It is to be heard at the beginning and the end of the track. The track is based on „The Teddy Bears‘ Picnic“, „Baby Elephant Walk“ and „The Bare Necessities“.

Track 2, Warnemünder Groschenblues, contains a delicate version of Beethoven’s „Rage over a lost penny“ („Die Wut über den verlorenen Groschen“, of course), and Souvenirs de Paris (track 8) is based on French chansons. The Zugspitz-Express runs on track 4, powered by the „Orient Express“, „Chattanooga Choo Choo“, „Take the ‚A‘ Train“ and part of Richard Strauss‘ Alpine Symphony.

There are some unorthodox effects: in the first of two pieces simply called Jazz Voices (tracks 5 and 6) Armin experiments by drawing the stop knobs out slowly and pushing them in equally slowly to produce a ghostly blues sound (don’t try this at home, kids); and in the second track with the same name he uses a Basszink stop (5 1/3′) in the pedal in the opening section.

St. George’s Serenade, track 10, played in the magnificent church of St. George, Nördlingen, quotes „Sweet Georgia Brown“ (what else?). The final track is the shortest one, Guten Abend, gut Nacht, hinting at Brahms‘ Lullaby.

If you are keen on jazz, or improvisation, buy the disc. You will not regret it.“ Thank you, John.

Needless to say, I too am impressed by the CD, not only by the sheer virtuosity of Armin Becker’s technique and his secure grasp of genuine jazz harmonies and rhythms, but also by his ear-catching registration and bluesy poetic moments. This guy knows what he’s doing in every way – indeed, several of the pieces come across as well-thought-out compositions.

I just love the audaciously swaggering Jazztango (track 7, alas a mere 2:45 mins), the hauntingly nostalgic passages in Souvenirs de Paris (14:39 mins), and the jaunty „stepping out“ mood pervading track 9, a free composition entitled Matin après une belle surprise. And I challenge anyone to resist the disarming owl hoots and the prowling, growling pedal reed teddy bear stomping past on his way to join the picnic. Laugh, cry, dance and dream: for a total of 78:41 minutes!

So – how does he do it? This is the end of my text. It’s up to you now to find out for yourselves …

The CD comes in a slim case with a simple red leaflet in its cover noting the title of each track, the date of recording (between 2000 and 2005), the church, the town and the track length (6 minutes on average). Fortunately there are scarcely any extraneous sounds on those tracks which were recorded live during recitals.

Armin Becker is producing his CDs privately at the moment, but the details one would expect to get in a full-scale booklet – descriptions of the instruments, a brief biography etc. – can be obtained from him upon request. He also speaks fluent English and French. Price: EURO 10 (+ p&p)