Georg Boehm - Chants spirituels & Œuvres pour Orgue
Seven Sacred Songs* Geistliche Lieder (1700)
Arp Schnitger Historical Organ (1686)
Sankt Ludgerikirche, Norden, Ostfriesland, Niedersachsen, Germany
viola da gamba*
Metzler choir organ*
Saint-Pierre Church, Porrentruy, Jura, Switzerland
"Un événement exceptionnel" de Télérama n°2327
Georg Boehm (or Böhm) was not one of the most famous musicians living in Northern Germany at the turn of the 17th to the 18th century, so it would seem. Johann Gottfried Walther gave a short note on him in his Musikalisches Lexicon, published in 1732. "Böhm (Georg) ein braver Componist, und Organist an der S. Johannis Kirche in Lüneburg, welcher vielleicht noch am Leben ist; soli von Goldbach in Thüringen, ohnweit Gotha gebürtig seyn". (Georg Boehm, able composer and organist at St. John's in Lüneburg, who may still be alive. He is said to have been born in Goldbach near Gotha in Thüringen.) Although they came from the same geographical region, Walther does not seem to have known Boehm personally and must have lost track of him over the years. Thus Walther errs in giving Goldbach as Boehm's place of birth and Boehm was still alive in Lüneburg when Walther, living in Weimar, published his book. But he knew Boehm's works quite well, at least the earlier ones for keyboard. In 1730 he also mentioned manuscript copies of vocal music which he had made of Boehm's works in a letter to Heinrich Bokemeyer, a music publisher at Wolfenbüttel, offering them for publication.
Some of Walther's manuscript collections of keyboard music are in fact major sources of Boehm's works. These and similar sources also contain works of the young Johann Sebastian Bach, but before discussing Bach's relationship to Boehm - possibly the main reason why Boehm is known in our day - the little that is known about Boehm's life and works will be related.
Georg Boehm was born 1661 in Hohenkirchen near Ohrdruf, son of the schoolmaster and organist Balthasar Boehm and Martha Schambach. After having received elementary education at Goldbach and Gotha he enrolled at the University of Jena in 1684. As his second son was baptized in Hamburg in 1693, he must have married and have sought his luck in Northern Germany, as many organists from Central Germany did, arriving in Hamburg somewhere between 1690 and 1693. He taught composition and it can be assumed that he worked at the Hamburg opera.
In 1697 Boehm applied for the post of organist at St. John's in Lüneburg, the town's main church, and was appointed almost a year later. His pay was low : a mere 160 Reichsthaler yearly, not counting insufficient rent allowance and some additional payments, bettered by another 40 from 1704 on. His tasks were not too heavy : Boehm had to play three times on feast days and on the week-end and twice during the week, not so much to accompany the congregation as to play preludes, interludes and postludes, and to perform with the Kantorei, the boys choir of the school attached to St. John's. Boehm may have increased his income by teaching private pupils.
The organists in Lüneburg played a relatively minor official role in the town's musical life. During the 17th century, up to and including the time, Friedrich Funcke, the position of the cantor of St. John's, who was also the municipal Musices Director, was strong and it would seem that Boehm was the first organist to gain a better position, possibly owing to the weaknesses of the cantors Büttner and Bohmsen as composers.
The organ he had to play had been inaugurated in 1553. Although it had been repaired twice, in the course of which some old registers had been exchanged for new ones, it evidently did not meet the musical requirements of the late 17th century. In 1683 the by then already well-known organ builder Arp Schnitger had been asked to plan a completely new instrument, but only in 1712 did Schnitger's pupil Matthias Dropa start to rebuild and expand the existing organ under Boehm's supervision, using the existing case and some of the old registers. Boehm played the new organ for the first time at Whitsuntide of 1714; it was finished in 1715.
There were some minor quarrels with colleagues and Boehm regularly got caught up between the town and church councils, but his life in Lüneburg seems on the whole to have been without any major events. He kept his post at St. John's until his death, at the age of almost 72 years, in 1733.
During his life Boehm was indeed little known as a composer and organist : only a few comments on his abilities are still available. In 1700 Heinrich Werenberg, a Lüneburg church official, writes in the preface to the Elmenhorsts-Lieder : "Herrn Georg Behmen / Kunst erfahrnen Organisten zu S. Johannis in Lüneburg" (Mr. Georg Boehm, organist of St. John's in Lüneburg, experienced in the art), a good composer. A note of the town mayor Heinrich Döring written in the early twenties states that Boehm "der Kirchen manche schöne music gemachet u : ein rechter virtuosus in der Composition ist u. desswegen weit berümbht ist" (made for our church quite a few excellent compositions for service and is a real master of musical composition and widely known for this reason). Johann Mattheson lists him in his Critica Musica of 1725 under the "ansehnlichen Auctoribus" (noteworthy composers) of his time. The article in Walther's musical dictionary of 1732 has been quoted above.
Boehm's star rose, however, after he had died. Jacob Adlung discussing the chorale prelude in his Anleitung zu der musikalischen Gelahrtheit - published in 1758 but largely finished already by 1732 according to his friend Walther - writes : "Boehm (Georg) hat sehr viel dergleichen Chorale verfertiget, welche unter den besten zu rechnen sind." (Georg Boehm wrote many of these chorale (preludes) that must be counted among the very best.) Beginners may play Boehm's works as they stand or excerpt them to learn "allerhand schöne Sätze und besondere Gänge" (all kinds of excellent harmonisations and exceptional progressions). Johann Mattheson mentions Boehm again in a list of fifteen of Europe's most outstanding organists - counting Haendel and Bach as a class apart - in Der vollkommene Capellmeister of 1739. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach answering a questionnaire by Johann Nikolaus Forkel on Johann Sebastian Bach in 1775 stated "ausser Frobergern, Kerl u Pachelbel hat er (sc. J.S. Bach) die Wercke von Frescobaldi, dem Badenschen Capellmeister Fischer, Strunck, einigen alten guten französischen, Buxtehude, Reincken, Bruhnsen u. seinem Lüneburgischen Lehrmeister (later changed into : dem Lüneburgischen Organisten) Böhmen geliebt u. studirt." (apart from Froberger, Kerl and Pachelbel he (sc. J.S. Bach) valued and studied the works of Frescobaldi, the musical director in Baden Fischer, Strunck, some good French (masters), Buxtehude, Reincken, Bruhns and his teacher in Lüneburg, later changed into : the organist from Lüneburg, Boehm.) Forkel in turn reported this list in his monograph on Bach of 1802, calling all of these composers "starke Harmonisten und Fugisten" (very capable inventors of harmonies and fugues). In his Lexicon of musicians and composers of 1812 Ernst Ludwig Gerber paraphrased both Walther's and Adlung's reports on Boehm and adds - probably using the notes that Walther made for a planned second edition of his Lexicon - "Georg Böhm muss nicht nur ein fertiger Orgelspieler gewesen seyn, sondern er muss auch seinen Geschmack in der Nähe grosser Komponisten und guter Sänger gebildet haben; denn er weiss seine Melodie und die untergeordneten Stimmen so leicht fliessend und gefällig zu führen, dass sie mit dem steifen und unbehülflichen Machwerke seiner Zeitverwandten gar sehr kontrastiren; wie ich aus dreyen seiner Choräle mit mehreren Veränderungen beweisen kann." (Boehm must have been not only a perfect organist, he must have developed his musical taste under the influence of important composers and good singers, because he manages to shape the melody and the accompanying voices in such an easy-flowing and agreeable way as to contrast greatly with the inflexible and awkward bungling of his contemporaries as I can show in three of his chorales with variations.) Boehm's works were included now and then in collections of keyboard works by the old masters from the mid-nineteenth century on, but interest in Boehm was renewed in 1870 when Wilhelm Junghans wrote on musical life in Lüneburg at the time of the young Johann Sebastian Bach's stay there and in 1873 when Philipp Spitta took up the theme of Boehm's influence on Bach. Spitta's subject has remained of interest up to our time. It prompted Richard Buchmayer to present the results of his documentary studies on Boehm's life up to 1698 in Nachrichten über das Leben Georg Böhms, published, significantly, in the Bach-Jahrbuch of 1908. The counterpart of this came only much later; it is Horst Walter's Musikgeschichte der Stadt Lüneburg, published in 1967, which describes Boehm's career from 1698 to 1733. Boehm found the obligatory doctoral candidate in Johannes Wolgast. His thesis of 1924 was followed by the first complete edition of Boehm's then extant compositions, the works for keyboard being published in 1927 and the vocal works in 1933. His devotion enabled later scholars to give a more balanced and informed picture of Boehm.
It is assumed that most of Boehm's works are now irreparably lost. Apart from compositions that cannot be documented at all, we know of two motets, "Trauermusiquen" (music for funeral services) from 1708 on, a Passion according to St. Luke of 1711, Festmusiken of 1708 and 1729 and cantatas that are longer extant. Three cantatas and a suite are ascribed to him in manuscript sources, but may be by other composers; this is also the case for the Menuet fait par Mons. Böhm that Bach himself wrote down in 1725 in the Klavierbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach. On the other hand a Passion according to St. John of 1704 ascribed to Haendel may be by Boehm. The music to Elmenhorsts's hymns in the collection of 1700 were the only works to be published under his own name during his life-time; two of his works for keyboard appeared in print, but not under his name. All other works have been preserved in manuscripts. Collections written by Central German organists like Johann Gottfried Walther and Johann Christoph Bach preserve at least a fairly large quantity of Boehm's early keyboard music : chorale preludes, chorale partitas and variations, preludes, preludes cum fuga, suites and a capriccio have thus been preserved. This scarcity of extant works has been counterbalanced by editorial interest : beside editions of individual works, the complete works for keyboard were published three times, the complete vocal works twice.
Several arguments speak in favour of Georg Boehm's direct influence on the young Johann Sebastian Bach, according to the most recent study on this subject by Jean-Claude Zehnder, published in the Bach-Jahrbuch 1988. Bach travelled from the Central German region around Gotha and Erfurt to the North German towns Lüneburg, Hamburg and Lübeck, just as Boehm had done several years earlier, though he had not come to stay. In Lüneburg Bach was a pupil at St. Michael's, a school that maintained a rather contentious relationship to St. John's, the church and school to which Boehm was attached, but there were friendly contacts on a private basis. If Boehm was the virtuoso organist he is reported to have been, Bach might certainly have wanted to hear him. Over the years he must have kept in contact with Boehm, who accepted to act as a commission agent for two of Bach's printed partitas in 1727. Many years later Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach called Boehm his father's teacher, although he changed this expression into a more neutral one on second thought. Several manuscript sources from the first decade or so of the 18th century have Boehm's works next to Bach's. All of these arguments for Boehm's influence on Bach are important, but are, at the same time, circumstantial; the decisive argument must be that telling parallels in the works of the two masters can be discerned.
In the works for keyboard of both, a confrontation between Central and North German characteristics music can be found. The chorale partita was a genre developed by Central German composers [8 & 14]; the chorale prelude for two manuals and pedal was a typical North German genre [10, 11 & 13]. The pedaliter toccata  was also a North German specialty the form of which Boehm took up without pushing the genre to its extremes; Bach adopted the genre and exported it to Central Germany. And both studied the latest Italian and French music. But there are differences as well. Bach will have received his main impetus from the study of instrumental music, as his son Carl Philipp Emanuel also seems to imply and as can be gleaned from Johann Sebastian's own copying and adapting of music in foreign styles. Boehm received important impulses from German opera; Singspiele were staged at the Hamburg opera until Böhm left for Lüneburg, foreign operas in original language being performed only as of that time. He did not take over complete genres, but integrated single stylistic elements into his compositions. Conspicuous in Boehm's works is the repetition of small musical segments, probably inspired by Italian composition technique. The segments can repeated simply or in sequence, they can be transposed to unexpected degrees of the scale, they may take up and freely develop a rhythmical or melodical motive, they may expand the theme of a fugue. A device taken up from the opera aria is the Devise, often in combination with a ritornello : the beginning of the melody serves twice, the first time to herald the following complete melody [4, 6, & 8, 2nd variation]. Not only small segments are repeated, but also complete musical phrases. The repetition of the last phrase in some of the Elmenhorsts-Lieder makes one think of the petite reprise of French musical forms; but lines of chorale melodies are also repeated in chorale preludes and partitas, even if the strophic form of the text does not warrant it [8, 6th variation]. The use of ritornelli in chorale preludes, a scheme taken over from the opera aria, seems to have been Boehm's idea; thus he created the main form of the genre during the 18th century. French vocal melodies in dance rhythms are integrated into Boehm's chorale partitas. And typical for Boehm are the chorale preludes à 2 Clav. et Ped., a North German disposition, that have small fugues using every single phrase of the chorale, a Central German technique.
Parallels can be found in Bach's works up to around 1714 for all of these phenomena, with a concentration around 1705. Some of Boehm's techniques are so innovative, that one must wonder where Bach found them if not in Boehm's works. Curiously enough, Bach did not immediately take over these techniques; he seems to have had access to Boehm's works for several years before the digesting of them can be traced clearly in his own.
The chorale is all-pervasive in Lutheran church music of the 17th and 18th centuries. The melodies and the simple four-part settings of it were sung by congregation and school choir. Various genres of more complicated vocal music use chorale melodies as basic material and several genres for organ using them existed, some of which were taken up and developed by Boehm. The chorale prelude includes the whole chorale melody and extemporizes on each of its phrases [10, 11 & 13]. The chorale partita is a set of variations over the whole melody and utilises variation techniques already current in secular music [8 & 14]. The melodies to the older texts are of the 16th century or earlier. As new texts with new rhyme schemes and metres were written, new melodies were needed; they were composed sometimes in a simple style like Friedrich Funcke's melodies for the Lüneburg hymnal of 1686, or as more artful sacred songs (geistliche Lieder) like Georg Boehm's for the Elmenhorsts-Lieder [1-7], or even as Italian monodies with thorough bass. Changing theological concerns of the 17th century were reflected in the chorale as can be shown, for instance, in the Lüneburg hymnals. In the hymnal of 1686 Johann Stern junior, using five other hymnals, accumulated two thousand texts; four to five times as many as earlier ones of the same publishing-house.The collection gave Luther's hymns and early 17th-century texts, but contemporary texts of a more moralistic and didactical vein were more strongly represented : the leading poets Paul Gerhardt and Johann Rist are of course found most often. These hymns were used in church. Those by Georg Philipp Harsdörffer, Johannes Olearius and others, and even more so those by the Pietists Joachim Neander, Philipp Jakob Spener and Johannes Scheffler called Angelus Silesius, were intended for private devotional use. The title-page of the Lüneburg hymnal of 1661 tried to capture the difference terminologically : the old melodies are called "gewöhnliche alte Kirchenlieder" (usual old chorales), the new sacred songs "neue nützliche Gesänge" (useful new songs).
Elmenhorsts's hymns belong to the second category. After having studied in Jena, Wittenberg and Leipzig, Heinrich Elmenhorsts was appointed deacon in 1660, later archdeacon and minister, in Hamburg. As a student he wrote a pastoral and in Hamburg he took up writing libretti on religious subjects for the Oper am Gänsemarkt, the local opera-house. From 1679 on he collaborated with the composer Johann Wolfgang Franck. The treatise Dramatologia Antiquo-Hodierna, oder ein Bericht von den Oper-Spielen (or A Report on Opera) of 1688 was a reaction to the closing down - temporarily as it would turn out - of the opera-house in 1686 and the quarrel it embodied.
The corpus of Elmenhorsts's hymns grew steadily over the years. A first collection under the title Geist-reiche Lieder, including ten songs that had been printed earlier under the title Passionsgedanken, appeared in 1681. The songs of Vorfallungen im Christenthum of 1682 were combined with those of the older prints and eighteen new ones to form a second collection, the Geistliches Gesangbuch of 1685. Elmenhorsts published a Latin translation of the songs in 1695 under the title Odeum spirituale Elmenhorstsianum. The third and last collection of 1700 was again enlarged and contained a hundred songs.
Johann Christoph Jauch, preacher at St. Lambert's in Lüneburg, re-ordered Elmenhorsts's songs in a series that brought it even closer to the typical order of pietist collections - the same one which Bach used for his Orgelbüchlein -, starting with songs for the main feasts in the order of the liturgical calendar, followed by songs on the various stages of a christian life culminating in songs about the christian soul's aspiration to heaven.
The music to Elmenhorsts's earlier hymns was composed by Franck. In the 1685 edition he replaced some of his earlier compositions with new ones in a more aria-like style. Franck was born in 1644, traveled to Italy in 1668 and became Director der Comoedie in Ansbach in 1672, building up an orchestra and composing and performing Italian operas. Because he murdered a musician colleague, he fled to Hamburg. There he staged seventeen of his own operas between 1679 and 1686. From 1682 on he also directed musical performances in the Dom. A year after the closing down of the opera-house in 1686 Franck disappeared, leaving his wife and ten children behind. He was in London from 1690 to 1696 and it has been surmised that he in turn was murdered in Spain. Since Franck was no longer in Germany, the twenty-seven new songs of the collection of 1700 were composed by Peter Laurentius Wockenfuss and Georg Boehm. Wockenfuss, who had studied theology in Regensburg before coming to North Germany around 1700, composed only four of them. Thus Boehm composed the remaining twenty-three.
Boehm's co-operation on the publishing of the third collection of Elmenhorsts's sacred songs may shed some light on his stay in Hamburg. The proposition to compose these hymns may have come from Jauch - both Boehm and Jauch were living in Lüneburg in 1700 -, but then Boehm may have known Elmenhorsts in person, when he was still living in Hamburg, and have gotten the commission directly from him. Elmenhorsts defended opera against sharp attacks and collaborated over a number of years with Franck, whose main occupation was the composing and performing of operas in Italian style. Characteristics of Boehm's works also lead one to believe that he was in close contact with the opera, working under Johann Sigismund Kusser, who was at the Hamburg opera after Franck had left and who was oriented toward the French style.
The second variation on Herr Jesu Christ, Dich zu uns wend  shows a clear trace of this contact. It opens with a long sequential pattern in the left hand for which one finds a surprising parallel in the ritornello of the Devisenarie "Lieb und treu wird nimmer fehlen" from Kusser's opera "Erindo". Boehm uses the first phrase of the chorale as a Devise. The sequential pattern is used up to the end; the beginning of the second and the end of the final phrase have segmental extensions. Thus in this one variation both a direct influence of the Hamburg opera and some of Boehm's typical composition techniques can be discerned. This variation fits Christoph Raupach's third way of preludising on Freudenlieder (joyful chorales) as reported by Jacob Adlung : "wird cantus firmus (das ist die langsame Melodie selbst) mit der rechten auf einem Clavier gemacht, mit der linken aber auf dem andern Clavier eine Variation im Bass, 2 stimmig" (the cantus firmus (that is the melody itself in long notes) is played with the right hand on one manual, whereas the left hand plays a variation in the bass, two-part). The remaining variations will reveal quite a few of the other techniques of Boehm's treatment of the chorale melody. The most conspicuous characteristic of the first variation is the alternation of two and four part sections; some of the sections are to be played pedaliter, as is indicated in the manuscripts. This corresponds to Raupach's eighth way of preludising on joyful chorales : "spielt man wechselweise auf 2 Clavieren forte und piano, so dass auf etwas künstliches der simple Choral sich hören läss; wobey erst das Pedal darzu kommt, bis der ganze Vers durch ist" (one plays alternatim loud and soft on two manuals, so that the chorale melody is heard in an artful way, the pedal only entering at the end of the whole phrase). In the third variation the chorale melody is ornamented and segmentally extended, with a three-part accompaniments. It has a dance-like quality. The fourth variation is a duo in parallel thirds, sixths and tenths with a bass. The beginning of this variation is very similar to that of the first; the ornamented fourth phrase equals the parallel phrase of the third variation, but the ending harkens back to the first variation again : an original way of constructing musical cross-references within a series of variations. The fifth variation hides the chorale melody in an ornamentation of on-going quavers with a three-part accompaniment. The last variation is in accordance with Raupach's second proposal for joyful chorales "macht man kleine Fugen aus dem Anfange einer Melodie u.s.f." (one plays small fugues on the beginning of the chorale and so on). Curiously enough, but typical for Boehm, the last two phrases have to be repeated. Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend  already shows some of the breadth of Boehm's variation technique; the eight variations on Ach wie nichtig, ach wie flüchtig  give still other possibilities.
The sacred songs show a similar broad range of compositional ideas. It is interesting to see how far Boehm leaves the simple strophic form of the chorale, a repeated Stollen followed by an Abgesang, behind. Every song has its own formal surprises. Trostesvolle Gnaden  opens like a traditional chorale, but the fast second part comes as a surprise. Bringet meinen Herrn zur Ruh  has a beautifully soaring melody that repeats its first phrase at the end with only a small variation in the melody, a form that is closed like Christ's tomb the text speaks about. Small one and two-bar segments and brisk rhythms make Folget Jesu nach zum Grabe  sound like a song of glorious victory. The Devise is only small here, but in Was bringet Jesus aus dem Grabe?  the influence of the opera-aria is palpable in the use of a ritornello and Devise, the melismas and the modulation to the parallel minor key at the beginning of the second section. The simplicity of Oft denk' ich, wie ich durch die Welt Den Jammerlauf vollende  is only apparent, it expresses by simple means the idea of (spiritual) progress; the subdivision of the melodic movement of several syllables on the words "Ich fühle, was zurück mich hält" gives the melodic flow just enough friction to make the meaning of the words, "I sense what holds me back" clear even physically. The tonally meandering melody of Mein Freund ist mein, entflieht ihr Sorgen , would be appropriate in a Singspiel, a German opera. In the third phrase of Die Welt ist recht ein Totengrab  the melody of the second phrase is repeated without embellishments, but normal procedure would be to add them. Much more may be said; but it can also be discovered by attentive listening.
These few comments on some of Boehm's works might indicate that he deserves to be known for his own quality as a composer; his renown need not be based on the reputed teaching of a great composer.
Willem de Waal
Born in 1946 and attracted early in life by the organ, Jean-Charles Ablitzer was self-taught before enrolling in the Strasbourg Conservatory, where he studied under Pierre Vidal. In 1971 he won the post of organist at Saint-Christophe Cathedral of Belfort, home of the great Valtrin-Callinet organ restored by Kurt Schwenkedel of Strasbourg. The same year he was also named professor of organ at the Belfort Conservatory.
J.C. Ablitzer's extensive knowledge of baroque music and instruments conditions the rigorous discipline of his style, which reflects the principles described in learned treatises; his personal discoveries regarding registration, articulation and phrasing; and his research into antique organs (construction materials, keyboard and pedalboard configuration). Jean-Charles Ablitzer is an ardent chamber-music performer, and has participated in numerous baroque ensemble concerts and recordings.
The high quality of Ablitzer's recordings (Bach, Couperin) has received ample praise from the critics : "…Playing a superb Catalan instrument with the characteristic Iberian nasality, Ablitzer constructs a glittering monument resounding with vast incandescent figures. Phrasing, registration, and digital dexterity are stunning. No one since Chapuis has played Couperin this brilliantly…" (from a review by Jean-Luc Macia).
Ablitzer's two recordings of François Couperin Masses were ranked by the monthly review "Le Monde de la Musique" as among the ten best classical recordings of 1987.
"…Jean-Charles Ablitzer's abilities as a colourist enable him to etch the smallest details of a tormented work that eschews comfortable harmonies and banal equilibrium, and to confront its most lyrical effusions with aplomb. This "Complete Works" (Buxtehude) in progress is devilishly promising…" (from a review by Paul Meunier).
"…But never fear; the Belfort organist doesn't drag Brahms over the borderline into austere pedantry. He remembers the lesson this composer learned during his long stay in Vienna, the importance of smooth flow and sunny declamation : here is a recording flooded with just that Viennese spirit…" (from a review by Xavier Lacavalerie).
"…his fervour is enough to draw tears from a stone, but it is his exuberance and joy that fulfil the crucial role of restoring to Titelouze's music its original sharp brilliance and dazzling verve. The centuries fall away, the musical themes engage with each other like flashing swords of light…" (from a review by Paul Meunier).
"…dedicated to Georg Boehm, known for having influenced the great Bach, his works, it is now proven, deserve their own success. To the glowing chorales, Monique Zanetti lends her pureness and ecstatic innocence, while Jean-Charles Ablitzer offers glory and enlightenment.” (from a review by Paul Meunier).
"…he is well aware of the recent musicological evolutions, his application of which is extremely seductive… He is not the prisoner of any fashion in his choice of tempi, phrasing, or registration. On the contrary, he is constantly inspired, proposing innovative solutions with every page." (from a review by Francis Albou /J.S. Bach, Organ works in Goslar).
The Sankt Ludgeri Church Schnitger historical organ in Norden
Before the Arp Schnitger instrument was built, the Norden church possessed two organs, from which 8 stops still survive today. The more ancient of the two organs was built by organmaker Andreas de Mare of Groningen in 1566-1567. In the wake of a war, fifty years later, the organ had to be rebuilt, and this work was carried out from 1616-1618 by Edo Evers (Jever and Emden). The renovated organ had 18 stops on three keyboards, and a pedal coupler.
On 26 February 1686, a contract was drawn up with famed Hamburg organmaker Arp Schnitger, who planned a new 29-stop organ, using 10 stops and 4 swell boxes from the old instrument. In addition to the points listed in the contract. Schnitger also built a back choir organ with 6 new stops, which are noted on the receipt dated January 1688. In 1691-1692 he also added an 8-stop solo organ, coupled with the back choir organ keyboard. The finished organ was to contain a total of 46 stops, making it the most impressive instrument in western Friesland.
The way the organ was sited within the church is remarkable in itself, and represents a departure for Schnitger. In addition to the existing organ loft on the south side of the choir, which had held previous instruments, he installed a new one, slightly Lower-down, extending to the median axis of the choir and surrounding the pillar at the crux of the church. This means that the pedal-board chest points towards the transept. In thus reducing the pedal-board to a single chest, Schnitger was following the old North German custom of pointing the surface of the manuals diagonally towards the northern transept. This system ensures that the organ will be heard just as well in the nave and the transept as in the chancel.
The organ was maintained in this form for the next 150 years by various organmakers in western Friesland. However, by mid-19th century musical tastes had changed, and the old construction was modified. Between 1847 and 1917, 20 of the original registers were sacrificed to satisfy contemporary fashion. Other changes were made when the frontal pipes were requisitioned in 1917 for use in the war effort, and also during the restoration work done in 1929-1930, 1948, and 1957-1959. Damage was also caused as the wood dried out and cracked.
The instrument was finally completely restored by organmaker Jürgen Ahrend (Leer-Loga), working from 1981-1985. Jürgen went back to Arp Schnitger's original plans, repairing the original, damaged portions of the organ, rebuilding the bellows, the wind chests, the tremolo stops, a part of the mechanism, and the entire 25-stop console (including the frontal pipes). Jürgen used original documents from the archives and old photographs as references. He also studied other organs by Schnitger.
The organ is tuned in modified mesotonic temperament, in conformity with Schnitger's own practice and that current in his time, the 1688 receipt, and the frontal pipes of an organ in the area built between 1694-1699. This is a transitional form of mesotonic temperament that led eventually to equal temperament. The "wolf-fifth" is eliminated and the purity of the major thirds in the basic keys considerably enhances the beauty and clarity of the sound, thus highlighting the original characteristics of the organ.
The success of this restoration is due to the skilled hand of Jürgen Ahrend. His extensive experience in the restoration of historic organs made him the natural choice for executing the work. Thanks to him, the organ has not only recovered its smooth mechanical function, but also - because it has been rebuilt according to the original design - the vivacity, purity, colour, and projection of sound typical of the original instrument.
The Norden organ, which had already aroused keen interest among specialists interested in the revival of North German organ making that began 60 years ago, today attracts organists, students, organmakers and amateurs of organ music from all over the world. The tonal richness of this mighty Arp Schnitger organ, and the spatial projection of its five registers, added to the astonishing acoustics of the medieval church lined with Baroque and Renaissance wood carvings in which it stands, create an exceptionally harmonious whole. Here we find united all the conditions necessary for an ideal appreciation of 17th century North European music, and also - surprisingly - for that of other eras as well.
Text after Reinhard Ruge original
Chants spirituels sur des Textes de Heinrich Elmenhorsts
Trostesvolle Gnaden, / Weg, Leidensrott', Uns tröstet Gott.*
Bringet meinen Herrn zur Ruh, / Mein Jesus geht ins Totengrab, Daß er mich und ich ihn stets hab'.*
Folget Jesu nach zum Grabe, / Den letzten Dienst dem Heiland tu' Und siehe dem Begräbnis zu.*
Was bringet Jesus aus dem Grabe? / Du siegest, Jesu! doch nicht dir, die Beute kriegen wir.*
Oft denk' ich, wie ich durch die Welt Den Jammerlauf vollende, / Geduldig bleiben Kann Leid vertreiben.*
Mein Freund ist mein, entflieht ihr Sorgen, / Du rufest mich zu dir Und kommest her zu mir.*
Die Welt ist recht ein Totengrab, / Stirb ab der Welt, eh' als du stirbst, sieh' zu, daß du dir Ruh' erwirbst, Damit du nicht im Grab verdirbst.*
* Titres de l'Edition "Heinrich Elmenhorsts, Geistliche Lieder" Verlag von Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig 1911
Partita Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend.
Präludium und Fuge
in d moll/in D minor/en ré mineur
Choral Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her.
Choral Vater unser im Himmelreich.
Präludium, Fuge und Postludium
in G moll/in G minor/en sol mineur
Choral Christ lag in Todesbanden.
Partita Ach wie nichtig, ach wie flüchtig
Review"Un événement exceptionnel" de Télérama n°2327 :
Gloire et lumière
Pouvoir savourer une nouvelle production signée Harmonic Classics est toujours un moment "privilégié" , Avec cran et discernement, ce "petit éditeur" français joue la carte de la qualité pure et dure, face aux multinationales qui mêlent l'ivraie au bon grain. C'est cette passion presque artisanale du métier qui fait qu'un CD Harmonic ne ressemble à aucun autre. Entouré d'amour et d'exigence, ce travail se classe délibérément en marge de la grosse cavalerie habituelle. On ne va pas énumérer les succès d'un catalogue construit aussi magistralement, mais on devine bien que c'est par le choix des œuvres enregistrées, les lieux où elles le seront, les artistes et les instruments qui les "serviront" et, ensuite, par la richesse des textes d'accompagnement, le soin mis à élaborer une prise de son naturelle que naissent ces petits chefs-d'œuvre.
Ainsi celui, consacré à Georg Boehm (1661-1733), connu surtout pour avoir influencé le grand Bach mais dont l'œuvre, on nous le prouve, mérite de voler de ses propres ailes. Monique Zanetti prête sa pureté, son innocence extasiée aux enluminures de chorals à qui Jean-Charles Ablitzer offre gloire et lumière. A ne pas rater. - Paul Meunier
Technique : 5T.