With the death of Sigfrid Karg-Elert (1877–1933) a great chapter in the history of German organ music seems to come to a close, one that began with Buxtehude and the other north German masters who inspired Bach; for although he leant somewhat in the direction of Impressionism, and had a thoroughly Romantic obsession with colour, Karg-Elert’s Choral-Improvisationen
, Op 65, testify to a profound interest in the great traditions of German organ-writing, an interest which such late works as the Passacaglia and Fugue on B.A.C.H.
, Op 150, and the Partita retrospettiva
, Op 151, further underline. The first of these works has roots, ultimately, in such things as the ostinato movements of Buxtehude, but it belongs also to a grand sequence of Bach homages whose other distinguished members include Schumann’s Six Fugues on B.A.C.H.
, Op 60, Liszt’s Prelude and Fugue on B.A.C.H.
, and Reger’s Fantasia and Fugue on B.A.C.H.
, Op 46; and it may well have been the last of these that caused Karg-Elert to fashion a Bach homage of his own, for Reger was his predecessor at the Leipzig Conservatoire. Written in 1931 and first performed at St John’s, Leipzig, Karg-Elert’s great homage opens with two massive harmonizations of B.A.C.H. which seem like gigantic portals before the colourful and sometimes strangely lit world of the passacaglia proper, in which the listener is led through a beguiling sequence of organ textures and colours. After such extraordinary luxuriance, the opening bars of the sturdy fugue strike a sober, disciplined note, and one is reminded that Karg-Elert’s procedures here are not so very different from those of Buxtehude in his fugues. Indeed, the flamboyant ending seems very much like a twentieth-century echo of the high spirits one encounters in Buxtehude. Karg-Elert’s Passacaglia and Fugue on B.A.C.H.
, like Vierne’s Carillon de Westminster
, is dedicated to the organ-builder Henry Willis III, and perhaps it too was inspired by the organ at Westminster.
from notes by Relf Clark © 2008