Hyperion Records

Protestant Chorales
Chorale Variations and Improvisation Models from the hymn book of the Bohemian Brothers

'Eben: Organ Music, Vol. 4' (CDA67197)
Eben: Organ Music, Vol. 4
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No 01: K chvále Pána Boha svého
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No 02: Ó Svetlo, Trojice svatá
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No 03: Navštiv nás, Kriste zádoucí
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No 04: Otce všemohoucí
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No 05: Teš se z Krista Krále, dcerko Siónská
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No 06: Narodil se Kristus Pán
Track 10 on CDA67197 [1'41] Please, someone, buy me …
No 07: Pán Kristus, Syn Bozí vecný
Track 11 on CDA67197 [1'22] Please, someone, buy me …
No 08: Vstal z mrtvých Kristus Spasitel
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No 09: Ej, lidé vpravde kající
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No 10: Aj, jak jsou milí tvoji príbytkové
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No 11: Ó Pane Jezíši nejmilostivejší
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No 12: Probud’me se, krest’ané
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Protestant Chorales
The Protestant Chorales explore the art of improvisation – once expected from every musician, now all-but gone from the concert hall, thanks to increasing specialization by both composers and performers. Musical improvisation was once a required part of the training of every musician; this is no longer so. At least in one area, however, improvisation has survived and is still an important factor in both the training and concert practice of musicians for this instrument: the organ. The tradition of improvisation has survived in organ playing while being lost to almost all of the other forms of music performance with the exception of jazz. I think this is particularly regrettable, because improvisation belongs to the most delightful forms of musical diversion. Very little else can compare to the pleasure of sitting at an instrument, laying the music aside, and just carrying on a dialogue with the instrument.

There are, however, three fundamental prerequisites for improvisation, one of which the musician must be born with: harmonic conception. Musicians who don’t have this capability have to resort to theoretical knowledge of harmony to improvise melodies and modulations. The result is usually sluggish improvisation that is too complicated and intellectual. Both of the other prerequisites can be learned. One is technical agility in playing the instrument, and the other is spontaneity of thought processes in relation to the knowledge and mastery of the instrument, the rules of thematic development, the formal construction, the various styles etc., making it possible rapidly to coordinate all of these elements.

The organ is an instrument particularly suited to improvisation, since the player not only has a number of keys available under his hands and feet but also a variety of colours; and the opportunity for the pedal to be able to play an additional melodic line gives scope to enrich the musical expression further.

The Protestant Church of the Bohemian Brothers contacted me in the years after 1960. At that time a new, extensive edition of the protestant hymn book with several hundred chorales was being prepared. Naturally, many of the chorales from earlier editions, which were written exclusively in four-part harmony, were used. Since these were arrangements dating from earlier centuries, the Bohemian Brothers wanted to make a point of including several chorales with newer, more modern accompaniment in the new edition. I was requested to set a series of chorales in a modern but not too dissonant style.

Every chorale is also accompanied by a short improvisation model to demonstrate the technique. These are, of course, not concert improvisations but rather short preludes and interludes for the chorales. When I quote melodies in a concert improvisation, I don’t merely use the melodic material but also employ my own themes. In these chorales, I concentrate exclusively on the themes of the particular piece and always finish in its key so that another verse can be sung.

from notes by Petr Eben © 2005
English: Roland Smithers

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