Hyperion Records

Sonata on the 94th Psalm

'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 7' (CDA66917)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 7
Movement 1: Grave – Larghetto – Allegro con fuoco
Track 6 on CDA66917 [11'41] Archive Service
Movement 2: Adagio
Track 7 on CDA66917 [6'16] Archive Service
Movement 3: Fugue: Allegro
Track 8 on CDA66917 [6'49] Archive Service

Sonata on the 94th Psalm
Julius Reubke’s Sonata on the 94th Psalm is one the cornerstones of the concert organist’s repertoire and a work of extraordinary maturity and accomplishment for a young man of twenty-three. Along with his equally astonishing Piano Sonata in B flat minor, this work shows a technique of remarkable assurance springing to life fully formed. Born in 1834, the son of a noted organ builder, he studied at the Berlin Conservatory where he came under the influence of Hans von Bülow. After a brief spell of teaching he went to Weimar in 1856 and became one of Liszt’s favourite pupils. Here he produced the two sonatas in a burst of white-hot creativity and also, interestingly, contemplated writing an opera. Reubke gave the first performance of the Sonata in Merseburg Cathedral in June 1857 before his failing health forced him to move to Pillnitz near Dresden, where he died one year later.

Clearly modelled on Liszt’s Fantasia and Fugue on ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam’, Reubke’s score is prefaced by some verses from Psalm 94 (printed below). These are not meant to be taken as a literal programme, but rather to provide the emotional colouring of each of the three major sections. Beginning in no discernible key, a theme is given out in the pedals which is full of possibilities for dramatic development and immediately repeated a semitone lower. Rhythmic aspects of this theme are then explored as the music gropes towards, but never conclusively establishes, C minor as the home key. The Larghetto introduces a new theme and signals a gradual increase of pace and harmonic tension out of which the Allegro con fuoco erupts with what could be considered a sonata-form first subject derived from the dotted figure of the initial theme. The same idea, played at half speed and surrounded by swirling arpeggios, provides a second subject which is developed in alternation with the first until the music reaches a powerful climax. The gravely expressive Adagio flows seamlessly from what has gone before and adds another, more consoling, theme to the earlier material. In a final transformation the initial theme becomes the subject of the freely constructed Fugue which follows its course through to the terrifying and vengeful climax.

Grave, Larghetto: O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth, shew thyself. Lift up thyself, thou judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud.

Allegro con fuoco: Lord, how long shall the wicked triumph? They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless. Yet they say: The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.

Adagio: Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul had almost dwelt in silence. In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.

Allegro: But the Lord is my defence; and my God is the rock of my refuge. And he shall bring upon them their own iniquity, and shall cut them off in their own wickedness.

from notes by Stephen Westrop © 1997

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