The Symphonic Fantasy and Fugue, Op 57, written in 1901, in some ways represents a central marker in Reger’s organ music. Although he wrote two works that are slightly longer (Opp 73 and 127), never again would he write organ music of such textural density and harmonic instability. The piece is based on Dante’s Inferno
, and it shares the key of D with Liszt’s piano sonata on the same subject. As part of a bold opening gesture, Reger creates an arresting dissonance for his first chord. The Fantasia is basically in ternary form—after a soft central section the opening material reappears, further thickened, two-thirds of the way through—but most listeners will apprehend it as a swirling panorama worthy of Hieronymus Bosch, sometimes lyrical (indeed the first soft music we hear becomes motivically significant) and sometimes of almost frightening grandeur. The Fugue has a lighter aspect, although the highly chromatic subject ensures that a somewhat febrile atmosphere remains as the piece progresses. Halfway through, a slower theme, built on a descending chromatic scale, is presented; and (as in BACH) this eventually combines with the main subject, towards a conclusion of granitic power.
from notes by David Goode © 2016