November Organ Recital

Friday November 7th 2014 at 12.30 pm

Organ Recital by Christopher Rathbone

Music by Johann Sebastian Bach 1685 – 1750


Trio Sonata no 6 in G major BWV 530

Vivace Lento Allegro

From the ‘Leipzig 18’ chorales:

O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig BWV 656

Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, der von uns BWV 666

Prelude and fugue in G major BWV 550

Programme Notes

The six Trio Sonatas were undoubtedly written for Bach’s two young sons, Wilhelm Friedemann, born in 1710 and Carl Phillip Emmanuel, born in 1714, as challenging exercises in keyboard skills (probably originally on a pedal harpsichord, as you had to pay organ blowers if you needed to practise the organ). They test an organist’s independent control of three melodic parts at once, one on each of two manuals and one on the pedals. The style is very much that of a chamber trio, normally played on two violins, a cello and a (continuo) harpsichord. The sixth sonata is perhaps the most bright and cheerful of the set.

The Eighteen Great Chorale Preludes were very late revisions of pieces largely composed in the Weimar years, as one of Sebastian Bach’s ‘legacy’ projects. (The Musical Offering and the ‘Art of Fugue’ are other examples, and even the B minor mass.) These two preludes are among the least well-known. ‘O Lamm Gottes’ (Lamb of God) sets a metrical version of the Agnus Dei (the hymn is a translation by Nikolaus Decius (1542) set to an adaptation of the ancient melody.) The three verses give us almost a set of variations, with the music reflecting the three ‘suffrages’ of the Agnus Dei. The pedal only enters for the third verse, sounding the cantus firmus of the hymn tune. There is a coda (Dona nobis pacem) to round off a substantial work. ‘Jesus Christus’ is much more compact; here there is only one note for the pedals! The hymn is one of Luther’s own (1524), ‘Jesus Christ our Redeemer born’, a Eucharistic hymn. Bach was fond of the tune, thought to be Luther’s own, using it twice in the ‘18’ and twice in the ‘Clavierübung’ chorales.

The early G major prelude and fugue is notorious for the very tricky fugue. The prelude is pretty conventional, including an extended pedal solo, and giving way to a short linking passage of more expressive music, marked Grave, before the fugue. The fugue subject is quite tricky to play on its own, and becomes more and more intractable as the fugue proceeds through its tortuous 148 bars!

Christopher Rathbone was appointed Director of Music at St Margaret’s in 2009, and was previously Organist of St Peter’s Bexhill, Director of Music at Holy Trinity Meanwood in Leeds, Organist of Marlborough College in Wiltshire (for 23 years) and assistant Organist at Carlisle Cathedral. At Meanwood between 2000 and 2006 he gave weekly ½ hour recitals, including the complete organ works of Liszt, Howells, Whitlock, Franck, Leighton and others, culminating in a 36 week project to perform all the organ music of J.S.Bach. Learning the G major fugue was the hardest assignment of the series!

Thank you for your support of these monthly ‘First Friday’ recitals. Your generosity has raised hundreds of pounds for the St Margaret’s Music Fund, but we would appreciate your further generosity, especially in a Gift Aid envelope!

I would like to express my gratitude to our guest organists this year, Edward Scott (and his grand-daughter Jessica) in June, Gabrielle Lewis in September, and our own Anthony Gray in October. The next recital will be on Friday December 5th at 12.30: I’m sure there will be an Advent flavour to the music.