Organ Recital February 2018

Friday February 2nd 2018 at 12. 30 pm

Organ Recital by Christopher Rathbone


O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig; Christe, du Lamm Gottes BWV 618 - 9
from the Orgelbüchlein (c. 1714)

Partite diverse sopra Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig BWV 768 (c.1709)
(Chorale, 6 variations for manuals only, 5 variations for manuals and pedals)

Passacaglia and fugue in C minor BWV 582

Johann Sebastian BACH 1685 – 1750

Programme notes

The 46 chorales in the Orgelbüchlein (Little organ book) exist in a manuscript which provides space for 182 short ‘preludes’. A project is ongoing to commission new settings of the ones Bach failed to complete! These two are based on chorales for Passiontide, both derived from thr Agnus Dei ‘O Lamb of God, most stainless’ dates from 1598, and ‘Christ thou Lamb of God’ from 1557. Both have tune in canon at the 12th and 5th respectively. It is thought that some of these preludes were written in gaol, when the Duke at Weimar threw him in prison for wanting to leave, to go to Cöthen, in 1717.

All the variation sets, or Chorale Partitas, were written at Weimar. ‘Sei gegrüsset’ was probably the last, and certainly the greatest. (I leave out of contention the late Canonic Variations on ‘Von Himmel hoch’.) The variations are laid out with the chorale and first 6 variations for the hands alone. The first is a long 2-part variation with an embellished melody over an ostinato bass; variation 5 has a hyper-active bass below a 3-part right hand texture.The last 5 are more complex variations with pedal, including a fine trio with the chorale in the pedal (no 9), and a long meditative variation for two alternating solo combinations over a two-part left hand stave and a fully developed pedal bass. The final variation is a straightforward, grand five part harmonisation of the chorale for full organ.

The Passacaglia is unique in Bach’s output, though comparable with the famous chaconne in the D minor violin partita in scope and scale. The Passacaglia proper is followed without a break by a grand double fugue, of which one subject is the same theme as the Passacaglia ground bass theme. The whole is one of Bach’s longest and most sophisticated organ pieces. The theme is 8 bars long, and the first 4 bars are identical to the ground bass of the Passacaille from the First Organ Book by André Raison (1645 – 1719). Pachelbel and Buxtehude among others wrote fine Passacaglias and Chaconnes for organ, but none have anything like the scale and sophisticated grandeur of Bach’s great masterpiece. No-one has volunteered a guess at the date, but it is clearly the product of Bach’s maturity.

Christopher Rathbone is the resident organist and choirmaster here at St Margaret’s. In 2002 – 3 he planned and performed a series of the complete organ music of J.S.Bach at Meanwood Parish Church in 36 weekly half hour recitals. Since starting the present series of monthly recitals at St Margaret’s in 2010 he has programmed an annual all-Bach recital, and has includeded all the trio sonatas and a multitude of other works by Bach, 68 so far. Christopher will also give the recital on Friday March 2nd, which comprises four pieces from Howells’s set of Six Pieces (1940), and the first two movements of the Missa de Gloria by Kenneth Leighton (1980)

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