Thursday, May 31, 2012

Albert Schweitzer – Bach Organ Music

Writing or speaking about Johann Sebastian Bach is never just a particular problem of identifying the ideas and meanings in work of one individual baroque composer, even considering he was the genius one. Understanding he was someone who is far beyond the other, we have to place his music and whole figure in many socio-cultural, religious and musical contexts. This is always a controversial question why Bach’s ideas take the center position in most important areas of music determining almost every dilemma of various styles after him. A great part of Bach’s music is his output for organ. The quantity and qualities of these works makes it possible to be regarded as a reference for many other compositions.
Bach was primarily an organist, trained in traditional way as a versatile musician, a virtuoso performer, efficient composer aware of the rules and consciously shaping his own style, organ master maintaining instrument and choirmaster training voices and teaching music. The core competencies of organist and cantor included the awareness of theological knowledge allowing interpreting the biblical text and prayers. The rich repertoire of hymns, familiar to every believer, was a source of themes used in numerous choral preludes and fantasies. Thus almost every work he composed for organ, was more or less embedded in religious context. And there were no mistake the best Bach’s interpreter was Albert Schweitzer, organist combining high skills in musicology with philosophical knowledge and theological competences.

Albert Schweitzer – Bach Organ Music (1955)

In Albert Schweitzer’s intellectual biography Bach meant far more than any other composer and Schweitzer is the one who probably did for Bach’s heritage more than any other author. He was raised in village of Gunsbach in Alsace, where his father was protestant pastor. The church in Gunsbach was shared in compromise by Protestant and Catholic communities since the thirty years war. And in this atmosphere of religious tolerance and a kind of Christian unity father teach him organ music, basics of religion and humanism. In 1899 he played for Charles-Marie Widor in Paris, who was impressed with his mature interpretations of Bach’s works and encouraged him to write his magnum opus J. S. Bach. Le Musicien-Poète (Leipzig 1905). For German edition he prepared an expanded version with shorter title and in two volumes J. S. Bach (Leipzig 1908). As in was said in preface by C. M. Widor, Schweitzer’s way of understanding Bach can help understand music as a whole. This recommendation has nothing to with courtesy compliment and soon the book became the basic interpretation for Bach studies in 20th century.
Albert Schweitzer recorded only organ works. For Columbia and Phillips labels he recorded Johann Sebastian Bach and César Franck’s music. In thirties he recorded in London on organs of old Queen's Hall and in the church All Hallows-by-the-Tower and then on Johann Andreas Silbermann organ in the church Ste Aurélie in Strasbourg. Late recordings were made on the instrument he was learning as a child in Gunsbach parish church. In mid-fifties Columbia Masterworks label published series of Schweitzer’s performances in boxed set and as separate volumes. Volume V includes four works: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (Dorian) BWV 538, Prelude and Fugue in A Major BWV 536, Prelude and Fugue in F Minor BWV 534 and Prelude and Fugue in B Minor BWV 544. Once again great philosopher shows there is no such thing as area of pure instrumental Bach’s music. Timing is perfectly concordant with the style. And style came from protestant songs. This music is vocal as it always was. Cover art is interesting piece of art. It was designed by Ben Shahn (1898-1969), painter born in Kaunas Lithuania and educated in New York University, who was highly valued artist in USA, widely known for his social realism as well as left-wing political views. His graphic printed on covers of Schweitzer’s recordings series shows organist as a mighty person with angel wings, playing organ and glancing at the sky. It’s perfectly aphoristic frame for Albert Schweitzer’s intellectual and artistic approach.

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