Two Masterpieces From Altenburg


The Bach Hour this week features two performances that highlight the full range of color and power of an organ in Altenburg, Germany.  Built in 1739 by Heinrich Gottfried Trost for the Schloßkirche, or Castle Church, you can hear it in Gerhard Weinberger's performance of Bach's Passacaglia in C minor, BWV 582.

To hear the program, click on "Listen" above.

Also on the program is the Cantata No. 146, "Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal in das Reich Gottes eingehen," in a performance from conductor John Eliot Gardiner's Bach Cantata Pilgrimmage of 2000.  The soloists in that performance include Brigitte Geller, soprano, William Towers, alto, Mark Padmore, tenor, Julian Clarkson, bass.  They're joined by the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, with organist Silas John Standage.  Visit Emmanuel Music for a translation.

When Trost completed the organ, Bach was invited to give one the first performances on it, and an account from several years later gives us an idea of what impact that event had (from Christoph Wolff's Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician):

For an organist, to yield to the singing congregation is better than to have it his way.  Only a few are able to direct the congregation as old Bach could do, who, on the great organ at Altenburg, played the Credo hymn ["Wir glauben all an einem Gott"] in D minor, but for the second stanza lifted the congregation to E-flat minor, and for the third one even up to E minor.  That, however, only a Bach and an organ in Altenburg could make happen.  This, all of us, are not, and have not.

Of course, magnificent though they may look and sound, 18th century organs aren't necessarily easy to work with, as Silas John Standage writes about his performance with Gardiner in the program notes for that recording:

It was a real thrill to play this wonderful instrument, but certainly not without problems ... [J]ust before the performance began it started to cipher - sounding the note 'F' without any key being pressed down.  The local organist was in the audience and he quickly set about trying to sort out the problem, but to no avail.  Luckily the cipher did not affect the solo stops I had chosen, so after some moments of panic and confusion (during which John Eliot accidentally got locked into the organ loft) the performance went ahead.  But it was an adrenaline-packed evening that I am not likely to forget.

(photos of Altenburg Castle Church and the Trost organ via ecv5 at Flickr under Creative Commons)


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