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Geistliches Lied

Geistliches Lied cover picture

German Choral and Organ Music in the Romantic Tradition

Director: Andrew Lucas
Organ: Simon Johnson
Geistliches lied Op. 30 Johannes Brahms

Ach, arme welt Op. 110 No. 2 Johannes Brahms

O welt, ich muß dich lassen ORGAN Johannes Brahms

Abendlied Op. 69 No. 3 Josef Rheinberger

Cantus Missae (Mass in E flat) Op. 109 Josef Rheinberger
Agnus Dei

Benedictus ORGAN Max Reger

Ave Maria Op. 23 No. 2 Felix Mendelssohn

Verlieh uns frieden Felix Mendelssohn

Os justi Anton Bruckner

Locus iste Anton Bruckner

Total playing time 64m 36s

Geistliches Lied

St Albans Cathedral Choir

Geistliches Lied - German Choral and Organ Music in the Romantic Tradition

The nineteenth century has become synonymous with Romanticism in music – a term that is difficult to define – music that perhaps evokes a more emotional response than that of, say, the Classical period. But that is an attempt at a definition that is too facile. An all embracing idea of the nature of Romanticism is more elusive – the celebrated musicologist Alfred Einstein felt that we would search for it in vain. There is a great body of choral music written in the nineteenth century for large and small choirs, for concert use on the largest scale (with orchestra) and smaller scale liturgical use.

In the middle of the century there was a move within the Catholic Church for musical reform, called the Cecilian movement after music’s patron saint and stimulated by a reaction to the extremes of the secular and operatic influences on church music of that period. Yet it was also stimulated by a romantic interest in music of the more distant past – for example, the a capella style of the sixteenth century and also of Gregorian chant. Several were invigorated by a renewed interest in the music of J. S. Bach and Handel – Mendelssohn being the most obvious successor of that tradition – but also Brahms and Bruckner and lesser known composers such as Rheinberger. Later, to some extent, Reger carried on this tradition, although he fused it with a strong influence of Wagner in denser textures and harmonic development. It is significant that of all the major composers in Europe the two composers from this period who understood best how to write both effective and idiomatic choral music, Brahms and Mendelssohn, were both German.

The music by five German composers in this recording is all undoubtedly from the Romantic era. It is music that is hauntingly beautiful, with great sweeps of melodic invention and strong contrasts of mood. Yet these composers also have something else in common. With the music of Wagner came a great turning point for musical composition, which opened the way to the freer use of harmony and tonality that characterises modern music in the twentieth century. Brahms in particular led the strongest resistance to the more extreme tendencies of musical Romanticism in general, as epitomised by Wagner’s music. All the music on this disc shows the more classical side of the late Romantic movement.

Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg on 7 May 1833, settled in permanently in Vienna by 1868 and died there on 3 April 1897. His greatest vocal work is Ein Deutches Requiem (A German requiem) (1868), a work central to his career and a deeply felt statement of faith. Whether or not he was a believer, Brahms embraced the Christian ethic – his background was North German Lutheran Protestant – and he admired the literature and poetry of the Bible, which imbues his choral music with consolation and hope. He was also one of the most conscientious and painstaking composers. Through his diligent study and appreciation of Renaissance and Baroque music the motets show his practical experience with polyphonic techniques.

Joseph (Gabriel) Rheinberger was born on 17 March 1839 in Vaduz in the Principality of Liechtenstein, the son of the Prince of Liechtenstein’s treasurer. He displayed precocious talent as a child and was able to take an organist’s post at the age of 7. In 1851, he moved to Munich to study, lived there until his death on 25 November 1901. He was a renowned organist, teacher of piano and theory, and conductor of the Munich Choral Society, and held the appointments of professor at the conservatory from 1867, and Hofkapellmeister from 1877, a post once held by Lassus. His best and most enduring music is thought to be his twenty organ sonatas, and his sacred works composed after 1877, though he also composed symphonies, concertos, operas and much chamber music. His lasting inheritance is as a renowned composition teacher, numbering Humperdinck and Furtwängler among his pupils. He came under the influence of Wagner, even getting involved in the preparations for Tristan und Isolde in 1865 (with Hans von Bülow, who thought very highly of him). Rheinberger’s mastery of traditional polyphony and love of the classical form in music eventually caused him to turn away from these modern ideas and influences. He allied himself to the more conservative Brahms camp and even explored the music of the more distant past by Lassus and the Venetian School. There are eighteen mass settings by Rheinberger composed for a variety of vocal forces, some accompanied.

Max (Johann Baptist Joseph Maximilian) Reger was born in Brand, Upper Palatinate, on 19 March 1873. His family moved to Weiden, Germany in 1874. After periods of study with the great organ teacher Hugo Reimann in Sonderhausen and Wiesbaden, he settled again in Weiden in 1896, and began composing. In 1901 he moved to Munich and then in 1907 he was appointed music director at the University of Leipzig. From 1911 to 1915 he was the Hofkappellmeister in Meiningen and in 1915 moved to Jena. He died in Leipzig on 11 May 1916.

Reger was the first German composer since J. S. Bach to devote so much of his compositional output to the organ. During a composing life of little more than 20 years, he produced a large output in all genres, nearly always in abstract forms. He believed strongly in absolute music, an ideal shared by Bach.

Many of Reger’s organ pieces are incredibly virtuosic and explore the symphonic expressiveness and colours of the nineteenth century Romantic organ. Musically he pursued intensively Brahms’s continuous development and free modulation, and used baroque contrapuntal techniques to their logical limit. Many of his works are in variation and fugue forms; equally characteristic is a sense of great energy with well controlled complexity of thematic growth.

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy was born on 3 February 1809 in Hamburg. In the first generation of romantic composers, Mendelssohn has sometimes been called the ‘classical romantic’ being the more conservative than others of his age, he was influenced more by the classicism of Mozart than the impassioned Romanticism of Beethoven. When Mendelssohn died on 4 November 1847 in Leipzig, Germany at 38, it was not from a typically Romantic illness like some of his great contemporaries, but rather from overwork and a subsequent stroke .

Felix was the second child of a conservative but wealthy Jewish family of bankers. After their move to Berlin the family was anxious to assimilate into German society and converted to Christianity in the Protestant church, as many others also did, adding Bartholdy to the family name. Some have suggested that the innate carefulness such a German family in their position must have felt explains Mendelssohn’s mannered conservatism.

Like all fashionable things, Mendelssohn’s music enjoyed great popularity and success in the nineteenth century, but in the twentieth a new asceticism in musical taste failed to appreciate its essential tunefulness and elegance, much of which was thought sentimental. The Nazis prohibited performances of it and, post World War II, the rejection in Germany of romantic music in favour of a rather one-sided acceptance of baroque music hindered the renaissance of this composer for many years. His great oratorios Elijah and St Paul have remained staples in the repertoire, but the remaining sacred choral music by Mendelssohn was for the most part forgotten, with the exception in England of Hear my prayer (even that was down to the glorification of boy-treble soloists rather than the music itself). If some of his music seems sentimental, it is certainly sentiment in the loftiest sense of the word. As well as the motet Hear my prayer (1844) his choral music includes nine Psalm settings.

(Joseph) Anton Bruckner (born in Ansfelden, 4 September 1824 and died in Vienna, 11 October 1896) was the son of a village schoolmaster and organist, who was also his first teacher. After his father’s death in 1837, he entered St Florian’s monastery where he studied organ, violin, and theory. He too became a schoolmaster-organist eventually becoming organist at St Florian’s in 1851. It was during these years that he wrote masses, and other sacred works. In 1855 he undertook a counterpoint course in Vienna with the leading theorist, Simon Sechter, and in the same year he was appointed organist at Linz Cathedral. After Sechter’s death in 1868, Bruckner was offered the post of theory teacher at the Vienna Conservatory. In the following years, he travelled to Paris and London as an organ virtuoso. His fame was at first that of a devoted church musician and highly successful international organist. This was, however, but a passing phase. He continued his studies until he was nearly forty; the turning point in his musical career was coming in contact with Wagner’s music. He then went to Vienna and devoted himself more and more to composition, becoming a somewhat enigmatic figure.

Today he is best known as a symphonist (though his nine symphonies were largely poorly received in his lifetime) but his earlier motets and the Mass in E minor for voices and wind instruments are widely performed. The motets can be seen as Bruckner’s response to the Cecilian movement’s interest in purifying the music composed for church use. He displays his devotion to working with dedication, great craftsmanship and utter sincerity to the glory of God as much in these small motets as in the great symphonies.

Andrew Lucas
St Albans 2005

St Albans Cathedral Choir

The history of St Albans Cathedral Choir only stretches back 120 years, although the Benedictine monastery of St Albans Abbey had a distinguished musical history stretching back before 1539 when the Abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII. In those days the boys were press-ganged from all over the country; today they are all local schoolboys who are committed to sing services and attend rehearsal every day of the week, except one, during term time.

Unlike many ancient cathedrals there is no residential choir school - the rehearsals and services are fitted in around a normal school week. The day begins at 7.40 am and ends after evensong at 5.45 pm on three weekdays. Friday nights are taken up with two hours of rehearsal and the services on Saturday and Sunday (usually three but sometimes four in all) take up a major proportion of the weekend.

The dedication of the boys and their parents is tremendous and the high standard of the choir and its international reputation has been hard won. The boys themselves receive in return an unparalleled free musical education and team spirit. For the weekends, greater Feast days, concerts and tours the 24 boys are joined by the 12 Lay Clerks to make up the full Cathedral Choir. The Lay Clerks are a dedicated and highly skilled group of musicians who nevertheless, in the main, earn their living outside the music profession. The choir has made several recordings and six tours of the USA in the last ten years. Previous Masters of the Music of the Cathedral include Meredith Davies, Peter Hurford, Stephen Darlington (now at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford) Colin Walsh (Lincoln Cathedral) and Barry Rose.

Under their current director, Andrew Lucas, the choir sings a very wide repertoire including two recent first performances from the composer, Joseph Phibbs. They have toured Sweden and Italy, performed in music festivals in The Netherlands (Haarlem) and France (Angers) and made recordings of Christmas Music and music by Stanford. The choir plays host to two other Cathedral Choirs in the St Albans International Organ Festival in the Festival’s Three Choirs Concert.

Andrew Lucas

Andrew Lucas has been Master of Music of the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St. Alban in Hertfordshire since the beginning of 1998, after eight years as the Sub-Organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral. He is the conductor of the St. Albans Bach Choir and Artistic Director of the St. Albans International Organ Festival.

Andrew was born in Wellington, Shropshire in 1958, was chorister in his local parish church and went to school in Shrewsbury. In 1976 he moved to London to study organ at the Royal College of Music with John Birch and composition with Herbert Howells. He graduated with a London University BMus and continued his organ studies after college with Peter Hurford, and then on the W T Best Scholarship from the Worshipful Company of Musicians with Piet Kee at the Sweelinck Conservatoire, Amsterdam.

Andrew has been Director of Music of two London churches whilst also organ student at St Paul's Cathedral from 1981, later becoming Assistant Sub-Organist there in1985. In1990 he was appointed to the post of Sub-Organist and Assistant Director of Music. As a solo organist he plays concerts throughout the UK and has given recitals in Norway, Sweden, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, Bermuda and the USA. In 1997 he spent three months as Acting Organist and Master of the Choristers at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney, Australia.

As a conductor he acts principally as Music Director of St Albans Bach Choir, a 200-strong chorus which tackles the major choral repertoire from Bach to the present day to large audiences and excellent reviews. They perform in St Albans Abbey with top soloists and major London orchestras including the City of London Sinfonia, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, The Philharmonia and the London Mozart Players. For 2005 they have commissioned a new 15 minute work from Joseph Phibbs for choir and orchestra.

Simon Johnson

Simon Johnson was born in Peterborough in 1975. He returned there as chorister and subsequently Head Chorister of the Cathedral from 1986-89. He was awarded a music scholarship to Bloxham School, before going on to hold organ scholarships at Rochester, Norwich, and St Paul's Cathedrals.

At Norwich Simon enjoyed three periods as Acting Assistant Organist at the Cathedral, during which time he took part of the premieres of works by John Tavener, Philip Wilby and Diana Burrell. His work accompanying both the Girls' Choir and the Cathedral Choir is reflected in two CD recordings, and he has played for both choirs on BBC Radio 2, 3, and 4. In addition to his responsibilities at the Cathedral Simon also gained a first class degree from the University of East Anglia, and founded the University Chamber Choir - a twenty-strong ensemble specialising in the performance of contemporary music.

Following a year working as Organ Scholar with John Scott at St. Paul's Cathedral, Simon moved to All Saints' Northampton. His work there involved running the choir of men and boys, and also the separate girls' choir. He made two CD recordings with the choirs on the Lammas label.

Simon became Assistant Master of the Music and Director of the Abbey Girls’ Choir at St Albans Cathedral in September 2001 where he principally plays the organ for services. Under his direction the Abbey Girls Choir has flourished – they undertook their first international tour, to the east coast of the USA and have recorded for Lammas records.

He is an active organ recitalist, engagements including St Paul's, Westminster, Norwich and Ghent Cathedrals, and Westminster Abbey, and specialises in improvisation. He made his first recording of improvisations for Passiontide, called Purple, on the Lammas label at St Albans.

St Albans Cathedral Organ

Harrison and Harrison 1962
designed in consultation with Peter Hurford and Ralph Downes

The organ is housed in the J.O.Scott cases of 1907 and a new Choir Organ case by Cecil Brown (1962). Several ranks from the old organ were re-used in this otherwise new instrument. This involved completely revoicing flue pipes with new languids and mouths to speak as newly made ranks, using open foot voicing techniques and little, if any, nicking of the languids. Most of the reeds have old resonators fitted with new open, parallel shallots with domed ends in the French classical manner, thin tongues and voiced without weights or loads in the bass.

Recorded in the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban on 1st and 2nd May and 16th and 17th October 2003 by kind permission of the Dean and Chapter

Produced by Simon Johnson and Michael Bowden
Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews