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FL 2 3005

Bach, Walther: Concertos transcribed for the keyboard

Performers
Release date August 14, 1995
Album code FL 2 3005
Periods Baroque

Album information

Keyboard transcriptions of Italian or Italian-style concertos were a genre peculiar to eighteenth century Germany, constituting a corpus of approximately one hundred and fifty works for organ and harpsichord. Johann Sebastian Bach and Johann Gottfried Walther were the two most illustrious representatives of the genre, both for the quantity of concertos they transcribed (22 and 78 respectively) and for the exceptional musical results they achieved.

The transcriptions of J.S. Bach were made between July 8, 1713 and July 4, 1714, when the composer was aged between 28 and 29 and residing at the court of Wilhelm Ernst, Duke of Weimar. Sixteen of these transcriptions were destined for harpsichord, among which the concertos BWV 974 and 972; the remaining six were written for the organ, including Concertos BWV 593 and 592 heard on the present recording.

Of the original concertos, five remain unknown while the others were composed by Antonio Vivaldi (exactly half the number), the brothers Alessandro and Benedetto Marcello, and by German composers writing in the Italian style: Georg Philipp Telemann (one concerto) and Johann Ernst, Prince of Saxony-Weimar (five concertos including the one on which BWV 974, recorded here, is based). Prince Johann, who died at the age of 19, was one of Bach’s composition student’s.

The master’s transcriptions could more properly be called arrangements of the student’s works. J.G. Walther’s output in the genre spans twenty or thirty years, beginning at the same time as Bach’s, while Walther was also residing in Weimar. Most of the originals he used are unknown, although he identifies some composers in his titles, including the occasional false attribution. Thus, the Concerto “del Signor Meck,” LV 133, is actually after an original work by Vivaldi, the Concerto in E minor, RV 475, for three violins, viola and continuo (see the edition by Klaus Beckman, Breitkopf Haertel, Wiesbaden, 1975). As for the Concerto “del Signor Manzia,” LV 132, its origin remains unknown. Its editor, Heinz Lohmann, suggests that a possible source may be the works of Francesco Mancini (1672-1737), nothing having been traced among the works of Luigi Mancia (dates unknown). The theory that Bach and Walther began their transcriptions as an exercise, drawing their sources from the Duke’s library (Wilhelm was an avid collector of musical scores and a passionate lover of music) is now disputed.

It is more likely that Duke Wilhelm commissioned the works himself. J.G. Walther and J.S. Bach were first cousins once removed through their mothers whose name was Lämmerhirt, inheriting from this branch their shared disposition for philosophy and mysticism. Walther’s transcriptions which have come down to us in autograph form demonstrate manual dexterity superior to that of his contemporaries, Bach excepted. Like the Crown Duke, Walther was a passionate collector of contemporary scores, which offers some explanation of his large output of transcriptions. He played a significant part in music history as the editor of the first dictionary of music. About the performance The idea of using an Italian organ to render a repertoire conceived for a German instrument falls within the concept of “adaptation,” which forms the background for the present recording.

One of the main interpretive criteria is the judicious and historically correct choice of an instrument to fit the repertoire. Indeed, the intrinsic warmth of the Italian organ lends itself perfectly to the Italianate works presented here. In addition, some of the concertos transcribed for harpsichord are performed here on the organ. The 17th century practice of writing keyboard works indifferently for organ or harpsichord is well known.

Though transcribed for harpsichord, the concertos BWV 972 and 974 are particularly well suited to the organ. The original solo instrument in the concerto by A. Marcello is the oboe, whose tone is more satisfactorily evoked on the organ than on a harpsichord (whose strings are plucked). An organ rendition of these two concertos therefore reveals to the utmost the true expressive qualities of the slow movements.

© Geneviève Soly

The organ at Notre-Dame-de-la-Défense Church (Montréal)

This 15 stop organ was designed and built in the classical tradition, though not as a copy of a particular historical instrument. The organ builders were inspired by the sound of the “Italian School” of organ building in its golden age, with its distinctive “Ripieno” and unforced brilliance, its purity and clarity of sound. The Principals and Flutes, though historically found on a single manual, have here been spread over two manuals, thus allowing for the performance of other repertoires in addition to the early Italian. Both divisions have their pipework on the same level, ensuring a perfect blend of the sound. The suspended mechanical action permits a very sensitive and responsive keyboard action, even with the manuals coupled. The organ has a pedal division with two bass registers and a 30-note pedalboard.

Voicing was done by Denis Juget and Jacques L’Italien in close consultation with Professor Massimo Rossi of the Université de Montréal, who is an authority on Italian organs. Since this was the builder’s first instrument of this type, Professor Rossi’s valuable advice was very much appreciated.

Karl Wilhelm Inc, organ builders

Karl Wilhelm was trained in Germany and Switzerland before taking up residence in Mont Saint-Hilaire (Québec). Out of his shop, established in 1966, where produced 130 instruments now in use in Canada and the United States. Together with his team of accomplished organbuilders, Karl Wilhelm Inc. has specialized in designing and building mechanical action organs in accordance with the principles of the classical tradition.

Translation: Rachelle Taylor

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