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Great Chorales of the Clavierübung, Murray Forbes Somerville, Organist
"decisive, with sure articulation and rhythmic vitality" reviews The AAM Journal - [OAR-750]

Murray Forbes Somerville, Organist
Flentrop Organ, Adolphus Busch Hall
Harvard University

Prelude and Fugue in E-flat, BWV 552
Kyrie, Got Vater, BWV 669
Christe, aller Welt Trost, BWV 670
Kyrie, Gott heiliger Geist, BWV 671
Allein Gott in der Höh sei her, BWV 676
Dies sind die heil’gen zehn Gebot, BWV 678
Wir glauben all’ an einen Gott, BWV 680
Vater unser im Himmelreich, BWV 682
Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam, BWV 684
Aus tiefer Noth schrei’ ich zu dir, BWV 686
Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, BWV 688

What is Clavierübung, Part III?
At one time, musicology contented itself with answering the questions what, how and when; nowadays, post-modern musicology also seeks to answer the question why? What is the Third Part of the Clavierübung? The first organ music published by Bach, for the Michaelmas Fair in Leipzig in 1739, it consists of a number of chorale preludes, with a prelude at the beginning and a fugue at the end. Since many of the chorales set are properly part of the Lutheran communion service, some have called it a “German Organ Mass” – but Bach could never have intended it for that, since alternatim settings are not in the Lutheran tradition. The latter chorales that he set here are included in the Catechism of Martin Luther. Insofar as Bach was a devout Lutheran, well-versed in theology, and since each chorale is set in “great” settings for manuals and pedals and small settings for manuals alone, some have thought this division might correspond to Luther’s greater and lesser Catechism, calling the collection the “Catechism chorales.” Certainly the work forms a unique whole in Bach’s output.

Why did he write it? As Gregory Butler’s 1989 study of the engraving history of the first edition makes clear, Bach had several second thoughts about the contents of this collection while it was being put together. Even the great E-flat Prelude and Fugue appears to have been an afterthought, as were several of the manualiter settings. Christoph Wolff, in his monumental book Bach, the Learned Musician demonstrates that one of Bach’s quests throughout his life was to demonstrate his academic, intellectual prowess in musical ways; this volume can be seen as another example of that, like the Art of Fugue or the B minor Mass. Indeed, since this collection was published not very long after the famous Dresden performance of the Kyrie and Gloria of the Mass, another theory holds that the initial impetus for this work may have been the organ recital that Bach also gave on that occasion. And, like the B minor Mass, these pieces have outgrown their liturgical context; while the manualiter settings could be used as preludes for congregational song, the great preludes here recorded are too long and complicated for ordinary liturgical use.

The publication date itself may also have significance, since the year 1739 was the occasion of the bicentenary both of Luther’s sermon in St. Thomas in Leipzig and of the Augsburg confession. And this collection was published less than two years after Scheibe’s vehement public attack on Bach’s music; perhaps this was a form of rebuttal, even though the charge of over-sophistication would hardly have been refuted by these intensely cerebral and formalistic works.

Why I Recorded It
And why did I choose to record this work, on this particular instrument, in this particular form? It just so happens that the great manual and pedal settings taken together as a whole are a perfect length for a CD; it also memorializes the concert given in March of the Bach year 2000, when I played these settings on the Flentrop and the manualiter settings were played by my Organ Scholars on a chamber organ. This concert also marked the completion of the complete refurbishment of this instrument by Fritz Noack.

This recording then also forms a companion to my earlier recording of the Orgelbüchlein on the same instrument. Insofar as the performance of that work owed much to my initial organ studies in Germany under Karl Richter, so too this performance owed much to my doctoral work at New England Conservatory with William Porter. And as it has turned out, this was my last solo organ recording before leaving Harvard, just as the Orgelbüchlein had been the first.

Great Chorales of the <I>Clavierübung</I>, Murray Forbes Somerville, Organist<BR><font color = red>\"decisive, with sure articulation and rhythmic vitality\" reviews <I>The AAM Journal</I></font>
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