Home » Catalog » Ambiente CD Label   My Account  Cart Contents  Checkout
Sigfrid Karg-Elert: Late Masterworks for Art Harmonium
Jan Hennig, Art Harmonium - [ACD-3049]

Jan Hennig plays original works composed for the harmonium by Sigfrid Karg-Elert, a great proponent of the instrument, on an instrument built in 1928 by Mustel. Imported by Raven.

Two Orchestral Studies for Art Harmonium, op. 70:
  No. 1 Eine Jagdnovellette (Hunting Novel), 5 movements
  No. 2 Totentanz, 4 movements

A Day with Sigfrid Karg-Elert:
  Farben der Frühe (Early Colors), op. 102, no. 12
  Eine Sonnensekunde (A Sun Second), op. 102, no. 5
  Vergnügter Tag, op. 58, no. 4
  Abendgefühl (Evening Feeling), no opus
  Um Mitternacht (At Midnight), op. 58, no. 8

Second Sonata, op. 46, for harmonium, in 3 movements

Sigfrid Karg-Elert - Late masterpieces for Art Harmonium
Since 1905, Sigfrid Karg-Elert had been dealing with the art harmonium, which was previously unknown in Germany. In addition to smaller works, the 8 Concert Pieces Op.26 helped Karg Elert to unlock new sound worlds on the art harmonium, primarily through an extremely differentiated style of registration. (See also ACD 3041, 'Early Masterpieces for Art Harmonium'). Only a few years later, between 1910 and 1913, he composed his main works for art harmonium: Two Orchestral Concert Studies Op. 70, and the Second Sonata Op. 53. He tried to establish the art harmonium as part of the German concert scene for over a decade.

This was interrupted by the First World War, in which Karg-Elert served in a Regimental Chapel. After the war, he preferred to compose chamber music and organ works. However, he remained true to 'his' instrument until the end of his life. Works included numerous arrangements, and many smaller pieces. The five works summarized under the title 'Ein Tag mit Sigfrid Karg-Elert (A daily routine with Sigfrid Karg-Elert)' are a fine example of this.

The programs of two concerts have been handed down, in which Karg-Elert himself played the Orchestral Studies Op. 70 and the Second Sonata Op. 46: On 27 September 1920 at a three-day 'Karg-Elert Fest' in his hometown Oberndorfam Neckar, and a few days later on September 30 in Ulm. This is probably because the harmonium company of Hinkel, who were based in Ulm in Oberndorf, provided an art harmonium.

The concert on 30 September 1920 in Ulm:
The program booklet contains 'Explanatory words on the original compositions' by Dr. Ottmar Bergk. Dr. Ottmar Bergk was one of the many pseudonyms used by Karg-Elert for written publications, or used music. In the orchestral studies, the following notes are printed:

Two Orchestral Studies op.70
The harmonium becomes an orchestra of a thousand colours. More than that, it has found its 'style' and reveals to us completely new, but typically original expressions.

I. Jagdnovellette (Hunting Novel)
Dawn. Hunters move out. Horns call and answer. A loving couple in the hunting train. They secretly chat, tenderly, with funny horns blaring. The train hurries happily. The couple stays apart. A shepherd blows a longing phrase of exuberant bliss from afar. The wise echoes in the hearts of lovers. Erotic dialogue. Every now and then a distant horn call. The young hunter now repeats the simmering, loving manner of the shepherd with blissful fervor. Solitude of the forest. Forest bliss. Cheerful birds. The forest fairy appears in a silver sheen and blesses the couple, removed from reality. A French horn call from afar. The train comes back. The crowd will soon meet. The couple mingles with the happy ones, and everyone returns home in cheers and joy of nature under the horns of the French horn.

II: Totentanz (Dance of Death)
A vision. Death as a musician. On a bone harmonica, he plays the dance in a gruesome, bizarre manner, taking a break now and then, and making a derisive grimace. The dancers turn in grotesque rhythms, sometimes wild, sometimes shadowy and visionary. The dance drifts. From the invisible depth, the voices of the departed softly complain. A child, a virgin, a youth, a man. The complaints go unheard in terrible loneliness. Then the horrible bone harmonica of the stony musician is clearly raised again. The dance starts again. A thunderclap - and the spook is over.

Both works are dedicated to German harmonium manufacturers, and friends of Karg-Elert: Jagdnovellette to Olaf Lindholm, who is said to have been a passionate hunter, and the Totentanz to Heinrich Hinkel.

The large-scale Jagdnovellette (Hunting Novel) is easily likened to an orchestral symphonic poem. Here, Karg-Elert draws on his vast experience gained through editing and transcribing orchestral works (see also ACD 3030 'Concert arrangements for art harmonium'). The listener can relate to associated pieces, such as the voice of the forest bird from Richard Wagner's Siegfried, the horn calls from Act 2 of Tristan, or movements from Robert Schumann's Waldszenen op. 82, such as Jäger auf der Lauer, Jagdlied and Vogel als Prophet.

The art harmonium is used like an orchestra in the Jagdnovellette. We hear horns, stuffed horns, horns in the distance, a shepherd with an English horn {Tristan, Act 3), harp, a forest bird, a cuckoo and woodpecker, the forest fairy...

The Totentanz (Dance of Death) is quite different: the art harmonium is like a 'bone harmonica'!  Karg-Elert added: "You should never forget that no beautiful, but rather peculiar, characteristic music (with a touch of the fantastic and bizarre) is to be produced!" Treble, combined with the floating Harpe Eolienne 2' in the bass, fast registration changes, and changes of location challenge interpreters and listeners. The instructions for the percussion register are: hard and bony! Karg-Elert describes 'terrible loneliness' with a diminished seventh chord used as a cluster, which descends from 2'-4'-8' to the 16' by changes of registration.

Musical Example 1 / NB 1 (on page 5 of the CD booklet): Totentanz (bars 106-116)

Not far removed from this program music, are many pieces by Karg-Elert that could be best described as 'mood music': musical descriptions of landscapes, places, sensations or representations of nature. In this way, an atmospheric 'daily routine' can be constructed from a few later pieces for the art harmonium.

In addition, the Abendgefiihl, a single published composition, emerges from the Inneren Stimmen Op. 58 and the Impressionen Op. 102. The title shows clearly that, in contrast to the two concert studies, it is about an intimate, inner emotional world. In 1912, Karg-Elert studied Arnold Schonberg's new harmonic theory. Whilst he had previously composed in a rather moderate, late-romantic style, Karg-Elert was now developing his own personal sound-language through expanded harmonics. In 1931, he summarized his harmonic understanding in an extensive textbook entitled Polaristische Klang- und Tonalitatslehre (harmonology).

The pieces in detail
Farben der Fruhe (Early Colours): From the darkness of the night to dawn, and dawn to sunrise, it is harmoniously bold, and only at the end do we have a sense of key (D major). A triple organ point (D/A in the bass and a'" in the treble) gives this composition size and radiance at the conclusion.

Eine Sonnensekunde (A Sun Second): This miniature is typical of Karg-Elert, with intense inner warmth in eight cycles!

Vergniigter Tag (Happy Day): For the solo percussion register of the art harmonium, garnished with exquisite instructions such as 'fidel, elegant, gallant, dry, rough, caressing, flattering, tender, teasing, funny'.
Abendgefiihl (Evening Feeling): Inner peace allows you to look back on a successful day.

Urn Mitternacht (At midnight): complete silence and contentment through experiencing divine greatness under the stars.

The Second Sonata Op. 46 is the most extensive and significant work ever written for harmonium. Karg-Elert dedicated it to his sister Anna, with whom he had a special relationship. She lived with Karg-Elert and his wife for a long time and worked for him. In addition to housekeeping, she handled almost all correspondence with publishers and organizers. She was also able to help with the composition process: she looked after transcripts, transcriptions, transpositions and corrections. As a result, she played an important role in the composing workshop of Karg-Elert.

Even if the composer tries to explain his Second Sonata with descriptions of content in the program of the Ulm concert, this work clearly remains absolute music. Even the metaphysical exaggeration through the processing of a chorale melody does not allow any interpretation of the actual content.

By using form and harmonics, Karg-Elert composed the sonata very conventionally (perhaps on purpose?) with a modern treatment of the art harmonium. It is therefore somewhat surprising that over twenty years later, large parts of the sonata flow into one of his last major organ works - the Passacaglia and Fugue (B-A-C-H) Op. 150.

Stylistic diversity and impartiality have always been characteristics of Karg-Elert. But he does not seem to be bothered by the stylistic breaks in Op. 150, which inevitably result from such transfers. The sonata is held together through the use of individual themes. The main theme, B-A-C-H, dominates; it appears as the second theme of the double fugue, and forms the culmination point of the second, slow movement. But, also in the Toccata, the second subject from B-A-C-H is formed, with the entire movement being based on it.

3 examples in musical notation appear here in the CD booklet

The first theme of the fugue only appears in the Andante misterioso, but is processed according to all the rules of the art, and is carried out extensively. It is interesting that the fugue in Op. 250 contains periods of long stretches, with only the tempo and dynamics of the theme changing: Andante misterioso (pp) becoming Allegro risoluto (molto forte).

The main theme of the slow movement is later developed from a short, slow insertion in the Fantasie. The relationship or compression of B-A-C-H to B-C-flat-A-B cannot be overlooked. Shortly before the end of the Toccata, this subject appears very much like a memory.

(References to musical illustrations in the CD booklet)

The main theme of the Toccata consists of two parts: Above an organ point on B, a quick,
sixteenth chain strives upwards until block-like chords in the treble are combined with wild
jumps over the bass:

(References to musical illustrations in the CD booklet)
Similar jumps in the left hand have already occurred to us in the Fantasie:

(References to musical illustrations in the CD booklet)

The chorale 'Jesu meine Zuversicht' is characteristic of all the movements. However, this is hardly understandable for the listener, since it is not quoted, but merely serves as material for Karg-Elert's own presentation.
Immediately after the wild introduction, an adagio appears in the Fantasie with additional indications such as 'chorale-like' and 'quasi tubi'. The chorale melody is not yet clearly recognizable, since it is not the beginning of the chorale, but the third line that is used. Four attempts are made to build up the chorale, and four times it is lost after a few ascending tones:
(Reference to musical illustrations in the CD booklet)
Half of the chorale also appears at the end of the Fantasie, with a dynamic marking fff, and with block-like chords.
The chorale is also difficult to recognize in the middle part of the Canzone; the melody lies partly on the unstressed beats, and the harmony does not correspond to singing habits:
(Reference to musical illustrations in the CD booklet)
In the Toccata, the chorale appears as the high point at the beginning of the coda. Here it is underlaid with the text of the 10th verse, and only here does Karg-Elert illustrate the chorale melody with small crosses, dissolving his previous technique of alienation.
"Only you that raises the mind
From the desires of these earths
And surrender to it now
To which you want to be attached.
Send the heart in there
Where you want to be forever. "

(Reference to musical illustrations in the CD booklet)

Interrupted by several intermediate sections, the chorale reaches its climax, and then dissolves into nothing, with the above-mentioned recollection (Canzone).
The final chord, initiated by the ringing of bells, follows: four bars in B Hat major - a chord lasting almost one minute - as a melody with no less than seven different timbres. It was Arnold Schonberg who coined the term that composers of French Impressionism need a huge orchestra for this. Karg-Elert needs only a musician at the art harmonium. He is once again way ahead of his time.
(Reference to musical illustrations in the CD booklet)

The instrument
The art harmonium Mustel No. 3405-1593 was built in Paris in 1928. It is one of the last art harmoniums ever built. This instrument thus marks the end of more than 75 years of company history, which began with the invention of double expression by Victor Mustel (1815-1890). Alphonse Mustel (1873-1936), the grandson of the company's founder Victor Mustel, had been running the company since about 1901 and was also a publisher, composer and art harmonist. His concert tours to Germany ultimately led to Karg-Elert being introduced to the art harmonium. In order to remain competitive, the production of these very expensive instruments had to be rationalized and adapted to the changing taste of the time. The case of the instruments was developed into the Art Nouveau design, but the sound also changed and became softer, and rounder. Individual registers which were previously defined so clearly as solo voices were now resigned to being part of an overall orchestral sound.

Bass C-e':
Contrebasse C-H 16'
Basse C-H 8'
Harpe éolienne 2'
Basson 8'
Clairon 4'
Bourdon 16'
Cor anglais 8'
Cor anglais Percussion 8'

Discant f'-c'"':
Flûte Percussion 8'
Flûte 8
Clarinette 16'
Fifre 4'
Hautbois 8'
Musette 16'
Voix celeste 16'
Baryton 32'
Harp éolienne 8'
Salicionale 16'

Expression, Double-Expression,
Grand Jeu, Prolongement, Talonniere,
Metaphone, Forte expressif, 443 Hz.                                                                 »

Sigfrid Karg-Elert: Late Masterworks for Art Harmonium<BR>Jan Hennig, Art Harmonium
Click to enlarge
Currently, you have 0 quantity of this product in your shopping cart
   Customers who bought this product also purchased   
Horatio Parker: 21 Organ Works, Albert Ahlstrom, Organist
Horatio Parker: 21 Organ Works, Albert Ahlstrom, Organist
Karg-Elert: Early Masterpieces for Harmonium
Karg-Elert: Early Masterpieces for Harmonium
Organ Music of Michel Boulnois, Jeremy Filsell, 2012 Dobson organ of St. Thomas Church, New York
Organ Music of Michel Boulnois, Jeremy Filsell, 2012 Dobson organ of St. Thomas Church, New York

Copyright © 2024 Raven Recordings