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The organ music of Johann Gottfried Walther (1684 - 1748) by Dr. Wolfram Syré

2021-04-08 - Playing and Pieces

I start now a series of recordings which will give an overview over the organ compositions of Johann Gottfried Walther.
Johann Gottfried had lessons with Johann Bernhard Bach and Johann Hinrich Buttstett. He was a cousin of Johann Sebastian Bach. Walther's main post was the position of organist at the Stadtkirche in Weimar (from 1707). There he had an intensive and friendly contact to Johann Sebastian Bach. There is a curious story about these both persons: Bach said that he would be able to play any composition prima vista. Walther composed something for him, and Bach didn't succeed. Walther collected and copied many organ pieces from other composers. He hold also an intensive corresponce with some of them. Walther used all these experiences for his "Musicalisches Lexicon" wich was the first German publication of this genre.
The organ music of Johann Gottfried Walther consists of three categories: Some Preludes and Fugues, arrangements of Concerti Grossi, and 286 Chorale Preludes including Chorale Variations and Chorale Partitas.
It is neccessary to know the specification of his organ at Weimar to understand the structure of Walther's music.
Organ of the Stadtkirche in Weimar (1683, Christoph Junge from Laussnitz/Saxonia)
1) Principal 8. Fuß im Gesichte, von Zinn.
2) Quintaden 16. Fuß, Metall.
3) Gemshorn 8. Fuß, Metall.
4) Gedackt 8. Fuß, Metall.
5) octave 4. Fuß, Metall.
6) Viola di gamba 8. Fuß, Metall.
7) Octava 2. Fuß, Metall.
8) Quinta 3. Fuß, Metall.
9) Mixtur 4. fach, Metall.
10) Cymbel, Metall
11) Trompete 8. Fuß, von weisen Blech.
12) Tremulant.
13) Coppel ins Pedal.
1) Principal 4. Fuß, Zinn.
2) Gedackt 8. Fuß, Metall.
3) Kleingedackt 4. Fuß, Metall.
4) Octava 2. Fuß, Metall.
5) Sesquialtera, Metall.
6) Quintaden 8. Fuß, Metall.
7) Spiel-Flöte 4. Fuß, Metall.
8) Viola di gamba 4. Fuß, Metall.
9) Sifflöte 2. Fuß, Metall.
10) Cymbel.
11) Cymbel-Stern.
12) Tremulant.
13) Coppel ins Pedal.
1) Subbass 16. Fuß, von Holtz.
2) Posaunen-Baß 16. Fuß, von Holtz.
3) Trompeten-Baß 8. Fuß, aus Blech.
4) Cornet- Baß 2. Fuß, aus Blech.
und 6 Blase-Bälge.
Many of Walther's Chorale Preludes are manualiter-pieces. He used also very often the Canon-technique and the Canto fermo in Basso in his Chorale Preludes. That happened in respect to Pedalstops of his organ.
There are some clear parallels between his Chorale Preludes and those of other composers. Especially his three Versus over "Nun komm der Heiden Heiland" can one not imagine without the fact that Walther has copied the Choralfantasia "Nun komm der Heiland" of Nicolaus Bruhns. Walther's "Dies sind die heil'gen zehn Gebot'" is very simular to J. S. Bach's Prelude over the same Chorale from the "Orgelbüchlein". Walther's "Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr" shows some parallels to "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" of J. S. Bach; there is a story that Walther has assisted Bach with drawing the stops during he has performed it in Mühlhausen.
The most impressive Choral Preludes of J. G Walther are:
- "Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott" has an intensive peronal taste.
- "Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele" with a Sarande plus Cantus firmus as Versus I.
- "Herr Gott, nun schleuß den Himmel auf". Versus I is a powerful mouvement with Cantus firmus in soprano et Basso and with a change from tempus perfectum to tempus perfectum. Versus II is a Concerto à 2 Clav. e Pedale with Hanseatic baroque influences.
- "Herr Jesu Christ, ich weiß gar wohl". The piece has a personal and melancholic atmosphere. Versus II is a Concerto à 2 Clav. e Pedale with Cantus firmus in Tenore. Versus IV is a monumental Fugue over the first line of the Chorale tune.
- "Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit" has a double-choir sructure with the Canon of the Chorale tune in the Soprano and the Basso.
- "Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist". Versus I is a deeply expressive Ricercar. Versus II is Walther's most daring construction à 5 voci in the Hanseatic pompous style.
"Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend" is Walther's largest Chorale piece. It presents nearly all aspects of Walther's technique of composition. He has collected the 13 Versus from different periods of his musical works. The Poblet organ with its colorful stops works very well realizing this series of Variations.
"Jesu, meine Freude" (published in 1713) will be played very often. It is called Partita and performes the Chorlale tune mostly in different figurations in the style of Georg Böhm.
"Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz" is a sensimental Chorale Prelude  à 2 Clav. e Pedale with a chromatcal colorated Cantus firmus.
"Wir Christenleut'" contains some polyphonic speculations, flores-technique. Versus V is a powerful Ricercar per movimento contrario.
Toccata con Fuga in C is a central and southern German organpoint-Toccata. The Prologue has parallels to J. S. Bach's organ Toccata in C. The Fugue contains a double-Pedal-episode.
Preludio con Fuga in A is a more central German and Hanseatic profile.
Walther's arrangements of orchestral Concerti Grossi follow the same interests as J. S. Bach with his simular arrangements. Some composer and compositios are only preserved and known by J. G. Walther's activities.


palsorgel (2021-08-29) Log in to Reply
Thanks for the interesting information. Two years ago I recorded the concertos of Walther. Very beautiful indeed. These recordings can be found in my playlist:
DominiqueD (2021-04-08) Log in to Reply
Thanks for all these informations. Some Walther's works were attributed to Bach. It's very interresting to compare how Bach and Walther wrote concertos transcriptions. Nice project !
wolfram_syre (2021-04-12) Log in to Reply
THank you!
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