Spring 2016 recital series begins: Bach (and others) on the Baroque Organ

The spring line-up of organ recitals and recitalists at Cornell is as wide-ranging as ever. The series begins on Saturday, January 30 at 8pm with University Organist Annette Richards on the Baroque organ in Anabel Taylor Chapel. Her program includes masterpieces by J.S. Bach alongside the works of the Dutch and German organist-composers Bach himself admired and studied.

Organists and their audiences are in the rare position of being able to eavesdrop on the young Bach listening. The charming, French-inflected chorale preludes and variations of the Luneburg organist Georg Bohm, for example, or the mighty fantasias of the Hamburg organist Johann Adam Reincken was music that fascinated the teenage Bach who made great efforts, traveling far from his native Thuringia, to hear it in the glorious spaces, and at the extraordinary organs, for which it was written. These are composers whose music is unlikely to be heard today in a concert hall, yet it remains staple repertoire for organists: on the Arp Schnitger-style organ in Anabel Taylor chapel, we can hear it sounding very much as it would have to Bach in the years around 1700.

B’hm and Reincken were models for Bach, but they were also, at least informally, his teachers and they shared with him the music of an earlier generation of organist-composers whose “brilliant invention, dramatic flair, color, variety, sweetness and depth profoundly marked the musical imagination of the young Thuringian.”

Saturday’s program opens with J. P. Sweelinck and his student (Reincken’s teacher) Heinrich Scheidemann; after one of Georg Bohm’s most gorgeous chorale preludes, the first half concludes with the mighty D-minor Toccata of another of the North German organist-composers Bach greatly admired, Dieterich Buxtehude. Moving from majesty to fun-loving decadence, the second half begins with a musical frolic by Johann Christoph Kellner, an organist inspired, in his turn, by Bach himself. But the main meat comes with the Six Schubler Chorales by Bach, followed by his effervescent Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major.

Looking to the semester ahead, during recitals on the three organs in Anabel Taylor and Sage chapels there’ll be plenty of Bach and the North Germans, as well as Italian chamber music, Elizabethans and their continental contemporaries, and 20th-century French fireworks. Guest performers, on evening concerts and in Midday Music for Organ recitals, include Annie Laver from Syracuse, Anna Steppler from Gothenburg, Leon Chisholm from New York, as well as soprano Megan Sharp and baroque violinist David Sariti. And as usual we’ll hear from Cornell doctoral students Matthew Hall and Jonathan Schakel, as well as university organists Annette Richards and David Yearsley.

The Midday Music for Organ series begins on Wednesday February 3 at 12:30pm in Anabel Taylor chapel with David Yearsley, Charles Burney among the Continental Organists.