In case you missed it, here’s the audio from Brent Johnson’s Good Friday program on March 30:
Marche Religieuse on a Theme of Handel – Felix Alexandre Guilmant
Three settings of “Aus Tiefer not schrei ich zu dir”
Meditation on Passion Chorale – David Bednall
Sarabande (for the morning of Easter) – Herbert Howells
March Religieuse on a Theme of Handel dates from 1861. It is one of Guilmant’s most popular works and he performed it as part of the celebrations for the opening of the organ at the Church of St. Sulpice in Paris in April of 1862. It opens with the theme taken from the chorus “Lift up your Heads, O ye Gates” from Handel’s Messiah. A fugue follows that bears some similarity to parts of Bach’s Prelude in E-flat, reputedly one of Guilmant’s favorite Bach works and the one that opened his series of forty recitals here in St Louis at the World’s Fair in 1904. Next the Handel theme combines with the fugue subject, before a grand restatement of the opening march played on full organ.
The text of the German Chorale Aus tiefer not, schrei ich zu dir is a paraphrase of Psalm 130:
From deep affliction I cry out to you,
Lord God, hear my call;
incline your merciful ear here to me
and be open to my prayer!
For if you want to look at this,
what sin and injustice is done,
who can, Lord, remain before you?
Today I have prepared three varied settings of this chorale tune. The first, by Max Reger, comes from his collection of 52 Protestant chorale tunes composed between 1900 and 1902. No other composer since Bach had published such a collection of chorale preludes. Reger’s setting of Aus Tiefer not is a 5-voice chorale with the melody in the pedal set in E minor.
Bach wrote two settings of this chorale for organ, both found in the Clavier-Übung III, also referred to as the German Organ Mass. This is a collection of organ works published in 1739. This setting of Aus Tiefer not is the second of the two, and it is a simple 4-part chorale prelude in F-sharp minor with the melody in the soprano. The accompanimental figures for each phrase of the chorale however, are direct quotations of the chorale melody, diminished in rhythm, and frequently inverted against each other.
Not to be outdone by Reger, Sigfrid-Karg Elert also published a collection of Chorale Preludes. He wrote 66 of them between 1906 and 1908. They were first published in 1909 and dedicated to Felix Alexandre Guilmant. Later, in 1912, he published 20 more as his Opus 78, calling them Preludes and Postludes. This multifarious setting in E minor comes from that collection.
David Bednall is a Teaching Fellow and Organist of The University of Bristol as well as Sub-Organist at Bristol Cathedral. He has also appeared as a stunt-organist on BBC TV’s Dr Who. His Meditation on The Passion Choral was published in 2014. This tune is most often set with the text “O Sacred Head, now wounded”, and is appropriate for Good Friday.
We skip ahead to Easter with Herbert Howell’s Saraband (For the Morning of Easter). This was composed during May 1940 and published in 1953 in the collection “Six Pieces for Organ”. The Saraband is a dance form, usually in a slow, stately triple-meter with accents on the first and second beats, and regular 4-bar phrases. It’s an interesting choice for an Easter work, but it’s refined structure and dense chords give it a power beyond a simple dance.
Brent Johnson is organist of Third Baptist Church. He previously worked as an organ technician for the Wicks Organ Company of Highland, Illinois. He came to St. Louis after studying with Dr. Robert Anderson at the Meadows School of the Arts and Dr. Kenneth Hart at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He is a producer for the Organ Media Foundation and oversees the production of the streaming audio stations Organlive, Positively Baroque, and The Organ Experience. In addition he coordinates production of the episodic presentation At The Organ and The King of Instruments, a weekly radio show heard in St. Louis on Radio Arts Foundation. Brent is an appointed member of the Executive board of the St. Louis chapter of the American Guild of Organists. In 2017 he received the Avis Blewitt award from the St. Louis AGO for valuable contributions to the musical life of St. Louis.