St Petersburg, Concert Hall

Sweelinck. Buxtehude. Scheidemann. J. S. Bach. Franck

Evening of organ music

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. Variations on the song Mein junges Leben hat ein End
Dieterich Buxtehude. Prelude and fugue in G Minor
Johann Heinrich Scheidemann. Motet
Johann Sebastian Bach. Choral prelude Wir gläuben all an einen Gott
César Franck. Three chorals for great organ

The character of the Concert Hall’s organ

About the Concert Hall’s organ on the Mariinsky Media website


Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562–1621) spent his entire working life on the two organs at the Oude Kerk (Old Church) in Amsterdam and he almost never left his native city, which did not, however, interfere with his becoming famous across the globe as a brilliant virtuoso organist and harpsichordist, leaving behind a vast legacy, becoming the founding father of the Northern Germanic organ school, writing a treatise and train pupils just as talented as his own self.
Sweelinck, known as the “Orpheus of Amsterdam”, left behind a keyboard legacy including variations on melodies from secular songs and dances of various nationality, arrangements of spiritual songs (Gregorian, Protestant and Calvinist), brilliant virtuoso toccatas and fantasias. Most works have survived thanks to Sweelinck’s pupils, who copied out his music, often composed with methodological aims especially for them.
Sweelinck’s music contains the experience of the pan-European musical tradition of the time: Franco-Flemish polyphony and Italian and English influences.
In the field of keyboard variations, Sweelinck became one of the first to begin to write entire cycles of variations systematically. The variations on a theme from the song Mein junges Leben hat ein End (My Young Life Has an End) was possibly, like many other variations on secular themes, initially meant for the harpsichord, though it also sounds magnificent on the organ.


Dietrich Buxtehude (1637?–1707) was a representative of the Lübeck line of the Northern Germanic organ school. Following the death of his predecessor Franz Tunder, in line with tradition Buxtehude married his eldest daughter and inherited the prestigious post of organist as well as those of secretary and treasurer at Lübeck’s Marienkirche. Thanks to Buxtehude’s managerial skills, his qualities as a businessman and his outstanding gift, the Marienkirche soon became a cultural centre for Northern Germany.
Buxtehude was famed for his “Musical Soirées” which were held annually on the last two Sundays following Trinity and on the three last Sundays of the Church calendar. These were carefully prepared musical events that began at four o’clock in the afternoon and lasted two hours; to make things easier for the audience, programmes were printed starting in 1677, and the repertoire stood out for its tremendous variety – from improvisations by Buxtehude himself to performances of major oratorios. Buxtehude’s “Musical Soirées” became an ideal place to perform his major preludes, the length of which meant they could not be performed during divine worship.
The Prelude in G Minor is an example of free composition, the main principle of which consists of contrasting and mixing prelude and fugue arrangements. Full of expressiveness and the pathos of oratorio, the prelude sections are the most typical feature of the Northern Germanic organ style. But the core sense of the preludes lies in their fugue sections.


Johann Heinrich Scheidemann (1595–1663) was one of the first representatives of the Northern Germanic organ school. He studied in Amsterdam under Jan Sweelinck (1611–1614), who dedicated one of his works – a canon – to his pupil. All of Scheidemann’s subsequent life was essentially linked with Hamburg, where in the 1620s he took the post of organist at the Sankt Katharinen Kirche following the death of his father. At that time, Hamburg was a burgeoning city where music was developing fast, and Scheidemann was constantly in the company of famous Hamburg musicians and poets. He was acclaimed as a teacher, composer and organist. Moreover, Scheidemann was well acquainted with organ construction. Of all his pupils, Johann Reinken was to be become the most famous – he went on to found the opera house in Hamburg.
Scheidemann’s style is, in many respects, close to that of Sweelinck, whose influence can be particularly felt in choral arrangements for organ by Scheidemann. However, Scheidemann strove to try the achievements of his teacher “on German soil”, meaning the German baroque organ. Scheidemann’s Organ Motettes are, in essence, choral arrangements enriched through interspersions of Sweelinck’s style, at times significantly expanded – by up to two hundred bars.


Organ music holds pole position in Johann Sebastian Bach’s legacy as a composer. He wrote over three hundred works “to the glory of God and for the joy of the soul”. Bach’s works for organ are, by and large, closely linked with texts of choral refrains to which the composer turned time and again. The themes of Bach’s arrangements of church songs (chorales) are connected the extremely important tracts of Protestant liturgy of Martin Luther – the founding father of Protestantism. Bach felt the close connection between music and theology. Hence the significance of words in his music, not just spoken out as in his vocal and instrumental compositions, but also expressed mentally as in his choral arrangements. Bach’s pupil Gotthilf Ziegler recalled the words of his master concerning the “play” of chorales: “Herr Kapellmeister Bach made me perform these songs not just any way, apropos, but specifically so that I understood the affect of the words.”
The choral arrangement Wir glauben all’ an einen Gott (We all believe in one God) is one of the dramatic compositions of the third part of Bach’s Clavier-Übungen series. The modest title of Clavier-Übungen in fact conceals a grandiose four-part cycle. The third part was completed in 1739. It consists of twenty-one choral arrangements, four duets, a prelude and a fugue in E Flat Major. It is the third part of the Clavier-Übungen that was first published during the composer’s lifetime.


César Franck composed the first French works for organ that were not connected with Church ritual. Three of his books for organ – Six Pièces (1859–1863), Trois Pièces (1878), written specially for the inauguration of the Aristide Cavaillé-Coll organ at the Trocadéro, and Trois Chorales (1890) represent a new kind of French concert organ music.
Written by Franck in one creative spurt towards the end of his life, the Trois Chorales were to prove the composer’s spiritual legacy. They are not related to the type of chorale from the 17th century – canonical church songs that were sung by the entire congregation. They are romantic instrumental poems, vast in scale and individual in form. One can often see a link between the three chorales and the symbolism of Trinity. Chorale No 1 in E Major is associated with God the Father. Hence its epic nature and the unhurried flow of the unfolding of its idea and the glittering hymn in E Major tonality at the end. Chorale No 2 in B Minor turns our attentions to Christ’s sufferings. The chorale is based on two themes. The first develops according to the laws of the passacaglia: subjected to variation, it is transformed now into a dramatic recitative and now into a lyrical fugato; the second – the theme of the chorale – is consciously not subjected to variation. Its idea lies in embodying unshakeable values amidst a sea of boiling passions. Chorale No 3 in A Minor symbolises the image of the Holy Spirit, which is reflected in the pliant structure of the outer sections of the piece, creating a sensation of impetuous flight.

Anna Khomenya

Age category 6+

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