The Athens School in Weimar
It was during the thirteen years he spent in Weimar (1848-1861) that Franz Liszt (1811-1886) wrote most of his organ output. Between 1850 and 1863 three of his major works for this instrument saw the light: the Fantasy and Fugue on the Chorale Ad nos, ad salutarem undam, the Prelude and Fugue on B.A.C.H., and the Variations on Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen. In Weimar, the spirit of J. S. Bach was still present; he had worked and lived there, more than a century earlier, as an employee of Duke Wilhelm Ernst. Now the Duchy was ruled by a direct descendant, Grand-Duke Carl Alexander, who offered to Liszt a post as a chapel master.
In Weimar there was an orchestra and an operatic theatre. Beyond composing assiduously, Liszt had the purpose of recreating there the “School of Athens”. Moreover, he also dedicated much of his time to teaching, to which he devoted three afternoons per week in his beautiful house called Villa Altenburg. Among his favourite students we find Julius Reubke, who arrived in Weimar in 1856, but also Hans von Bülow, Carl Tausig and many others. Earlier on, Liszt had been an amateur organ player. His only known public performance on the organ had happened in 1843, when he performed a charity concert in a church in Moscow. Still, he was interested in this instrument.
The “Monster”, the Piano-harmonium owned by Liszt in his Weimar house. The instrument weighed approximately 1400 kg, and had been built under Berlioz’s supervision and following Liszt’s own specifications. It resulted from the union of an Erard concert piano (seven octaves), two harmonium keyboards (five octaves), a pedalboard with 20 notes, and a tool which allowed an assistant to put the bellows into action while the performer used the pedals of the organ or piano. The assembly was made by the Parisian firm “Alexandre Père et Fils”. This musical instrument was employed by Liszt in order to write Ad nos, ad salutarem undam. Currently, this instrument is at the Liszt Ferenc Memorial Museum of Budapest. The first performance of Ad nos was given, in Liszt’s presence, by an organist who was his pupil, i.e. Alexander Winterberger (1834-1914), who played it at the Merseburg Cathedral on Tuesday, September 25th, 1855. We know, however, that Liszt played Ad nos at least once on the piano: Walter Bache, another of his students, told us about it in 1862. The Fantasy and Fugue on the Chorale Ad nos, ad salutarem undam is a colossal work, written in 1850, and inspired by Act One of Giacomo Meyerbeer’s (1791-1864) opera Le Prophète: more precisely, by the chorus of the Anabaptists. The opera was performed, to great success, on April 16th, 1849, at the Opéra in Paris. Le Prophète is a monumental opera, which stimulated Liszt’s talent for orchestral colour and his ideas about thematic transformation. The theme of the Chorale sung by the Anabaptists in Act One is then cyclically reproposed and transformed throughout the opera:
The theme is developed in three parts (Fantasia, Adagio, and Fugue), which are united to form a set of 27 variations, the last eight of which constitute the Fugue. For the grandioso style of its exposition and its treatment of the themes it can be assimilated to Liszt’s Symphonic Poems, and it certainly announces the later B-minor Sonata for the piano.
The reference sources are the autograph manuscript currently at the Germanisches National Museum in Nuremberg (Hs. 107023/III), the first printed edition by Breitkopf und Härtel (No. 8528, 1852), the autograph complementing the four-hand version with various variants (currently at the Goethe-und-Schiller-Archiv in Weimar, Ms. 024), and some further sources, such as the abridged version prepared (with indications for registration) by A. Eckardt for a concert, and published in 1885 by Breitkopf und Härtel (No. 17389), the piano version by Ferruccio Busoni (Breitkopf und Härtel, 1897), and the organ version edited by Karl Straube (Peters, 1917). The differences among these sources are numerous, allowing for a variety of interpretive choices.
Alan Walker, one of Liszt’s most important biographers, declared that Ad nos “represents one of the pinnacles of nineteenth-century virtuosity”. There are, indeed, arduous virtuoso passages, especially as concerns the manual parts; based on this presupposition, many of the most famous organists of the twentieth century (and also some of our contemporaries) turned it into a benchmark of pure virtuosity. Some managed to make it last as little as 28 minutes, whereas – if one respects the tempo prescribed by Meyerbeer for his Chorale, Liszt’s long Adagio section, and a “Romantic” adherence to rubato and expressiveness – the duration of 40 minutes is easily reached. Still, the wish to show one’s muscles is frequently stronger than that for respecting the musical content and the philological/interpretive references. The current discographic edition is the fruit of a deep study, respecting Meyerbeer’s and Liszt’s indications, and the choices resulting from these. It proposes a new reading of Ad nos, which will certainly stimulate the debate and a new reflection on this immense masterpiece.
Julius Reubke (1834-1858) had studied at the Berlin Conservatoire with famous pianist Theodor Kullak. His first contacts with Franz Liszt were due to Hans von Bülow (1830-1894) and Alexander Winterberger. In 1856, we find him in Weimar, studying piano and composition with Liszt. In those years, he wrote firstly his great B-flat minor Piano Sonata, which immediately revealed his exceptional talent. Immediately after, he moved to composing his C-minor organ sonata on Psalm 94. He would give its premiere on the evening of Wednesday, June 17th, 1857, at the Merseburg Cathedral, on the Ladegast organ which had been inaugurated a few years earlier by Winterberger with the premiere of Ad nos. The organ built by Friedrich Ladegast (1818-1905) for the Merseburg Cathedral in 1855 was at the time the largest in Germany, with its 81 registers, 4 manuals, pedalboard, and 5687 pipes.
Edition J. Schubert, Leipzig, 1871
After that performance, Reubke moved to Dresden in December 1857. His health, undermined by tuberculosis, was getting no better, and he was losing his energy for playing or composing. He therefore moved to Pillnitz, a thermal place, in May 1858, but died a few days later, at the age of 24, in the guesthouse Zum Goldenen Löwen where he was staying. He was buried by the church of Maria am Wasser in Pillnitz-Hosterwitz on Monday, June 7th.
He was one of Liszt’s favourite students. At his death, Liszt wrote a letter of condolences to Reubke’s father:
Indeed, nobody could feel more deeply the loss undergone by Art with your Julius’ [death], than I, who followed with admired sympathy his noble, constant, and successful efforts in these last years, and who will always faithfully cherish his friendship.
Reubke’s Organ Sonata on Psalm 94 is certainly influenced both by Ad nos and by Liszt’s B-minor Sonata. It remains, in turn, one of the foundations of organ Romanticism of the nineteenth century. It is a genius’ work, with great emotional impact. The text of Psalm 94 determined its aesthetical itinerary and content. It discusses the theme of God as a Judge, to whom justice is requested. Here is how Reubke divided the text:
Grave – Larghetto
1 The Lord is a God who avenges.
O God who avenges, shine forth.
2 Rise up, Judge of the earth;
pay back to the proud what they deserve.
Allegro con fuoco
3 How long, Lord, will the wicked,
how long will the wicked be jubilant?
6 They slay the widow and the foreigner;
they murder the fatherless.
7 They say, “The Lord does not see;
the God of Jacob takes no notice.”
17 Unless the Lord had given me help,
I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.
19 When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought me joy.
22 But the Lord has become my fortress,
and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.
23 He will repay them for their sins
and destroy them for their wickedness;
the Lord our God will destroy them.
The result is a Michelangelo-like fresco, with grandioso size and effect, providing powerful emotions when listened to, and causing great admiration for the composer’s skill.
Unfortunately, the handwritten manuscript was lost; the first edition (1871), edited by Reubke’s brother, Otto (1842-1913), and issued by J. Schuberth, is not particularly precise.
Julius Reubke also wrote an Organ Trio in E-flat major, published first by the Erfurt printer Gotthilf Wilhelm Körner in 1850. We can therefore date this Trio’s composition in 1848-9, i.e. during the first stage of Reubke’s musical studies, which happened in Quedlinburg, Saxony, with Hermann Bönicke (1821-1879), and prior to his studies at the Conservatory of Berlin. It is therefore a youthful composition, with a short size, and in the A-B-A form; still, it already demonstrates the young composer’s talent. Another important organ work, the Choral-Figuration für Orgel “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden” is currently impossible to find, whilst an Adagio für Orgel, again signed by Julius Reubke, was found in 2004 in the Goethe-Schiller Archives of Weimar. It consists of the transcription in two staves of bars 233-288 of the Organ Sonata’s Adagio. This is the only manuscript by Reubke which we currently own. Organist Enzo Pedretti has included it in his repertoire, but, unfortunately, its size prevented us from inserting it in this album.
Giorgio Benati © 2022
Enzo Pedretti, organist from Brescia (Italy), was born in 2003. He began studying piano at an early age with the Professors Eva Frick Galliera, Riccardo Bettini and Bruno Strada. He then entered the State Music Conservatory “Luca Marenzio” of Brescia in the class of Organ and Organ Composition of Professor Giorgio Benati, to whom he owed a solid education that allowed him to be admitted with the highest marks to the first three-year academic course. Under Maestro Benati’s guidance, he was presented in 2019 at the International Organ Competition of Tricesimo (UD)-President of Jury Olivier Latry who is titular Organist in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, and Organ Professor at the “Conservatoire Superieur”- and won the First Prize of Category A of the Competition with the subsequent award of a Special Prize as the youngest competitor (15 years old). In the meantime, he attended the courses of the linguistic high school, perfecting himself in English, German and French and getting his Diploma in 2022. He took part as a performer in several Masterclasses in order to deepen some aspects of the ancient and modern repertoire with many Professors including Koopman, Ghielmi, Marini, Caporali, Latry, Van Oosten, Still and Steuber. Particularly important was his encounter with Professor Wolfgang Seifen.
He has partecipated with various programmes in the performances of the opera omnia for organ by Johann Sebastian Bach promoted by the class of Professor Giorgio Benati in cooperation with the Music Universities of Brescia and Castelfranco Veneto (TV) with concerts given in the Cathedral of Asolo (TV), Brescia, Cremona, Verona and in the auditorium of the Music University of Darfo (BS). Despite his young age he has already held several concerts in various cities both in Italy and abroad including Bologna, Milan, Genoa, Cremona, Bolzano, Brescia, Bergamo, Albenga, Loreto, Asolo, Carlovac (Croatia), Regensburg, Kehlheim, Hamburg (Germany), Innsbruck, Braunau (Austria).
He already has an extensive repertoire ranging from Ancient to Modern, including Bach’s Six Trio Sonatas, the Third Part of the Clavierübung and some of the most significant works by Liszt, Reubke, Reger, Widor, Tournemire, Vierne, Dupré, Messiaen, Duruflé, Guillou, Demessieux, Escaich.
Franz Liszt: (b Raiding, (Doborján), 22 Oct 1811; d Bayreuth, 31 July 1886). Hungarian composer, pianist and teacher. He was one of the leaders of the Romantic movement in music. In his compositions he developed new methods, both imaginative and technical, which left their mark upon his forward-looking contemporaries and anticipated some 20th-century ideas and procedures; he also evolved the method of ‘transformation of themes’ as part of his revolution in form, made radical experiments in harmony and invented the symphonic poem for orchestra. As the greatest piano virtuoso of his time, he used his sensational technique and captivating concert personality not only for personal effect but to spread, through his transcriptions, knowledge of other composers’ music. As a conductor and teacher, especially at Weimar, he made himself the most influential figure of the New German School dedicated to progress in music. His unremitting championship of Wagner and Berlioz helped these composers achieve a wider European fame. Equally important was his unrivalled commitment to preserving and promoting the best of the past, including Bach, Handel, Schubert, Weber and above all Beethoven; his performances of such works as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Hammerklavier Sonata created new audiences for music hitherto regarded as incomprehensible. The seeming contradictions in his personal life – a strong religious impulse mingled with a love of worldly sensation – were resolved by him with difficulty. Yet the vast amount of new biographical information makes the unthinking view of him as ‘half gypsy, half priest’ impossible to sustain. He contained in his character more of the ideals and aspirations of the 19th century than any other major musician.
Profile from The New Grove dictionary of Music and Musicians
(Friedrich) Julius Reubke
(b Hausneindorf, nr Quedlinburg, 23 March 1834; d Pillnitz, nr Dresden, 3 June 1858). Composer, pianist and organist, son of (1) Adolf Reubke. He received his early musical training from Hermann Bönicke in Quedlinburg, and his Trio in E for two manuals and pedal dates from this period. In 1851, already proficient as an organist, he entered the newly founded Berlin Conservatory, where he studied the piano with Theodor Kullak and composition with Adolf Bernhard Marx. He was awarded high honours and Hans von Bülow considered him the school’s most gifted student. Two compositions of this period, a mazurka and a scherzo, are fluently written for the keyboard in the style of Chopin. After teaching the piano at the conservatory, in 1856 he moved to Weimar where he became one of Liszt’s favourite pupils. Close acquaintance with works of the new German school transformed his own style. In the spring of 1857 he completed his two most important works, the piano sonata in B minor and the organ sonata in C minor; the latter was first performed by him on the Ladegast organ in Merseburg Cathedral in June that year. Both works were highly esteemed by members of the Weimar circle; Liszt was particularly fond of the piano sonata and regarded Reubke as a composer of unusual promise. Reubke moved to Dresden at the end of the year; he joined the Dresdner Tonkünstlerverein and participated as pianist in its concerts. His failing health forced him to retire in the spring to Pillnitz, where he died in June. Peter Cornelius, a close friend, dedicated a poem to his memory.