German Chorale-Preludes from the decades around 1900 by Martin Moree

by Martin Moree | Het ORGEL | Year 100 | (2004) | Issue 5

Martin Moree German Chorale-Preludes from the decades around 1900
Het ORGEL 100 (2004), nr. 5, 20-31 [summary]

German organists wrote many chorale-preludes in the decades around 1900. Their quality is not always good, but quite a few pieces are interesting – as long as one doesn’t expect the level of Reger or Karg-Elert beforehand. 
Over the past few years, several German publishing companies have brought out a considerable number of these chorale-preludes, especially after the release of the new Evangelische Gesangbuch. Important organists/composers are Richard Bartmuß, Gerard Bunk, Theophil Forchhammer, Paul Gerhardt, Otto Heinermann, Karl Hoyer, Paul Krause, Rudolph Palme and Carl Piutti. Their works reflect contemporary developments: organs changed (their timbre became more homogenous, changing registrations often became obligatory), and old melodies and rhythms of ecclesiastical music were restored. Textual elements are typically an important aspect of the new chorale preludes. In many cases the composers refer to Mendelssohn’s style, but the newer style of Liszt was adopted as well, resulting in chorale-preludes that sounded like so-called Charakterstücke. Explicit references to Bach were made time and again: Heinermann in particular wrote some preludes that resemble Sinfonias of Bach’s Cantatas. 
It is remarkable that the quality of secular music is often better than that of the chorale-preludes in this period. A good example is the work of Gerard Bunk, who wrote rather mediocre chorale-preludes, but whose larger compositions, such as the Legende and the Fantasie, can compete well with the works of Karg-Elert.
The chorale-preludes may be interesting to non-German organists, as many of the melodies from the Evangelische Gesangbuch are common abroad as well.