As I get on the plane to Los Angeles tonight, I would like to answer any questions you may have about my upcoming Bach Clavierübung concert, which will be Sunday, October 30th at 7:00 pm at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu.
First of all, the time of the concert. Yes, I know that there is a Hawaii Symphony Orchestra that same day—Gustav Holst’s The Planets, but the Symphony concert starts at 4:00 pm and should be over by about 6:00 pm or so. Enough time to grab a bite to eat and come over to the Lutheran Church of Honolulu by 7:00. [Not 7:30—it’s a school night!]
And get this: Would you believe that last week the Symphony called me to play the organ part in this concert? I respectfully declined, thinking I ought to be focusing on the music of Bach! Instead my friend John Renke will be playing the organ for the symphony concert. Years ago I did play this part when the Symphony programmed this beloved work. I never knew before then that there is an organ part! I will be so sorry to miss this concert, because The Planets is one of my favorite works.
Secondly, no tickets or reservations are required. When you approach the nave door, you will be able to walk right in and be handed a program. You’re asking, how can I help? Midway during the concert, the ushers will pass the offering plates, and the entire collection (yes, 100%, the whole kit and caboodle!) will go to the Carl Crosier Memorial Fund, which funds musical outreach projects at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu. While we have suggested a donation of $25, I encourage you to be generous if you are able.
Always a concern, parking. Please, let’s leave the lot directly behind the church for handicapped parking. There is a large parking lot about one-half block mauka from the church on Poki Street which can accommodate many cars. Judging from the responses, we are optimistically expecting a good crowd.
This is just not another boring organ recital. There will be a chamber choir which will sing the chorales immediately after I play each chorale prelude. You will see the melody of each in the printed program. And in two of the chorales, people in the audience will be encouraged to join in the singing! In German, no less!
Now, to some more interesting things. I know I’ve advertised this concert as “The German Organ Mass,” because that was how it was formerly known. Yes, there are settings of the Kyrie, and the Gloria, and there’s even a Credo. But mostly, there is music for Luther’s Catechism, a term most people don’t know. This is music for the Ten Commandments, The Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Penitence and Communion—instructional lessons for new Christians.
Did you know that Bach’s Clavierübung collection contained his first keyboard works in print? Part I contained Six Partitas, BWV 825-830 for the harpsichord, published in 1726 when Bach was 41 years old. Part II was published four years later, and consisted of the French Overture BWV 831, and the Italian Concerto BWV 971. The Clavierübung III was published in 1739, and 200 copies were printed.
We find a letter from Bach’s cousin, Johann Elias Bach about these works: Thus it happens also that my good Cousin will bring out some clavier pieces that are mostly for organists and exceedingly well composed. They will probably be ready for the upcoming Easter Fair, and they make altogether some 80 folios. If my Brother can obtain some subscribers for them he will get them at a discount. Others, later, will have to pay more. [“Buy them in bulk” was practiced in the 18th century!]
The price was stated at “3 reichstaler” which in today’s money is very high—the same price equal to the cost of a viola da gamba or a small spinet harpsichord. We know the approximate value because in Bach’s estate, a viola da gamba and a spinet harpsichord were listed at 3 reichstaler each. This put the price of the collection out of reach for most organists, although the print version sold well during Bach’s lifetime. According to Carl Philipp Emanuel, Bach’s son, the print version was sold out and “nothing was left but his father’s personal copy of the edition and his composition manuscript,” according to a letter he wrote to J. N. Forkel in 1774.
I am not the only person who thinks these works are technically challenging. You may remember I once wrote that these are the most difficult works of Bach that I have ever played! Already in Bach’s lifetime people complained about the difficulty of this music. Georg Andreas Sorge, one of Bach’s colleagues, wrote: “Nothing is more necessary to the organist than he be adroit in preluding on the various chorales, according to their particular content, so that the congregation will be stimulated to sing the subsequent chorale with appropriate devotion. The preludes on the Catechism Chorales by Herr Capellmeister Bach in Leipzig are example of this kind of keyboard piece that deserve the great renown they enjoy. But works such as these are so difficult as to be all but unusable by young beginners and others who may lack the considerable proficiency they require.”
According to one early owner of the printed edition, he altered the title page to read from “for the refreshment of the spirit” to read: “for the refreshment of the eyes and the destruction of the ears (!)” [Exclamation point mine]
Hope to see you on the 30th!