Brahms made a fairly slender contribution to the organ literature when set beside his works for solo voices, for chamber ensembles and orchestra, and it is confined to the farthest extremes of his career as a composer. Several preludes and fugues from 1856-7, while Brahms was still in his early 20s and lately crowned by Robert Schumann as a saviour for German music, the one true successor to Beethoven. He then wrote nothing for the instrument until the early summer of 1897, when he produced a set of 11 chorale preludes, designated them Op.122 and dedicated them to the memory of Schumann’s wife Clara, who had died on 20 May that year, leaving the composer without his best and dearest friend.
Nonetheless the two sets of works, so far apart in years, share several qualities: not least a polyphonic rigour borne of dedicatedtraining, complete mastery of counterpoint and a reverence for the German Baroque and Renaissance in music which Brahms considered his artistic heritage as much as that by more recent predecessors such as Beethoven and Schumann. They also share with the sacred choral works such as the German Requiem a mood of humble devotion and great melodic beauty: whatever the context, Brahms knew how to write a tune.
This new recording was made on the organ of the Cathedral of Amelia in Umbria, an instrument built by the Austrian firm of Rieger brothers in 1904 and comprehensively restored by Pietro Corna in 2014. The booklet prints a full organ specification as well as a history of the instrument, an explanation of Brahms’s relationship with the organ and the original chorale texts on which the late Preludes are based. Built in the orchestral style of late-19th-century German organs, the instrument is ideally equipped to register the sombre poetry of Brahms’s music.
Brahms’ most significant works for the organ are the “11 Chorale Preludes Op. 122”, his very last compositions, published 5 years after his death in 1897. The chosen Chorales all related to the suffering and death of Christ. Written after the death of his beloved Clara Schumann the mood is stark and somber, foreboding his own death. The style is based on the counterpoint of Johann Sebastian Bach, the music expressing the words of the text.
The other organ works on this CD are from an earlier period of Brahms’ life.
Italian organist Adriano Falcioni plays on the magnificent 1904 Rieger organ of Amelia Cathedral in Italy, the history and specifications of which are included in the booklet.
Adriano Falcioni is one of the foremost organists of Italy, he recorded for Brilliant Classics works by Daquin, Couperin, Bruhns, Muffat, Reger, Franck and Duruflé.