LMH encourages and, where possible, provides grant to enable our scholars to advance their training. The college actively encourages scholars to participate in the Music Faculty’s Betts programme of study, which includes study visits abroad.
A study trip in Germany
Senior Organ Scholar Guy Steeds writes about his recent study in Germany
Before attending the Betts Study Tour to Germany, I knew only a select amount about the issues surrounding the ideal organ for performance of Bach’s works, or the ‘Bach Organ’. The trip helped me to engage with the kinds of colours which Bach came into contact with during his lifetime. There are two organs in particular I would like to contrast, the 1739 Trost organ in Altenburg and the 1746 Hildebrandt organ in St. Wenzel, Naumburg.
The Trost organ has particular significance given that it is a surviving instrument to have a direct connection with Bach, because he came to Altenburg to examine the organ and thought highly of it in 1739.
The question is, what is it about this organ which made it attractive to Bach? One feature is the heavy plenum chorus and another is the variety of solo stops. Before coming to Germany, I thought that string stops (those pitched sharp to imitate the string family) were a register much more associated with Romantic French repertoire. However the organ at Altenburg has a worthy Vugara 8’ stop which is normally played together with flute stop such as the Quintadena 8’ or the Hohl-Flote 8’. (Later practice shows that routinely many 8’ stops were blended together). Contrasting these stops first hand showed me the diversity one can achieve on this two manual organ. This contrasts slightly to the Silbermann organs (the most famous at the time) which Bach thought didn’t have enough new solo stops.
The Organ at Naumburg was built by a student of Silbermann, Zacharias Hildebrandt, and completed in 1746. This organ I believe to be a good contender for the Bach organ for a few reasons.
First, I felt that the plenum had more richness and gravity than the Altenburg organ without being necessarily ‘heavy’. I noted that this very substantial organ (3 manuals and pedal), still had an interesting range of solo stops.
Hearing a short concert of Bach’s organ works (given by the Church organist) on this instrument really demonstrated the instrument’s eclectic capability. We heard the expressive stylus fantasticus of Bach’s Fantasia in G minor (BWV 542i), organ chorales from the Schubler and ‘The eighteen’ sets and the dance like but dazzling polyphony of the Bach G minor Fugue.
It is worth noting the privilege that current organists have in being able to recognise the instruments which make up those contenders for the ‘Bach Organ’. Fifty years ago, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, parts of Saxony and Thuringia were unknown to English organists and so it was believed that the north German organ best represented the Bach organ. I am very grateful for all the valuable experiences I had on this successful trip.