Schoenberg & Reger

Schoenberg: Variations on a Recitative | Reger: Benedictus

Martin Souter, organ

Arnold Schoenberg's Variations on a Recitative were first published in 1943 in an edition which gave very detailed performance instructions based on the 1928 Skinner organ in Princeton University Chapel. A restoration of this organ has made it possible to reconstruct the intentions of this edition, and this recording therefore brings the forensic practices of early music to the 1940s.

In addition, there are two amazing pieces by Max Reger. The 'Benedictus' provides a perfect foil to Schoenberg's monumental work and it is followed by Reger's own monumental piece, the 'Introduction, Variations and Fugue'.

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Track listing

Arnold Schoenberg
Variations on a Recitative Op 40
1. Recitative
2. Variations
3. Fugu

Max Reger
4. Benedictus Op 59 No 9

Introduction, Variations and Fugue on an Original Theme in F Sharp Minor Op 73
5. Introduction
6. Theme and Variations
7. Fugue

In the press

“Obsidian is known for its catalogue of scrupulously stylish recordings of early music, so a disc of organ pieces by Schoenbergand Reger might seem unlikely from a company that has never previously ventured beyond 1750. But Martin Souter's account of the Variations on a Recitative is an exercise in period performance, too, for he plays Schoenberg's only organ work, composed in the US in 1941, on the Skinner instrument in Princeton University Chapel on which the detailed registration in the published score was based. It's one of the pieces from the last decade of Schoenberg's life in which he returned to the overripe Romanticism of his early music, and it makes a fascinating comparison with the two works by Reger that Souter also includes. The brief Benedictus acts as a preface to the 40-minute Introduction, Variations and Fugue in F sharp minor, whose saturated harmonies and monumental structure, with the half-hour-long set of variations as its centrepiece, seems tailor-made for the Princeton organ's power and range of colour.”
- The Guardian | 4* review

From the booklet notes

“The American music publisher, WM Gray commissioned an extensive 'Contemporary Organ Series' during the 1930s. By this time Schoenberg was already resident in the United States of America, having left Europe in 1933. He began writing an organ sonata for this company in a serial style, using a tone row, but only two fragments of this piece remain and he abandoned the work after only a short while. Instead, Schoenberg wrote a set of variations in tonal idiom, once more paying homage to the music he had known and admired as a young man. Like many of his own early works, this set of variations is monumental in its scope. It was completed by the spring of 1941, published in 1943, and given its first public performance the following year in New York. The organist who gave this performance was Carl Weinrich; the task had befallen him of working on the edition a few years previously. When Schoenberg wrote the score he indicated the pitches he wished to hear; pitches that were not necessarily those which could be played on a conventional organ. His own comments on this are instructive in this regard:

I write always the pitch which I want to hear... I am not very fond of unnecessary doublings in octaves. I realise that the organ to some extent can become louder only by addition of upper and/or lower octaves. I realise that one must allow an organist to do this if there is no better way of balancing the voices according to their structural importance. But I would like to have such doubling avoided if clearness and transparency can be achieved without addition of octaves.

It fell to Weinrich to realise the composer’s intentions.”

(c) Martin Souter