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Who was the composer of Richard Wagner´s unwritten organ music ?

2017-07-18 - Playing and Pieces

Who was the composer of Richard Wagner´s unwritten organ music and
where can you find both Wagner's "Pilgrims-choir" (Tannhäuser) and ideas from a Bach-Prelude in the same composition?
By Wolfram Syré

The relationship of Richard Wagner to France began with a performance of Tannhäuser at the Paris Opera. Especially for the ballett he changed some parts of it. Thus it is fully understandable that Wagner´s music became very interesting for some French organ masters of that time. Théodore Dubois e. g. arranged some titles from Wagner's operas for the organ. When Félix-Alexandre Guilmant visited Germany for a recital tour in 1891 he travelled also to Bayreuth and listened to performances of Wagner-compositions. Here he composed two organ pieces: "Morceau Symphonique" Op. 75, 2 (7. August 1891) and "Andante sostenuto et Allegro giocoso" Op. 74, 3 (9./10. August 1891). Both pieces content a lot of melodical and harmonical elements which are without any doubt inspirated by Richard Wagner.
Whereas Guilmant respected the music of Wagner and therefore composed a few organ pieces in his style, it was the organist Joseph Callaerts (1838 - 1901) who opened the organ for the musical world of Richard Wagner. Callaerts was a pupil of Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens. In 1855 he became a cathedral-organist at Antwerpen being a professor for organ and theory of harmony at the Conservatory of this town at the same time. Callaerts was a friend of Félix-Alexandre Guilmant and Charles-Marie Widor who had also studied with Lemmens. In a way the "Pièces pour Orgue" by Callaerts are his answer to Guilmant's "Pièces d'Orgue dans différents Styles". With these twenty-four pieces - containing very different types of musical forms - Callaerts proves himself as the most important Belgian Romantic organ composer.
Joseph Callaerts was a rich man, "dessen Wohlhabenheit ihn unabhängig macht, die Kunst um der Kunst willen zu betreiben" (who's circumstances allow him, to be artist because of the art itself). His organ music is part of the French Romantic organ tradition. Still he didn´t compose like an elegant Frenchman, but his music is sensual like Belgian chocolades.
What else? The key to understand the musical intentions of Callaerts is the "Toccata ou Final" Op. 23, 3. It starts with a motive from Bach's Prelude in a minor (BWV 543, 1) and continues with a kind of music which might be played on a Flemish folk festival. But suddenly an interlude appears with an absolutely exact paraphrase of Wagner's Pilgrims-choir from Tannhäuser. The Pilgrims-choir is also the subject of the glorious final of this Toccata. We don't know if Callaerts and Wagner were in contact. Callaerts promotes Wagner in his "Pièces pour Orgue" without mentioning or quoting the name of Wagner in the score. An explanation might be the following: Richard Wagner was a "persona non grata" for the Roman-Catholic church in his time because of his lifestyle. Possibly promoting the music of Wagner Callaerts could have had difficulties in his job as a cathedral organist although he was economically independent.
The copy of a complete Wagner-subject in the "Toccata ou Final" Op. 23, 3 is unique in the "Pièces pour Orgue". The other pieces promote the Wagner-style in a less distinct way. Of course, Callaerts as teacher for theory of harmony was interested in Wagner's new melodical and harmonical ideas. Playing these "Pièces pour Orgue" Wagnerian details can be found everywhere.
Callaerts follows some special musical ideas or patterns by Wagner which can be identified. It is interesting that Callaerts freely copies only subjects from the "Romantic" operas of the early Wagner: Lohengrin, Tannhäuser and Tristan. As a contrast to the above mentioned full quotation of the pilgrims´choir we will now meet short episodes or ideas which remind us of special Wagner-titles. I found the following parallels:

Wagner: Tristan und Isolde / Wesendonck-Lieder
Callaerts: "Elégie" Op. 31, 1; "Bénediction Nuptiale" Op. 32, 2

Wagner: Lohengrin, Ouverture zum 1. Akt
Callaerts: the second subject from "Méditation" Op. 20, 2

Wagner: Lohengrin. Ouverture zum III. Akt
Callaerts: the first Trio from "Marche Triomphale" Op. 20, 3; "Marche Nuptiale" Op. 22, 3; Grand-Choeur-part from "Marche Triomphale" Op. 30, 3

Wagner: Lohengrin. Prozession zum Münster
Callaerts: Grand-Choeur-part from "Marche Triomphale" Op. 20, 3;
"Communion" Op. 23, 2

Wagner: Lohengrin. Brautchor
Callaerts: the second subject from "Méditation" Op. 20, 2; "Mélodie Op. 28, 1; the middle-part from "Invocation" Op. 28, 2

Wagner: Tannhäuser: Einzug der Sänger auf der Wartburg
Callaerts: the Fanfare from "Marche de Fête" Op. 28, 3; the second Grand-Choeur-part from "Marche Triomphale" Op. 30, 3

Wagner: Tannhäuser. "O du holder Abendstern"
Callaerts: the first subject from "Méditation" Op. 20, 2; "Cantilène" Op.
23, 1; "Offertoire. Duo" Op. 29, 2

Additionally there are pieces which use short elements from the world of Wagner's melodies and harmonies in a new connection:
"Adoration" Op. 21, 1; "Prière" Op. 22, 1; "Marche Funèbre" Op. 29, 3; "Prière" Op. 30, 1; "Scherzo" Op. 31, 3

So we can see that the twenty-four "Pièces pour Orgue" are a definite promotion of Wagner´s music and with them he outs himself as a true Wagnerian for everybody who can read music. Callaerts had the merit to give us organ compositions which Wagner could have written. We know organ-arrangements of numerous parts from Wagner-operas in the British and US-American (Lemare, Westbrook) and in the French Romantic (Dubois) tradition of playing the organ. With Callaerts we have autonomous organ music in Wagner´s style.

Listen to:

Félix-Alexandre Guilmant: Morceau Symphonique Op. 75, 2

Félix-Alexandre Guilmant: "Andante sostenuto et Allegro giocoso" Op. 74, 3

Joseph Callaerts: [24] "Pièces pour Orgue" (complete)

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