Helmut Walcha's Recordings
of Bach Organ Work
Holschneider(from Archiv CD 419 904-2)
English; Alan Newcombe
To commemorate the Bach bicentenary year of
1950, Archiv Produktion announced its intention to record
the complete organ works of bach on historic instruments.
The completion of the undertaking, amazingly ambitious in
view of the conditions at that time, was repeatedly
interrupted and postponed owing to the rapid development
of recording techniques(from the old shellac disc to the
mono long-playing record and on to stereophony). For the
project it was necessary to find a suitable organist who
was not only a brilliant musician, but who could also
present the individual sound of a historic instrument to
advantage. Helmut Walcha, already known as a
knowledgeable and enthusiastic specialist on historic
instruments, fulfilled all requirements.
The first records, Helmut Walcha's as well
as Archiv Productions, had been made in August 1947,
during the extremely difficult peroid of the immediate
postwar years before the currency reform, on the small
organ of St. Jakobi in Lübeck, one of the most
outstanding products of early North German
organ-building. The success of those recordings led to
the decision to record Bach's organ works complete. It
was not, however, intended to complete the recordings in
Lübeck, because despite the beauty of the original stops
- some of them dating back to the Renaissance - that
organ's pedal notes proved to be very unsuitable
acoustically, the short octave demanded too many
compromises, and increasing interference caused by
traffic noise would, in any case, have made further
recordings there very difficult. The followiwng works
were recorded on the Lübeck organ ;
Trio Sonatas BWV.525
in E flat major, BWV.530 in G major
Choral partita BWV.768 'Sei gegrüsset, Jesus
Fantasy and fugue in g minor, BWV.542
Prelude and fugue in E flat major, BWV.552
Toccata, adagio and fugue in C major, BWV.564
Toccata and fugue in d minor, BWV.565
Schübler Chorale, BWV.645~650
several chorales from the Orgelbüchlein
the search for another historic instrument in North
Germany it transpired that for the 'smaller' chorale
preludes from the Third Part of the Clavier-Übung, which call for the large octave with
all the semitones apart from the low C sharp, only the
Arp Schnitger organ in Cappel near Bremerhaven met our
requirements6). The instrument was originally built for
the St. Johannis Church in Hamburg and was transferred to
Cappel during the Napoleonic era(1816). After being
restored to an adequate, playable condition by the
Göttingen firm of Paul Ott, it became world-famous
through Helmut Walcha's recordings1).
So in June 1950 and September 1952 the series of Bach
organ work recordings was continued and completed in
Cappel, where some of the Lübeck works were also
The onset of stereophonic recording posed a
new problem; mono recordings became obsolete more quickly
than could have been expected. In 1954 it was already
deemed necessary to re-record at least the best-known
works in stereo. the very first recording for the new
project was the Art of fugue, which although not
strictly speaking a work for organ can arguably be
recreated most convincingly, that is, in the manner
thought to correspond most closely to bach's intentions,
on that instrument. The choice fell on the great organ of
the St. Laurenskerk in alkmaar(Holland), with its
magnificently resonant tone6).
It was on this organ that Helmut Walcha recorded the Art
of Fugue in September 1956, a recording that was Deutsche
Grammophon's very first in stereo. The new recordings of
the Toccata and Fugue in d minor(BWV.565), the Prelude
and Fugue in C major(BWV.547), and the Trio Sonatas in E
flat major and G major(BWV.525 and 530), were also made
at that time. BWV.540,542,572,562,582,537,
538,548,544,534,552,541,546 and 543 followed in September
Left ] The Great Organ of St. Laurenskerk,
In 1968 the plan to record Bach's complete
organ works was revived. If the project was to be brought
to fulfilment, new stereo recordings would have to be
added to the ones already made at Alkmaar. For the
'chamber music' works rich in contrasts - the chorale
arrangements and four of the trio sonatas - alkmaar
seemed less suitable, as the great organ and pedal there
have no flute stops, and the specifications of the choir
organ and upper organ are so similar that the scope for
is very restricted. The possibility was then considered
of recording the remaining works on the Schnitger organ
at Zwolle, which had recently been renovated, and whose
wide choice of registration was very well suited to our
purpose. However, that organ is tuned a whole tone higher
than present-day pitch, and it was finally decided that
because of this the recordings could not be made there.
So the decision was reached to have the new recordings
made on a Silbermann organ, as the Silbermann organs in
Alsace are among the most renowned examples of Baroque
During the summer of 1968 Helmut Walcha
travelled through Alsace, trying out possible organs. The
two organs at Marmoutier and Ebermünster, which have
survived with the least number of alterations, were not
considered for our recordings because of the restrictions
of their registration and limited pedal keyboard compass.
The choice finally fell on the organ of
Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune in Strasburg6). Only a few of its stops are actually by
Silbermann, but it has been carefully restored in
accordance with the original specification and pipe
measurements, and has been enlarged in the spirit of High
Baroque polyphony. Helmut Walcha decided in favor of this
organ and completed his series of recordings there in
September 1969, May 1970, Autumn 1970 and May 1971.
A comparison of the various recordings, from
Lübeck in 1947 to Strasburg in 1971, shows that,
disregarding the differences in the acoustics and sound
of the instruments, the interpretations remain remarkably
consistent. The stylistic principles annouced at the
outset are adhered to unwaveringly. Walcha undoubtedly
possesses a feeling for style matched by very few others,
especially with regard to his understanding of bach's
proportional tempo relations. In the virtuoso movements
the young Walcha was more unbuttoned; later he underlined
the vocal provenance even of instrumental passage-work.
The registration on the old Lübeck and Cappel recordings
is sometimes more spectacular; in Strasburg it is more
economical, lucid and subtle. Walcha has always refused
to allow his registrations to be published, a reflection
perhaps of the mentality of the craftsman who wishes to
guard the secrets of his workshop; the registrations
could also have been misrepresented if taken over
uncritically and used on other instruments.
The organ recordings from Lübeck and Cappel
are all deleted and have not been available for many
years5). The Alkmaar and Strasburg recordings are
presented here on 12 Compact Discs; CDs 1~6(from both
Strasburg and Alkmaar) contain the free (i.e. not
chorale-based) Toccatas, as well as Helmut Walcha's
completion of the final fugue from the Art of Fugue,
recorded in 1970 on the Strasburg organ at his special
request; on CDs 7~11 (from Strasburg) are the
liturgically based works, chorale preludes and other
compositions based on hymn tunes; the set concludes
(CDs 11~12) with the Art of Fugue recording of
1956(with the final fugue left incomplete) at the organ
of the St. Laurenskerk in Alkmaar.
Works whose authenticity seems doubtful,
owing to the form in which they have come down to us or
for stylistic reasons, have not been recorded. This
applies above all to the six organ concertos,
BWV.592~597. We have also not recorded the Eight little
Preludes and Fugues BWV.553~560, as they have been
attributed to Bach's pupil Johann Ludwig Krebs, or to his
father Johann Tobias Krebs. We have also omitted the
chorale partitas BWV.766,767 and 770, whose sources are
questionable, and whose style does not display Bach's
accustomed mastery; they are generally regarded as
youthful works. Also in dispute is the authenticity of
numerous chorales included in the list of Bach's works
under the numbers 690~713a(Kirnberger Collection),
714~740 and 741~765. We have included a representative
selection from these groups.
These recordings contain the sum of a
lifelong artistic and spiritual concern with the works of
Bach. At the same time they represent a notable chapter
in the history of Archiv Produktion, which is linked in
gratitude with the name Walcha. This new release on
Compacat Disc may be understood as an 'hommage à
Helmut Walcha' on his 80th birthday.
Silbermann Organ in the Church of Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune,
- Original note in
booklet; From 1963 to 1965 the condition
of the organ deteriorated alarmingly. Almost all
the shutters cracked. At Helmut Walcha's
instigations funds were raised to permit
extensive renovation. In 1976-77 the organ was
restored, completely in accordance with
historical practice, by the Hamburg
organ-builders Rudolf von Beckerath. In October
1977 Helmut Walcha recorded there 'his' large
repertoire of works by Lübeck, Scheidt,
Buxtehude, Böhm, Sweelink, Bruhns, Tunder and
Pachelbel(4 LPs). These records - it was Helmut
Walcha's own wish that they should be his last -
appeared on the Archiv Produktion label in early
- The late Cappel
recordings are released as the title
"Orgelmeisters vor Bach(Masters of organ
before Bach)". In original note, there is an
error that this set is 3 LPs(4
LPs is right). In this recordings, works by
Lübeck, Scheidt, Buxtehude, and Bruhns were
released by Archiv CDs. Unhappily, they seem to
be deleted from the DG international catalogue
now(Dec. 2000). See discography page.
- (In playing cembalo or
organ) Selection of the stops and coupling of
them. Very important to the art of the playing.
- Of course, some organists
including Marie-Claire Alain publish their
registrations. See Alain's Franck works
- Lübeck recordings were
released as single CD by Archiv(Dokumente
series), but disappeared now. As far as I know,
monaural Cappel recordings have never released as
CD outside Japan, but in 2004 Original Masters
series reissued them as a box(as of 2012, again
cut off from catalog). See discography page.
- Disposition of the
Cappel, Alkmaar, and Strasburg ; 'disposition'
means what stops each keyboards has. The original
text says Alkmaar organs has very limited freedom
of contrast, which I want you to ascertain by
comparing this disposition tables.
1) Disposition of the Arp Schnitger
Organ, Cappel(pitch; g# = 435)
2) Disposition of the Great Organ
of St. Laurens Church, Alkmaar
Viola da Gamba 8'
Floit Dous 4'
Vox Humana 8'
Quinte 1 1/2'
Vox Humana 8'
3) Disposition of the Silbermann Organ
of Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune, Straßburg
||56 notes, C~G5
||56 notes, C~G5
||30 notes, C~F3
Quinte 2 2/3'
Quarte de Nazard 2'
Cornet 5fach(ab c')
Fourniture 4fach(1 1/3')
Larigot 1 1/3'
Voix humaine 8'
Nazard 2 2/3'
Tierce 1 3/5'
from the Great
sound box; heard
from the east
Quarte de Nazard 2'
Fourniture 4fach(2 1/3')
(c) 1987~ , original text by
Andreas Holschneider & Deutsche Grammophon
(c) 2000~ , Youngrok LEE ; Link free, but please get my approval
before you reuse, copy, or quote this materials.
Created ; 3rd Dec. 2000
Last update ; 7th Oct. 2012