Various organists playing organ works by Johann Sebastian Bach

This is the 20th release and to celebrate this I’ve chosen different works by J. S. Bach played by five different organists. As you can see, there are two duplicates; the Alfred Sittard and Fernando Germani have already been released (IHORC-02 and IHORC-11) but the transfer was made from other 78rpms which are of a quality worth presenting here.
Looking back over the 20 releases here on IHORC, it’s very clear that recording organ works J. S. Bach for an organist of that period was standard, and the repertoire is quite broad. Of course there are numerous versions of the famous Toccata and Fugue in d minor, but about all genres of his organ works are represented here in some form or another. All the organists tried their hands on the “big ones”, but they also ventured into the more elusive parts of his organ production, e.g. Heitmann recorded the “Kunst der Fuge”, Walcha the “Schübler Chorales” (on the other hand Walcha has recorded the complete works twice, so he is a little out of the question, but anyway), Germani the “Fuga supra Magnificat”, Vierne parts from the “Orgelbüchlein” and Sittard parts from the Bach-Vivaldi-transcriptions.
Another interesting thing is that since it was popular recording J. S. Bach, it must have been popular as a commercial product. As I pointed out in the Louis Vierne release, it’s rather odd that when the French department of HMV/Odéon finally got Louis Vierne to record, they chose to record J. S. Bach instead of trying to preserve one of the great masters personal interpretations of his own works (like Edward Elgars own electrical recording sessions from 1926-1933). It looks like the organ music of J. S. Bach survived through time and the change of style and taste. We must keep in mind that though the earliest organ recordings here were done from the mid 1920s, the musicians represented span almost 80 years – Widor born 1844 to Demessieux born in 1921. Vierne was the first in the current collection who recorded J. S. Bach and was born in 1870 which makes the time span 51 years up to Demessieux. I’m of course aware of the organists had to consult with the record companies when selecting repertoire, and the record company and the producer nonetheless had the final word (just think of when Sergei Rachmaninoff suggested his record company Victor to his repertoire of his last season which included the Liszt b-minor sonata, the Beethoven Appasionata-sonata and piano duet with the young Horowitz playing his Symphonic Dances and was turned down!). Since Mendelssohns famous revival of J. S. Bachs music, and perhaps even earlier, it’s been in the center of every keyboard player. I think it was Czerny who instructed his students to warm up every morning playing “Das Wohltemperierte” and Hans von Bülow told his student to practice and transpose “Das Wohltemperierte” every day.

Since two of the organists in this release are presented for the first time, I’ll give a short biography on them.

Günther Werner Hans Ramín (15 October 1898 – 27 February 1956) Ramin, the son of a pastor, was born in Karlsruhe, Germany. At the age of 12 he was accepted into the famed Thomanerchor of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig by the then-cantor, Gustav Schreck. At the time Karl Straube was Schreck's assistant, and he took note of Ramin's abilities as an organist and composer. Later, when Straube took over the cantorate at the Thomaskirche, Ramin became his assistant, filling in for him as choirmaster and director. During World War I, Ramin was drafted into military service; however, he managed to complete his examinations at the Leipzig Conservatorium with distinction in January 1917 and on 30 May 1918, Straube was able to write to him on the front that he had been chosen as organist of the Thomaskirche. Ramin returned from the war and took up this position, which he held for twenty-two years until World War II broke out. (From Wikipedia)

I’m a bit unsure of where Ramin recorded this piece. Some sources say that it’s the Sauer organ in the Leipziger Thomas Kirche which in many ways make sense, but I’ve with help from a colleague compared the sound and recording with other recordings by Ramin which for sure was made in Thomas Kirche and the sounds doesn’t seem to match. I of course know, that many factors and limitations were in play when making a 78rms organ recording, but if anyone knows anything, please send me an email.

George Dorrington Cunningham (London October 2, 1878 - Birmingham August 4, 1948) important concert organist. Born of musical parents, Cunningham studied piano with his mother, subsequently switching to organ at the Guildhall School of Music. Upon graduation he studied with Josiah Booth at Park Chapel, Crouch End, North London. From there he enrolled in the Royal Academy of Music, where he became an FRCO at age eighteen and organist of the Alexandra Palace at twenty-two, in 1901.
After 1900 Cunningham's fame as a recitalist steadily grew. However during the armistice celebrations of 1918 the instrument at Alexandra Palace was wantonly wrecked, and was not restored and re-opened again until December 1929. In 1924 Cunningham was appointed Birmingham City Organist and Birmingham University Organist. He also played often at the Town Hall of the same city.
Cunningham's most important students were E. Power Biggs, George Thalben-Ball, who succeeded him at Birmingham in 1949, and Michael (Stockwin) Howard. (From Wikipedia)

The releases consist of 78rpms from Claus Byrith’s own collection, and I hereby send my best thanks to him for the transfers.

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  1. What a great posts you have done here! On my blog I have a 25cm LP from a Dutch organ player, Charles de Wolff, with music from Bach, Scheidt, Buxtehude, Reger and a Dutch organist/composer, Anthon van der Horst.


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