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Twin Cities Organ Concert Series
February 21, 2010
Lenten Prayers

Linda Mack, Organist.

Alain: Litanies | Vierne: Priere (from Dix Pieces) | Buxtehude: Two Chorale Preludes
Bach: Fugue in E-Flat Major, BWV 552 (St. Anne) | Mendelssohn: Sonata VI in D Minor, Op.65

Jehan Alain (1911-1940)

'When the Christian soul in distress can no longer find new words to implore the mercy of God, it repeats ceaselessly and with a vehement faith the same invocation. Reason has reached its limits: faith alone can go further.”

French composer Jehan Alain inscribed these words on the score of his descriptive work Litanies, written in anguish over the loss of his 23-year-old sister Marie-Odile in a 1937 mountain accident. Utilizing the litany prayer form–a series of supplications using a quasi plainsong melody, Alain creates a “prayer (that is) not a lament, but an irresistible storm which overthrows everything in its way. It is also an obsession: it must fill the ears of men . . . and of the good Lord.”

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Rene Vierne (1878-1918)
Priere (from Dix Pieces)

René Vierne, (younger brother of the famous Louis Vierne) whose creative life was cut short in the battles of the first world war, left several colorful pieces for organ. This short piece, from a set of ten published in 1908, is a quiet, contemplative prayer, exploring the various string ensembles of the organ.

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Dietrich Buxtehude(1637-1707)
Two Chorale Preludes

Ich dank dir, lieber Herre, BuxWV 194
Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist, BuxWV 2008

The great master of Lübeck, Dietrich Buxtehude, is famous not only for his inspiration to the young J. S. Bach, but also his mastery of stylus fantasticus. This style is related to improvisation, but is a form dominated by the use of short contrasting episodes and is full of thematic, tempo and coloristic surprises. He uses this style not only in his free form works, but also in a number of his 47 settings of chorale tunes. The chorale fantasy Ich dank dir, lieber Herre, BuxWV 194 (I Thank Thee, Lord) is based on the Reformation hymn meant to be sung in the morning, giving thanks for safety through the night. After an initial statement of the opening of the hymn in four-part harmony, bits of the tune appear in various voices concluding with one of Buxtehude’s characteristic flights of fantasy.

I thank Thee, Lord, for keeping they watch throughout the night
And guarding me while sleeping in slumber’s fetters tight.
With thanks I bow before Thee, O Thou my God and Lord
And urgently implore Thee; this day Thy help afford.

Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist, BuxWV 209 (To God the Holy Spirit, we pray) is one of Buxtehude’s most exquisite settings of a chorale tune. The expressive Pentecostal prayer treats the chorale tune in a discretely coloratura manner while the accompaniment offers short fragments of imitative interest.

Shine in our hearts, O Spirit, precious light;
Teach us Jesus Christ to know aright,
That we may abide in the Lord who bought us,
Till to our true home he has brought us. Lord, have mercy!

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Johann Sebastian Bach(1685-1750)
Fugue in E-Flat Major, BWV 552 (St. Anne)

This Fugue has pride of place by concluding the large set of chorale preludes (introduced by an equally magnificent Prelude ) called Clavierübung III. This set was the first of Bach's works to appear in print (1739). The Fugue in E-flat is often called the “Trinity” or “St. Anne.” The reference to the Trinity is due to the fact that the piece has three sections, three flats, and three main themes. One theme occurs in all three sections, and that phenomenon accounts for the “St. Anne” reference. That theme sounds very much like the English tune, St. Anne , which is most often associated with Isaac Watts' hymn O God, Our Help in Ages Past.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our God while life shall last,
And our eternal home.

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Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Sonata VI in D Minor, Op.65

Theme & Variations on Vater Unser in Himmelreich
Finale (Andante)

Felix Mendelssohn was one of the leading organ virtuosos of his time and an indefatigable promoter of the works of Bach. Following a successful concert tour to England, the publisher of Coventry and Hollier commissioned Mendelssohn to write some “voluntaries” for the organ. In response, Mendelssohn produced six multi-movement works which he in turn called “sonatas.” The sixth sonata is cast in three main movements: a Theme & Variations on Martin Luther’s versification of the Lord’s Prayer, Vater Unser in Himmelreich, a fugue on that theme, and a finale. This afternoon we will hear the variations and the finale, a serene benediction, exploring the very softest sounds of the organ.

Our Father, thou in heaven above,
Who biddest us to dwell in love,
As brethren of one family,
And cry for all we need to thee;
Teach us to mean the words we say,
And from the inmost heart to pray.

Thy kingdom come! Thine let it be
In time, and through eternity!
O let thy Holy Spirit dwell
With us, to rule and guide us well;
From Satan's mighty power and rage
Preserve thy Church from age to age.

Give us this day our daily bread,
Let us be duly clothed and fed,
And keep thou from our homes afar
Famine and pestilence and war,
That we may live in godly peace,
Unvexed by cares and avarice.

Forgive our sins, O Lord, that they
No more may vex us, day by day,
As we forgive their trespasses
Who unto us have done amiss;
Thus let us dwell in charity,
And serve each other willingly.

Into temptation lead us not;
And when the foe doth war and plot
Against our souls on every hand,
Then, armed with faith, O may we stand
Against him as a valiant host,
Through comfort of the Holy Ghost.

Amen! that is, So let it be!
Strengthen our faith and trust in thee,
That we may doubt not, but believe
That what we ask we shall receive;
Thus in thy name and at thy word
We say Amen, now hear us, Lord!

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2010.
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Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts