Monday, October 7, 2013

The Big 3 - 0....0.

Johann Ludwig Krebs turns 300 years old sometime this week.

Are you wondering who that is? (Hey, if there's cake, don't ask....)

Mr. Krebs was a student of a fellow named Johann Sebastian Bach. If you haven't at least heard of Mr. Bach I assume you've been living in a cave or were raised by wolves or both. Or that the aliens just put you back. Krebs, on the other hand, appears to have had some difficulty in securing recognition in life, on his way to becoming a composer whose name I had seen before in my reading but whose music I had never played until a couple of weeks ago when fellow organist and blogger Vidas Pinkevicius mentioned the upcoming anniversary. So don't feel too bad if the name doesn't ring bells for you.

Besides, that means I can introduce you to something new. In the process of investigating Mr. Krebs' legacy I can currently share with you several pieces based on Lutheran Chorale melodies which one generally assumes were written in connection with Krebs' job as a church organist. Krebs himself had a good bit of difficulty getting such a job, according to The Wikipedia, which I shamefacedly confess has been my only source of research to this point. When he actually did get a job, he got paid only in food to feed his family, in lieu of an actual salary. (By the way, getting part of your salary in foodstuffs was actually quite common at the time, although there was generally also a reasonable amount of money involved as well.)

Since I myself am a church organist, and with better luck than Mr. Krebs, apparently, in that I have a job and it pays actual money, I've chosen to play a handful of these works in my church over the next couple of weeks. I've also done what might seem like an odd thing and gone and prepared these works to perform on the piano. Since Monday is generally a day for listening to piano music on this blog that makes it just about perfect.

But why the piano? The beast was only invented about 1700. That means that Krebs probably had heard of one, and may have seen one (his teacher, Bach, tested an early prototype, and later on became a kind of sales rep for an associate who built them), but it's not very likely that he had one at home or was thoroughly acquainted with this newfangled instrument. Besides, these pieces are liturgical in nature, probably meant for church, and that means the organ, because in Europe in the 18th century pianos certainly did not live in churches.

Well, about that....being the impatient type, and with a lot to do these days, I found some scores at everybody's favorite website, the International Score Library Project, printed them out, and, being at home at the time, promptly went to my piano to try them out rather than waiting until I got to church. The first thing I noticed is that they don't have a pedal part. And that they can be played rather easily on one keyboard, so they work very well on the piano. They also sound very nicely on a piano. I wondering if they would perhaps not sound so nicely on the organ. There are some rolled chords and other types of writing that make me wonder, even though I haven't tried them that way yet.

So I wonder, in my non professional-musicologist, not-completely-up-to-speed-on-all-the Krebs-literature way, whether they were in fact intended for the harpsichord, because in my mind's ear they would sound quite well on the that instrument, and also because if Mr. Krebs didn't hold a church position for a good portion of his life, that would mean he didn't have regular access to an organ, a predicament I have grown to appreciate through my wanderings on the web and the comments I have read therein. Did he have difficulty conceiving music that took advantage of this rather unique king of instruments, or did he want something he could play on instruments he had access to? (By the way, the rather secular-minded non-organist-virtuoso Telemann also did not seem too wrapped up in conceiving his chorale-based pieces for the organ, although they do steer clear of specifically non-organistic things; they simply have no pedal parts and are short and uninvolved.)

These speculations will lead me to a rather unpopular conclusion in another week or so when I discuss the provenance of a set of short Preludes and Fugues I'll be playing the last week of October. But we'll cross that bridge when we get there. For now, here are a few very nice pieces by that student of Bach. Notice the chorale tune doesn't figure prominently at all in some of them. In others, those that seem to have two parts (most of them actually have three parts in the score, but in some cases I am only playing the first, and in others the first two, parts) a solemn, quarter note melody comes in only in the second verse. In the third part, the hymn tune is played like it would be sung in church. I wonder why he did that. At any rate, you can enjoy the music without being steeped in the tunes.

Krebs: selections from the first part of his Klavier Ubung (Keyboard Notebook):

Sei Lob und Ehr dem hochsten Gut         Praise and Honor be to the Most High
Vater unser im Himmelreich                  Our Father in Heaven
Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan               What God does is done well
Jesu, meine Freude                              Jesus my Joy

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