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Johann Sebastian Bach / Svatá Hora / Jaroslav Tůma

 

F10242   [8595017424229]   released 11/2019 

CD1
Toccata a fuga F dur BWV 540
Preludium a fuga f moll BWV 534
Partita č. 1 f moll Christ, der du bist der helle Tag BWV 766
Fantasie a fuga c moll BWV 537
Partita č. 2 c moll O Gott, du frommer Gott BWV 767
Preludium a fuga C dur BWV 531

CD2
Preludium a fuga E dur BWV 566 (Toccata concertata)
Preludium a fuga e moll BWV 533
Partita č. 4 e moll Ach, was soll ich Sünder machen BWV 770
Preludium a fuga G dur BWV 550
Preludium a fuga g moll BWV 535
Partita č. 3 g moll Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig BWV 768

Jaroslav Tůma – the new organ at Svatá Hora (Holy Mountain) by Vladimír Šlajch (Borovany, 2009–2018)

play album Bach na Svaté Hoře CD1 75:44
1. Toccata F dur 10:34
2. Fuga F dur 6:42
3. Preludium f moll 4:54
4. Fuga f moll 6:05
5. Partita I f moll 0:52
6. Partita II f moll 2:41
7. Partita III f moll 1:23
8. Partita IV f moll 1:09
9. Partita V f moll 1:26
10. Partita VI f moll 1:04
11. Partita VII f moll 2:26
12. Fantasie c moll 5:44
13. Fuga c moll 5:08
14. Partita I c moll 1:07
15. Partita II c moll 3:18
16. Partita III c moll 1:19
17. Partita IV c moll 1:05
18. Partita V c moll 1:40
19. Partita VI c moll 1:19
20. Partita VII c moll 1:50
21. Partita VIII c moll 2:34
22. Partita IX c moll 3:39
23. Preludium C dur 2:45
24. Fuga C dur 4:56

The Main Organ in Svatá Hora: An Ideal Instrument for the Interpretation of J. S. Bach’s Composition in the Czech Republic

For a period of ten long years, when I had the occasion, from time to time, to visit the laboratory of the organ builder Vladimír Šlajch in Borovany, where the main organ for Svatá Hora was gradually assembled, I realised from the very beginning that this is a fundamental enterprise in the centuries long history of organ building in Bohemia. When the organ was nearly finished, I spoke to the media. I once compared the organ in Svatá Hora to the well-known organ in Weingarten in the southern part of Germany. There are divisions nearly everywhere: in the organ loft, around the windows, and even near the vault. The basilica in Svatá Hora is substantially smaller than the one in Weingarten, however, its interior space is divided into numerous chapels. As in Weingarten, the individual divisions are distributed over the whole western part of the nave in Svatá Hora: from the organ loft, over open lofts contiguous with the nave, up to the vault. To tell the truth, the whole laboratory was filled with the organ parts for Svatá Hora. Therefore, due to the limited space, it was only possible to complete the organ, the tracker action included, in the basilica itself. Another parallel consists in the fact that the organ in Weingarten had also been built over a very long period of time: a main organ is usually finished within two or three years. In the case of Svatá Hora the extended period of ten years resulted from difficulties in collecting the funds. The new organ was not included in the general reconstruction of Svatá Hora, which is a part of the national cultural heritage, and it was completed thanks to funds from the European Union.  Finance for the organ was provided mainly by pilgrims and benefactors since there were only limited subsidies from public sources.  

At the time when the contract to build a main organ was signed, a choral “double organ” was played in Svatá Hora. It was built by Vladimír Šlajch, who demonstrated that he had the ability to make an instrument which perfectly suits the Baroque interior of Svatá Hora, from both the acoustic and the aesthetic points of view. The contract for the main organ was signed between Vladimír Šlajch and Matice Svatohorská, the association of friends and benefactors of Svatá Hora, whose President was then and is now, Mrs Věra Langová. The Parish Priest in Svatá Hora at that time, Fr Stanislav Přibyl, took the initiative to sign a contract at a moment when it was not sure how the building of the main organ would be financed. However, he knew precisely what kind of instrument he wanted the prospective organ builder to manufacture for Svatá Hora. Shortly afterwards he became Vicar General in the Diocese of Litoměřice. At the present time, he holds the office of the Secretary General at the Czech Bishops’ Conference. Nevertheless, he continues to maintain his cordial relations with Svatá Hora and misses no opportunity to return to his Redemptorist confreres. The current Parish Priest in Svatá Hora, Fr David Horáček, is one of them. On the occasion of the blessing of the main organ, which took place on the Feast of Christ the King in November 2018, Fr Stanislav Přibyl preached a homily, which everyone present must have felt was extraordinary. Later it was translated even into Italian and published in Opole, Poland, in the international magazine for organology Musica folia. He spoke about the numerical symbolism of the new organ in relation to our human community and to God’s presence. Allow me to quote three paragraphs from his homily.

“An organ is an instrument which requires a large quantity of different materials, including both small and large pieces. It represents both an aesthetic work and a musical instrument. At the same time, it requires the skills of an artisan and the precision of a clockmaker. It is impossible to say which part of an organ is more important: whether the large shining flue pipes or the tiny leather buttons, interconnecting the single parts of the tracker action, or the airtight and very precisely made soundboards, which channel the air to the reed pipes. It is similar to a human family or to a community: it would be short-sighted to honour only the principal people since they are “sustained” through the common efforts and the enthusiasm of all those who are a part of the community and who seem to go unnoticed. In the end, the organ demonstrates this kind of collaboration in another way. It could be built thanks to so many donors who combined their energy and money. Their motivation consisted in the conception of the instrument that exists today. In order for an organ to be heard, it is necessary that three people meet: an organ builder who builds it, an organist who can play it, and a composer who writes a piece of music. Who is more important? Without the organ builder there would be NO INSTRUMENT to play; without the organist there would be NO ONE to play; without the composer there would be NO PIECE OF MUSIC to play…

… Let’s turn back to the main organ. It consists of a number of triple elements: three manuals, three kinds of pipes and three systems of bellows. Yet, the reeds are not three, but four: one of them is called Vox humana, that is, the human voice. The divisions are not three, but four as well: one cannot forget the pedal stops; their tones provide the organ with the necessary foundation. It recalls God’s three persons, but man and woman as well; man and woman whose humanity was elevated through the fact that God’s Son became a man; man and woman for whose salvation God was and is engaged. The organ has thirty-three stops, equal to the number of years Christ spent among us on the earth …

… It seems to me we have forgotten one essential thing. Without air the organ would provide no tone; maybe only a sort of clicking and grating caused by the organist’s fruitless efforts to play the instrument. Air, that is, the breath of an organ, should remind us that “the Spirit of the Lord fills the world, is all-embracing” (Wisdom 1:7). The Spirit is “the Lord, the giver of life” (Profession of Faith), as well as the giver of grace. Through a blessing, may grace come down on this instrument, on all who built it, on those who generously supported it, on those who will play it, and on those who will listen to its tones. Through a blessing given in the name of the Holy Trinity, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

This, from the homily delivered by Fr Stanislav Přibyl. The Apostolic Nuncio to the Czech Republic, Charles D. Balvo, participated in the ceremony and the Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Dominik Duka, blessed the new organ. The festive function and the organ concert that followed were broadcast live by television NOE, and it is possible to download a video recording from its archive.

Whoever visits Svatá Hora is impressed by the baroque purity of the marvellous place of pilgrimage and is surprised, at the same time, by the little central basilica dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The silver altar is undoubtedly majestic, the stucco decoration is ornate, and the gilding is rich, such that one feels comfortable inside the church, even nearly at home. The miraculous statuette of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is venerated daily at the end of each liturgy, represents the core of Svatá Hora. According to legend it was carved from pear wood by the first Archbishop of Prague, Arnošt of Pardubice, himself. The baroque basilica is its ideal home.

Making music has always been an essential part of the spiritual life in Svatá Hora. Taking into consideration the dimensions of the church and, for acoustic reasons, it is obvious that a substantially smaller organ would be theoretically sufficient. It is true that nowadays the ambition of organ builders and organists does not often respect historically proven principles. As a consequence, one faces a disproportion between the necessities of the space and the weight of the organ and its acoustic volume. But, in the case of the organ in Svatá Hora, the organ builder succeeded in achieving an extraordinary unity between the instrument and the space. From an aesthetic point of view, for instance, it is hard to imagine, after the completion of the organ in the basilica, that it was, in fact, installed only recently.   Its acoustic qualities were demonstrated immediately thereafter, when played during the everyday liturgy, on the occasion of special feasts, and in concerts such as the series of the “Organ Half Hours”, held regularly in the afternoon on Sundays from May to the beginning of October. It is true that not every organist is immediately familiar with Šlajch’s organ as is the choirmaster in Svatá Hora, Pavel Šmolík. He often emphasises that, for him and other organists, the new organ is literally a mentor and an advisor since the organ forces us to accommodate to it in both the good and the bad sense of the word. Similarly, those engaged in a living human relationship realize that it brings not only joy but also sometimes considerable effort.

As I see it, there are two conditions for playing the main organ in Svatá Hora successfully. One consists of considerable humility and an ability to accommodate to the organ; the other of a deep understanding of its special characteristics. Vladimír Šlajch built it to honour traditional organ builders who once worked in Bohemia. The decoration of the flue pipes refers to Abraham Starck from Loket, to Ondřej Kokštejn from Příbram, and to Bedřich Semrád, who worked in the region bordered by the middle part of the Vltava river.

Of course, both the key and the stop action are mechanical. Only the pedal tones of the divisions located in the open lofts are additionally equipped with a “servomechanism”, that is, with extra electrical relays. The pedal stops are operated purely electrically. Due to the tracker action built exclusively according to Baroque models, the organ clicks quite loudly when being played. Moreover, the clicking is not equal for each tone, due to the difference in distance between the single joints. A number of organists feel disconcerted by the noise. Nevertheless, the organ builder persists in the correctness of his construction and refers to a centuries old tradition in his field: ancient organists had no idea about current modern and totally noise eliminating tracker action.   

To tell the truth, the volume of the clicking reveals an organist’s style. Moreover, every one of us is forced to press and release the keys with greater attention, in an effort to decrease the sound. When playing an organ with mechanical tracker action, the way of moving one’s fingers certainly influences both the smoothness of the phrases and the acoustic impression resulting from linking the tones. The attempts at noiseless playing, which are in vain in the case of a weaker registration, influence the quality of the melodic lines in a polyphonic piece of music, in a decisive and outrightly positive way.  

The three-manual keyboard has beautiful form and combines more impressive materials, however, this does not assure easy playing. The first touches seem more to be like searching for the right keys and struggling than comfortable playing. Even if the organist has narrow fingers, it is impossible, for instance, to insert them between F sharp and G sharp and between G sharp and A sharp. One may think, at first, that the organ builder did this on purpose, that this is an intentional obstacle: now show us what you can do!  Even if this were the case, Vladimír Šlajch simply liked a keyboard with those dimensions. It is a fact, however, that an organist has to use quite an unusual fingering in a number of cases. 

Similarly, playing the pedals is not so easy. The pedalboard is in a rather low position under the manuals and is quite wide. Therefore, it usually takes a lot of time before a musician enjoys playing the pedal without errors. The pedal compass is large, up to F sharp: one can play Bach’s Toccata and fugue F major, which requires the highest quantity of pedal keys, among his compositions. Another special feature of the main organ consists in playing with one or even two mechanical manual couplers. They are activated by shifting the upper and lower keyboard: an organist plays on the middle keyboard and a lot of physical energy is required when pressing the keys as it was the case, for instance, in the eighteenth century.

The stop list of the main organ allows for a variety of acoustic options. The instrument is primarily suitable for interpretation of older music: especially for renaissance, baroque or classical pieces of music. Nevertheless, it is not forbidden to play romantic or modern compositions. It is necessary to decide which piece of music is suitable to include in the programme and which is not. To change a colour, one has to pull or push in a stop, in a purely mechanical way, in all cases. It depends on the organist whether he or she will manage to do it alone or if the assistance of another person will be needed. It is possible to combine the various stops in manifold colour options. There are two special stops: two cymbal stars. Each is situated on one of the pedal organs. They are added to the sound of the pipes at special moments, mainly at the peak of certain compositions or improvisations. When the little bells jingle, the stars start to revolve; the stars refer to the coat-of-arms of the noble Sternberg family which is found as well in other parts in the basilica.
Speaking about the main organ in Svatá Hora, one may recall the same kind of organ builders’ world, which was abandoned and forgotten many decades ago. The acoustic beauty and the technical exactness were gradually replaced by a more and more unimaginative factory production and by the efforts of maximum utility that were defined by other than primarily artistic criteria. On the contrary, the main organ in Svatá Hora is a unique instrument. The same organ can be found nowhere else. It is true that, currently, there are only very few similarly outstanding instruments built in Europe. Therefore, the main organ in Svatá Hora is singular and irreplaceable for the successful interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music in the Czech Republic. Despite all their beauty, baroque organs in the Czech Republic have a limited range: the necessary keys, pedals and stops are missing. Organs built later are suitable for the romantic style, and the majority of the modern ones suffer from the above-mentioned defects.

The space distribution of the single divisions is very unusual in Svatá Hora but, at the same time, it respects the ancient traditions. The great organ is typically divided into the C part and the C sharp part. It means that the tones C, D, E, F sharp, G sharp and B sound from one side, whereas the tones C sharp, D sharp, F, G, A and H sound from the other. The great organ occupies the biggest two parts of the case. A smaller organ, known as the positive, is situated in front, above the organist’s head, and is connected with the third manual. The choir organ is played on the first manual and is divided between bass and treble. Moreover, each stop of the choir organ is to be pulled separately in bass and treble: to the left and to the right of the console. The organ builder placed it directly behind the console in the lower case. It is used either as the third acoustically fully-fledged organ or as an accompanying or echo organ. It might be additionally provided with swell pedals in the future; they would increase the acoustic possibilities of the instrument. Like the great organ, the pedal organ is divided into the C and the C sharp part. Each of them is placed in one of the open lofts. The double rank pedal cornet plays from the division located in the uppermost part of the case (Kronwerk) under the vault. It is possible to couple stops of the great organ and the positive into the pedal. As a result, the cornet stop might be used, according to circumstances, very flexibly from both the dynamic and the mainly spatial point of view.

The most distinctive quality of the main organ in Svatá Hora consists in its acoustic versatility and, to a certain extent, its universality. If you listen to it, you have the impression for a while that you hear the baroque sound of Bohemian or southern German origin. After a few minutes you feel to be unexpectedly in nearby Saxony, listening to a Silbermann’s organ. Then you notice parts originating from the North Sea, that is, listening to the tones of the incomparable organs built by Bach’s predecessors of the northern German school. When the principal of the great organ and the gently vibrating bifara stops are pulled, you have some doubts. Are you not in Italy? Although we are in a Catholic church, the acoustics and echo fully correspond to the spirit of Bach’s Protestantism. Bach’s complicated polyphonic pieces of music sound absolutely well-arranged and concrete: in every moment it is possible to notice each detail in articulation and even the smallest emotional sensation linked to its nuanced accents. The beautiful sound of both the most imposing and the most intimate of Bach’s compositions fulfils our most courageous ideas for more perfect ecumenism among Christian churches and, ultimately, among all people of good will, whatever their opinions, since music is the most suitable intermediary.              

The dramaturgical concept of the CD you hold in your hands refers to the numerical symbolism presented by Fr Stanislav Přibyl on the occasion of the blessing of the main organ. Two other compositions, in the same key, are included in addition to four of Bach’s partitas. On two CDs there are four groups of compositions; each of them consists of three pieces of music. With the exception of the Toccata and fugue in F major, all the compositions were written by Bach in his early period. In some cases, there are some doubts if Bach was indeed their composer; however, we do not feel authorised to deliver a final verdict. I have once recorded the Prelude and fugue in E major, that is the Toccata “concertata”, on the organ built by Vladimír Šlajch in Bruchsal, Germany. Therefore, an interesting comparison is at hand. Over the years my interpretation has remained the same in a number of details, but now is totally different in other aspects. The church in Bruchsal and the basilica in Svatá Hora represent two acoustically different worlds: the compositions sound completely dissimilar. Furthermore, the stereophonic sound of the recording from Svatá Hora is a result of mixing multitrack pieces recorded in the nave and in the chapels situated at the back of the basilica. Due to the acoustic character of the basilica, the impression can made as if listening to a live performance of the main organ in Svatá Hora.

Jaroslav Tůma
titular organist of Svatá Hora

Jaroslav Tůma (1956) is a concert organist and a professor at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. He also performs on the harpsichord, clavichord, piano, and other keyboard instruments and devotes himself to composing and publication. He is a graduate of the Prague Conservatory under Prof. Jaroslav Vodrážka and of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague under Prof. Milan Šlechta (organ) and Prof. Zuzana Růžičková (harpsichord). He won first prizes in organ improvisation competitions in Nuremberg in 1980 and in Haarlem (Netherlands) in 1986 and is a laureate of a number of organ competitions, including Linz in 1978, the Prague Spring competition in 1979, the Johann Sebastian Bach Competition in Leipzig in 1980, and many others.

He performs regularly at festivals including Prague Spring, Smetana’s Litomyšl, the Janáček May Festival in Ostrava, and on other prestigious Czech stages. He has given concerts in nearly all of the countries of Europe as well as in the USA, Canada, Cuba, Japan, Mongolia, South Africa, Singapore, and elsewhere. He often serves as a jury member or chairman at international music competitions, and he teaches at international organ courses and seminars.
Tůma’s repertoire includes major works by composers from his own country and from around the world, covering a broad range of styles from the Renaissance through the twenty-first century. His discography includes more than fifty solo titles. He has a series of CDs titled “Historic Organs of Bohemia” on the Supraphon label, capturing the authentic sound of rare organs from various epochs, from the Renaissance to the early twentieth century. On the Arta Records label, he has recorded not only important works by Bach (Well-Tempered Clavier, Goldberg Variations, Orgelbüchlein, toccatas, preludes, and fugues), but also, for example, Thirty-Six Fugues for Piano by Antonín Rejcha, Eclogues by Václav Jan Tomášek, the organ sonatas of Paul Hindemith, and several CDs of organ improvisations, the most recent of which, titled Má vlast (My Country), consists of improvisations on themes by Bedřich Smetana. For Czech Radio, he has made not only many organ recordings, but also complete recorded sets of the twenty-nine piano sonatas by Jan Ladislav Dusík and of the Leipzig chorales of J. S. Bach. He is also involved with collective improvisation. In 2015–2017, for example, he realized a series of musical dance performances titled Der Erwählte (The Holy Sinner) or Gregory on the Rock, with the novel by Thomas Mann as the source of inspiration for five musicians,
a narrator, and dancers.

Jaroslav Tůma has composed, among other things, music for Pavel Koutecký’s documentary films Prague Castle through the Ages and two collections of organ works based on themes by Adam Václav Michna (Labyrinth of the Holy Love or Czech Marian Music, 2014 and The Czech Lute, 2016), and he is the author of a scholarly publication titled O interpretaci varhanní hudby s přihlédnutím k jiným klávesovým nástrojům (On the Interpretation of Organ Music with Consideration of Other Keyboard Instruments, 2016).

© Studio Svengali, December 2019
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