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F10275   [8595017427527]   released 9/2022

Christoph GRAUPNER (1683–1760) : Monatliche Clavier Früchte (1722)
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750) : Concerto C dur, BWV 976 
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562–1621) : Unter der Linden grüne 
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583–1643) : Toccata sesta (1637)
Jaroslav TŮMA (1956) : Pocta Janu Blažeji Santinimu (improvizace)
Johann Jakob FROBERGER (1616–1667) : Toccata in a, FbWV 102
Johannes Justus WILL (1675–1747) / Jaroslav TŮMA : Schlag-Stücke / Improvizace

Jaroslav Tůma - organ in the Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Saint Nicholas, in Žďár nad Sázavou (the instrument was built by Johann David Sieber after 1710) 

Total time – 79:17

The organist, who climbs the narrow spiral stairs to the gallery at the end of the northern part of the transept of the former monastery church in Žďár nad Sázavou, sees the Sieber organ from an unusual perspective. To his left hand, in the corner by the wall, there is the original system of four wedge bellows, but he actually views the organ itself - which has the shape of a kind of unusual monstrance, or some sort of bell - from behind and slightly above.The organ case is equipped with prospect pipes on all sides and from anywhere you look it seems intimate, but at the same time impressive. If you then want to get to the keydesk, built into the main body of the organ, you have to climb very narrow steps in a downward direction. Considering your own weight the easiest way would probably be going backwards, as if you were safely descending from a hunting perch. According to the concept of the architect of the local sacral building gem, the famous Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel, the instrument stands in an unusual place, on a kind of bridge visually spanning the mouth of the northern part of the transept. In reality, however, the organ rests on massive bricked-up beams.

The basilica, the shrine of one of the two parishes in Žďár region, is part of the castle complex, which was originally a Cistercian monastery. Santini is the author of the world-famous sacral pilgrimage church on Zelená hora, only a few hundred meters away. However, he was also fundamentally involved in the restoration of the originally Gothic church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and St. Nicholas. Important orders were entrusted to him by the then Abbot Václav Vejmola, to whom Santini was recommended by Sedlec Abbot Jindřich Snopek. In addition to the reconstruction of the Gothic cathedral in Sedlec near Kutná Hora, his other famous architectural works include monastery churches and building complexes in Kladruby, Plasy, Mariánské Týnice, Křtiny and Želiv.

Mojmír Horyna - one of the most significant experts and admirers of Santini's work - will help us to understand Santini's impeccable idea of ​​the design and effect of his architectural projects. Horyna writes: "There is no doubt that the church on Zelená hora is a work that exceeds the boundaries of the Baroque era style and at the same time fulfills it with extreme courage. In this sense, it is a kind of timeless artistic and religious message of tremendous importance."

As part of the concept of restoration of the Žďár monastery church, Santini removed the spacious western gallery, which could have housed the organ; and with respect to the needs of the local liturgical service, he placed them as close as possible to the space of the presbytery. In the mouth of the opposite side of the side nave, he designed the same "bridge", on which he situated an almost identical organ case, which was long unjustifiably thought to have only an optical function. However, this view, in my opinion, ignores the essential facts. Santini was an architect who thought through every detail. And all the details had their function. I am convinced that he was counting on an organ in the second organ case as well, but apparently there were not enough funds for its realization at the time. The assumption that only some fake pipes should have been hung in the second case and that this case was only intended as an artistic counterpoint to the organ for the sake of artistic symmetry is also ruled out by a recent detailed examination of this parallel cabinet, during which no traces of the hanging of fake pipes were found. Another indirect evidence that Santini intended two instruments placed against each other is, I believe, his personal experience and knowledge. Between 1696 and 1699, he embarked on a journey that was customary for craftsmen at the time, staying mainly in Italy, where this organist practice was common.

In the Czech lands, this would have been a unique solution at the time, although in some churches you could find two or more organs, e.g. in Plasy or Želiv. The main one was usually on the west side, the "second" one usually near the presbytery, while in Žďár, if the hypothesis was valid, it would be two mirror-positioned choir instruments. Such a solution would of course make it possible to perform organ music on two instruments at the same time (we can still experience it in Italy today) either in the form of improvisation or by performing existing compositions. There is an immense amount of such music literature, unfortunately there is no place in this country where it could be performed in a stylistically appropriate way. Finishing the construction of the second organ would be a deed far exceeding the local region. For organ lovers, Žďár nad Sázavou would become an even bigger magnet.

This fact naturally leads to considerations of what the opposite instrument should look and sound like, if it were ever to be completed. It is certainly necessary to take into account the requirements for its top parameters; not every contemporary organ company can live up to the obligation to create a worthy counterweight to Sieber's instrument. It is also absolutely vital that both instruments can play at the same time. The tuning pitch must be subordinated to this, and the temperament must imitate the Sieber organ, however, in details the instrument does not have to be identical, but rather the opposite. The intention to implement ancient concepts is certainly absolutely legitimate, the recent completion of the eastern ambit designed by Santini in the pilgrimage site in Mariánská Týnica can serve as a unique example. Only now the monumentality of the place, which we could only imagine until now, fully emerged. Similarly, the sound of two organs carried through the nave would allow us to experience an effect that probably the Žďár abbots and artists themselves dreamed of, although they could not hear it in their time. But they were used to the slow process of individual steps. They had challenging ideas and visions, but they were aware of the slowness of their realization due to the permanent lack of funds. On the other hand, without bold ideas, beautiful works of art, as we can admire them today, could never be created.

It is certain that Jan David Sieber was one of the most sought-after masters of his craft in his time. He built a number of instruments, the largest of which is the still-preserved organ in the church of St. Michael in Vienna that was restored by the famous Jürgen Ahrend at the end of the 1980s, while Sieber's second three-manual organ in Svídnice no longer exists, as it was replaced by a romantic instrument of the local Silesian firm Schlag und Söhne. Unfortunately, many of Sieber's smaller domestic organs have not survived either. Luckily, we can still find two wonderful examples of his mastery in Polná and in Žďár nad Sázavou as both instruments were restored, the one in Polná in 2017 by Dlabal-Mettler company in collaboration with Dalibor Michek and Marek Vorlíček, the one in Žďár in 2022 by Dalibor Michek.

The Brno Organ School, which apart from Jan David Sieber includes Jan Výmola, Antonín Richter and Sieber's son František Ignác, appears to us today to be extremely important in the Central European context. Unfortunately, it is not known exactly when J.D. Sieber built his organ in Žďár nad Sázavou, but it is clear that it was not before the completion of the church in 1710 and not after 1723, when Sieber died. The organ case of his instrument bears the features of Santini's architectural thinking that is obvious to everyone. It is evident when we compare it with the design of the organ in Kladruby, where, however, the instrument is just a kind of artistic background, while in Žďár the organ maker had to cope with a very tight space of a clearly demarcated case, and a small place given for the windchest and pipes, including the key and register mechanical tracker actions. That is why the layout of the organ itself is very economical, especially with the positive situated in the railing behind the organist. Another peculiarity is the above-mentioned position of the bellows, which for spatial reasons could not be installed near the organ, but in a quiet excessive distance from it, in combination with a relatively narrow air duct it causes significant difficulties in playing and has a major influence on the character of the sound of the Sieber organ.

The task of every organist in Sieber's time as well as today is to slip through all the pitfalls of the specific characteristics of each organ and to use their potential downsides in favor of the resulting style and, above all, in favor of a beautiful sound. Many consider a certain instability of the tone when several keys are pressed at once, and especially when they are released, as a negative of the restored Sieber organ in Žďár. However, there are methods of playing technique that mask this feature to a certain extent and, moreover, in a number of situations use it in favor of the liveliness of the sound. The tone of the organ then seems to imitate the vibrato of a violin, but not continuous, rather abrupt and sometimes very emphatic in terms of expression. The listener of my CD will encounter various degrees of these finesse in practically all of the recorded compositions.

As the core of my dramaturgy I opted for a selection from the suites by Christoph Graupner that were published exactly three hundred years ago in 1722. Some might consider them to be intended for harpsichord or clavichord, however, they can also sound great on the organ. Compared to Bach's works, they seem like casual, whimsical and "consumable" pieces, but if we perceive them as period entertainment music, we cannot help but appreciate their imagination, wit and color. Graupner's keyboard fruits, as the translation would sound, are assigned to each of the twelve months of the year in individual suites. I have chosen only one part from each cycle, but even so it is obvious how widely the author's invention spreads in terms of genre and stylization. At the same time, Graupner chooses a different key for each suite, including those with multiple sharps or flats, so it could be assumed that he tuned his keyboard instruments, most of them probably stringed, using the newly emerging system of "well-tempered" tuning, just like his contemporary Johann Sebastian Bach. The organ in Žďár, however, is tuned historically very appropriately in the older middle-tone tuning, which persisted long after in the Czech lands, and in which some chords sound distinctly out of tune. Nevertheless, in the Baroque era, the contrast between the absolutely pure tones of the organ and somewhat impure ones in different keys belonged to the common aesthetic norm, as did the contrasts of tempo, dynamics, color etc. And what's more, the tuning consisted of the most subtle nuances, and the general taste in tuning changed only very slowly. The advantage of sometimes very sharp harmonic consonance is that the performed music becomes special and thus has a bigger emotional impact on the listener. For those in the Baroque era, the described situation was completely normal, but even today's attentive listener will get to the bottom of the peculiarities very quickly. Their emotional power is undeniable.

I perceive the CD dramaturgy not as an anthology of appropriate music, but rather as a concert program that is intended to engage the listener and at the same time take them through various musical pieces with their diverse character. Therefore, Graupner's music is constantly interspersed either with well-known titles of contemporary and older music in subsequent keys, eg. Bach and his transcription of Vivaldi's violin concerto, Sweelinck, Frescobaldi and Froberger, or with pieces that have not yet been heard (this can rarely be said with certainty, but this time it is absolutely reliable since we are talking about improvisation). In two pieces, they are combined with the music of the Viennese father Justin, which is supposed to draw attention to Sieber's relation with the musical life in Vienna.

The tribute to Jan Blažej Santini, on the other hand, is meant as a memory of Santini, who did not hesitate to use architectural and visual means of expression in the most unusual ways. A hymn theme suitable for the feast of St. Jan Nepomucký, whose legacy is highly revered in Žďár thanks to the Cistercian tradition and the existence of the church on Zelená hora, is sometimes clearly noticeable in the improvisation, but other musical elements and stylistic references to the music of the 20th century (G. Ligeti, punctualism and timbres) are represented much more prominently. Such improvisation makes sense only if it respects the general rules of music writing, namely the clear construction of musical form, its logic and ambivalent requirements for unity and contrast. Personally, I perceive the importance of similar acts as proof that the effort to reverently restore organs is not just an old-fashioned clinging to the cultivation of outdated musical artifacts, but also an opportunity to grasp the various inspirations that those musical gems provide us with regard to our present and future. In my view, this reaffirms the legitimacy of the uncompromising restoration of the organ to its original form, concerning its sound, design as well as technical parameters. In Žďár nad Sázavou they succeeded in all these aspects.

Jaroslav Tůma

© Studio Svengali, April 2024
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