Johann Sebastian Bach’s organ works, rendered by Merited Artist Ivan Sokol, were written during the composer’s stay in Leipzig and yield evidence of artistic synthesis in his Organ compositions. Organ music represented the most significant part of his works. He transformed in it his mastery of polyphony by means of a music Instrument which occupied an exclusive position in those days. His compositions written during his stay in Weimar, the great Leipzig opuses of preludes and fugues rank among Bach’s greatest organ works. Preludes and Fugues in C major, G major, and E minor, and Schübler’s Chorales are presented on this record.
Schübler’s Chorales originated as organ transcriptions of older vocal and instrumental parts from cantatas. The admirers of Bach’s originality found it a reason to reject them because of their „non-organ origin”. For instance the first author of Bach’s monograph Ph. Spitta ranked among the adversaries of Schübler’s Chorales. Albert Schweitzer, too, considered them to be only „trio chorale arias taken over from cantatas, which have nothing in common with his other chorales. They do not sound especially striking in organ Version either…” The last generation of world organists, however, made characteristic organ works of them owing to their own zest and fantasy. Helmut Waicha, Marie Ciaire Alain, Jan Bucher, Hans Otto, Hans Haselbök, and Ivan Sokol in Slovakia prove the „viability” of this collection by their performances. The fresh poetical beauty of individual chorales is very impressive. Bach transcribed six chorales from Schübler’s Collection (BWV 645-650) from the Cantatas Nos. 140, 93,10, 6, and 137. The original Version of the second chorale is unknown. Probably the author reworked a composition he had written in his youth. He arranged the arias from the cantatas in three-part organ build-up (l, 5, 6), the duets in four-part chorales (3, 4). The individual chorale’s melody as cantus firmus was originally designed for the solo part, or äs a duet for two parts whereas the other melodious lines for the solo Instrument and the continuo. Bach named them Six Chorales of Various Kinds for Organ with Two Manuals and a Pedal. They were published by his pupil Johann Georg Schübler in Zelle, according to Spitta’s opinion probably in 1746-50.
Chorales No. l „Wachet auf” and No. 4 „Meine Seele” are the most often played ones owing to their extraordinary cantabile and impressive character. The radiant melody in cantus firmus of the first chorale contrasts by its noble nature with the voices of the opening ritornello. The fourth chorale can be characterized by almost romantic colourfulness and rich harmonious structure. The third chorale „Wer nur den lieben Gott” ranks to them by virtue of its calm atmosphere. The rich differentiation of the sound colour in the individual lines of this four-part tune is extremely impressive also if performed on one manual only. The final two chorales „Ach bleib’ bei uns” and „Kommst du nun, Jesu” are fresh, brilliant compositions. The fifth chorale Sounds much more expressive with its swift speed and voice disposition in comparison with the original Version. The author situated the colourful melody from the manual of the fifth chorale in the pedal in the sixth one. Owing to these compositional inventions (Bach employed them quite often) the sixth chorale ranks to the most beautiful organ arrangements. In Schübler’s Chorales Bach made use of his experience in vocal music in the instrumental arrangement.
Bach’s Leipzig preludes and fugues are exceptional works both from the aspect of Contents and form. Bach’s youthful inexhaustible inventiveness is transformed in them in concentration of ideas and synthetizing expression. In dramaric conflicts of several themes (for example the Prelude and Fugue in E minor) we can already trace the elements of sonata form.
Prelude and Fugue in G major (BWV 541) and in C major (BWV 545) are compositions of virtuoso character, reminding us of his youthful flights and Italian influences of the Köthen period. In these compositions Bach develops a single idea to maximal perfection on a simpler expressional plane. Schweitzer writes: „He took over the theme of the Fugue in C major from Volume I of The Well-Tempered Clavier which originated in the period when he composed in figural, brilliant; and melodious manner.” Owing to its dynamism and optimism the Prelude and Fugue in C major is a parallel to the Prelude and Fugue in G major. In the latter composition the music does not impress us by variegatedness of forms but by logical concentration and the strength of expression.
The new aesthetics of Bach’s compositional way of thinking is most striking in the Prelude and Fugue in E minor (BWV 548), one of the most demanding works in the sphere of organ music. Its compositional originality consists in coupling of both contrasting parts and their inner relations. In this work Bach divides themes into individual components in a new ways and employs them in all parts in various combinations. By intricate counterpoint treatment with strict logics, Bach builds a monumental work characterized by complicated build-up and great ideas.
Ivan Sokol ranks among the most prominent Czechoslovak organists. He began giving concerts as early as a Student at the Bratislava Conservatoire (class of Professor I. Skuhrová) and at the College of Music and Drama in Prague, whece he studied under Professor J. Reinberger. Awards and prizes in significant competitions (Prague Spring, Bach Competition in Leipzig) opened the young Organist the gates of concert halls where he has recorded great success also owing to his renditions of Bach’s works. He has given concerts almost in all countries of Europe, in the U.S.A., and in Mexico. He is member of juries in several international competitions and conducts maestro courses and Seminars abroad. He is soloist to the State Philharmonic Orchestra in Košice. Ivan Sokol was awarded the title Merited Artist for his excellent representation of me Slovak art of music performance in 1980.