“Max Reger was the last giant in music."
2016 is Reger's anniversary year, so the timing is right for a Reger DVD.
Max Reger (1873 – 1916) is one of the most important composers of organ music after Bach. He wrote magnificent chorale based and free works that revived baroque forms such as the passacaglia and fugue, all the while taking chromatic harmony to new limits of expressiveness. He was massively prolific and wrote in every genre except opera. It is said he never wrote a symphony but several of his works qualify for that title. His anniversary year provides the opportunity for a celebration of his work, especially as a lot of his music is not well known. Reger is also a great mainstream composer who wrote vast amounts of orchestral, chamber and instrumental music, and this DVD aims to bring this wonderful music greater recognition.
What will the DVD be like?
Our Reger DVD will be of the same scope and scale as The Genius of Cavaillé-Coll. A full biographical documentary with lots of filmed performances and recordings, all packaged in a lovely boxed set. The documentary will be presented by noted Reger performers Frauke May and Ira Levin and will be filmed using the full resources of the Max Reger Institute and their huge collection of scores, images, letters, and their vast fund of knowledge and expertise.
Which organs and organists will we feature?
Thus far we are working with Graham Barber, Bernhard Buttmann and Bernhard Haas, using instruments such as the Sauer organ at the Lutherkirche in Chemnitz, the Link organ at the Pauluskirche in Ulm, the new Weimbs “Reger organ” at St Michael's, Weiden, and the Schulze organ in Armley. We will add more as they become confirmed.
Reger's organ works feature in pride of place in this DVD, but we are also including a good selection of his greatest orchestral, instrumental, chamber works and lieder.
The DVD also features:
The Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester conducted by Ira Levin, perform the Boecklin Suite, Opus 128, and Ira's orchestration of the Bach Variations, Opus 81. Wayne Marshall leads the WDR Funkhausorchester through the tone poem An Die Hoffnung, Opus 124, with Frauke May, mezzo-soprano.
A massive programme of piano music includes the Bach Variations, Opus 81, plus many shorter pieces, played by Rudolf Meister, Markus Becker, Oliver Kern and Andrew Brownell.
Several violinists contribute. Sayaka Shoji plays the Romanze, Opus 87. Katharina Wildermuth the Suite, Opus 103a. Egidius Streiff the Sonata Opus 72.
Frauke May sings several Lieder; Julius Berger, cello, plays the Sonata Opus 116; the Aris Quartett perform the String Quartet Opus 52ii; The Diogenes Quartett plus Roland Glassl and Wenn-Sinn Yang perform the String Sextet, Opus 118. As a final bonus, the Hyperion Trio perform Reger's delightful Largo written when he was just 16 years old.
“I consider him a genius.” Arnold Schoenberg on Max Reger.
We're lucky as organists to know quite a bit about Max Reger (1873 – 1916), whose music shows up in many organ recital programmes and recordings, but is largely absent from orchestral, chamber and instrumental programmes. I've been a fan of his music since discovering it as a teenager, but I'm aware that a lot of people, particularly non-organists, don't know much about him. Therefore making a Max Reger DVD will not only mark his centenary next year, but should bring much needed attention to this great composer.
This should be a most exciting set of films for a number of reasons. The musicians who will be performing are brilliant and should provide searing performances. Much of the music we will record, as well as being great, is unfamiliar, and our goal is to shine a light on a little known musical realm. And the story itself is wild. Reger crammed an extraordinary amount into his 43 years. At the time he was one of Germany's most successful composers and was constantly touring and performing while also living a life of excess, going on drinking and eating binges that matched with a vast compositional output. But that's not the whole story. Reger was also a deeply spiritual man, a side that is reflected in his music. He was also described as a seismograph whose music reflected the major issues and struggles of his time. He lived through a period in which Europe struggled with decadence and ultimately marched into the abyss of the First World War. Reger's music, perhaps culminating in his ferocious Dies Irae, reflects this enormous cultural struggle. Therefore this film about Reger will also provide, from the fascinating viewpoint of a tormented and misunderstood genius who lived at double-speed, a vision of one of the most important periods of European history.
A great composer writing for the organ
Reger was like Franck in that early in his career he turned to the organ as a way of having music he wrote be performed – this was due to the gifted organist Karl Straube championing his compositions. Therefore Reger brought the ambitions and talents of a great composer to the organ, and in his organ music made a genuinely important contribution to the development of European classical music.
For instance, some people have argued that it is in his Opus 73 Variations for organ that Reger became the first composer to write atonal music.
Our main featured organist for this DVD will be Graham Barber, who will perform Opus 73, along with other great works such as the Chorale Fantasia and Fugue on Hallelujah, Gott zu Loben and the Fantasia and Fugue Opus 135b, or organs such as the Sauer organ in the Lutherkirche in Chemnitz, the new “Reger organ” at St Michael's, Weiden, and also the Schulze organ in Armley where he is organist.
Despite Opus 73, Reger was never heading towards atonality – he told Strauss he would never take that ultimate step. Reger ploughed a unique course for himself and created an unforgettable style that combines astonishing harmony with traditional forms such as the fugue and passacaglia.
In this sense his ne plus ultra is his “Inferno” Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, Opus 57. Surely this is the wildest, most virtuosic, most extraordinary fantasia and fugue ever written. It's never been filmed professionally before and should be gripping to listen to and watch.
Bernhard Buttmann, a veteran who has recorded all of Reger's organ music, plays it brilliantly and will perform it on the Link organ of the Pauluskirche in Ulm, alongside various other works.
With works such as Opus 57 and 73, it is no wonder that Reger has developed a fearsome reputation for dense chromaticism. But his Second Sonata, Opus 60, presents another side of him – clear, transparent, to the point, concise. This will be played by Bernhard Haas.
What if you don't like Reger's music?
Max Reger has always divided critics, audiences and musicians, on the one hand winning the most extraordinary loyalty and praise, and on the other being dismissed out of hand. Therefore Reger is ripe for reappraisal. What if you just don't like his music?
We feel that his story is so compelling and touches on so many fascinating themes and concerns that even if you decide you don't like his music you will enjoy the story and acknowledge reger's interest and importance. So we relish the opportunity to establish convincingly that he deserves recognition and awareness and should stand alongside Mahler and Strauss as one of the most important composers of his time, worthy of a place in the mainstream of musical life.
The documentary about Reger's life, to be presented on DVD in three 52-minute episodes, will serve as both a biography and also an in-depth survey of his music. Presented by singer Frauke May and conductor Ira Levin, two stories will be told – the past story of Reger's life, with his many struggles but also his extraordinary accomplishments, and the present story of Levin preparing to conduct a performance of his new arrangement for orchestra of Reger's famous piano work, the Bach Variations. Therefore the film will cover both the hugely compelling narrative of Reger's life as well as showing how his music is performed and received today.
May and Levin will interview, in either German or English, all the major Reger scholars and performers, from Susanne Popp and her colleagues at the Reger Institute to performers such as Julius Berger, Bernhardt Buttmann and Graham Barber. We will take advantage of one Reger-performer's extraordinary resemblance to Reger – Rudolf Meister – who will “stand” in for Reger in scenes about his life. We will use the piano and organ rolls at the Max Reger Institute to recreate Reger's own performances using an original mechanical player-piano and player-organ.
The documentary will include excerpts from Reger's most important works for orchestra, piano, chamber ensemble and organ (these works will be included in their entirety on the other CDs and DVDs of the boxed set – never before have all the key works of Reger for whatever instrument been available in one set).
Our aim is nothing less than to establish Reger among the pantheon of great composers, and we will devote all our resources to accomplishing this through making an extraordinary set of films and recordings in exquisite packaging that will bring the attention of the classical music world onto the genius and importance of Max Reger.
Fugue State Films
The award-winning company FUGUE STATE FILMS has won the Deutschen Schallplattenkritikpreis three times, as well as “best documentary” in the BBC Music Magazine Awards 2014 for The Genius of Cavaillé-Coll, the biggest ever crowd-funded film about classical music.
This was reviewed as “magnificent” in the Sunday Telegraph, was DVD of the month in both BBC Music Magazine and Gramophone, and earned an 8 page feature in Fono Forum. Fugue State specialises in making films about classical music released in luxuriant box-sets made to the highest technical and intellectual standards, and is a pioneer of innovative distribution strategies and crowd-funding. Among their other releases, Fugue State's recording of and documentary about Bach's Art of Fugue was reviewed in Gramophone as “the finest recording of the Art of Fugue irrespective of media or instrument.”
Will Fraser of Fugue State Films says: “Our DVDs have become known throughout the world for their high quality and fascinating content. For Reger we are setting the bar even higher than usual, and seek to create a beautiful set of films and performances that will put Reger into the mainstream of classical music in the 21st century.”
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