Helmut Walcha – Christmas Chorale Preludes

Helmut Walcha (1907-1991)

Helmut Walcha was a blind German organist, harpsichordist, and composer who played the works of Dutch and German Baroque masters. He is best known for his recordings of the complete organ works of J.S. Bach. Walcha learned music by hearing his wife or someone else play the notes. He then memorized what he heard and worked on it until he could play it and sing each part. He taught his students that to truly know music you have to be able to not only play it but also sing it.

Helmut Walcha composed and published 4 volumes of chorale preludes for the organ (and arrangements of orchestral pieces or organ pieces.) Here is a recording of two Christmas chorale preludes by Helmut Walcha:

Zu Bethlehem geboren (Born in Bethlehem), and Den die Hirten lobten sehre (Whom the Shepherds Praised Dearly) played by organist Wolfgang Rübsam.

Dieterich Buxtehude – Prelude in C Major (BuxWV 138): Harald Vogel, Organ

Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707)

Dieterich Buxtehude was a Danish-German Baroque composer and organist. He composed a wide variety of vocal music and instrumental music. Today he is best known for his organ music (which is a major part of the standard organ repertoire.) Buxtehude’s style of composition influenced many composers (especially Johann Sebastian Bach.) Bach famously travelled about 250 miles to learn from Buxtehude and to hear him play.

Buxtehude composed chorale preludes based on German hymn tunes for the church. He also composed organ preludes written in the form of fugues (and it is for these organ preludes that he is best known.) Buxtehude’s organ preludes are the pinnacle of the North German style of organ composition during his time. They are composed in what is known as stylus phantasticus (a style of composition that sounds like an improvisation and is characterized by short contrasting episodes and a free form.)

Harald Vogel – organist (1941 -)

Harald Vogel is a German organist, author, and expert on Renaissance and Baroque keyboard music (especially North German Baroque music and North German Baroque pipe organs.) In 1983 Harald Vogel recorded the complete organ works of Dieterich Buxtehude. Here is a recording of Buxtehude’s Prelude in C Major (BuxWV 138). I hope that you enjoy listening to it.

Scott Joplin – Pine Apple Rag (Itzhak Perlman, Violin; André Previn, Piano)

Scott Joplin (1868-1917)

Scott Joplin was an American composer and pianist. He became famous during his lifetime for playing a style of music called Ragtime, and for the many Rags he composed for the piano. Among his most famous rags are the Maple Leaf Rag, The Entertainer, Rag-Time Dance, The Easy Winners, and Elite Syncopations. Joplin quickly became known as the “King of Ragtime”. Most of the compositions he wrote were Rags for the piano. However, toward the end of his life, Scott Joplin was working on a Ragtime opera called Treemonisha. The opera was never fully staged during his life. In 1916 Joplin got dementia which was the result of him catching syphilis. Scott Joplin died in 1917 (when he was 48 years old). His death was barely noticed because there were more pressing events going on during that time such as the entry of the United States into World War I.

In 1975 violinist Itzhak Perlman and jazz pianist André Previn teamed up together to record several of Perlman’s violin/piano arrangements of Scott Joplin rags. Scott Joplin’s music was all the rage at the time (the film Sting which featured Joplin’s music was released in 1973). The Perlman/Previn album (The Easy Winners) became a huge hit and the album along with sheetmusic of the arrangements is still popular so many years after it was recorded.

Here is Perlman and Previn playing Scott Joplin’s Pine Apple Rag from their 1975 album ‘The Easy Winners’.

Jonas Kaufmann – Wien Wien, nur du allein

Wien Wien nur du allein (also known as Wien du Stadt meiner Träume) is a popular song composed by Rudolf Sieczyński (1879-1952), an Austrian composer of Polish ancestry. He is well known today for this nostalgic song about Vienna. The song has been recorded by many famous singers including Jonas Kaufmann, Fritz Wunderlich, the 3 Tenors, and Birgit Nilsson.

Jonas Kaufmann (1969 – )

Jonas Kaufmann is an operatic tenor. Kaufmann began his career singing for the Berlin State Opera in 1992 while he was still a student. Since 2008 Jonas Kaufmann has toured in many countries around the world. He is one of the most sought after tenors on the operatic music scene today, and is well known for the versatility of his repertoire. Here he sings Wien Wien, nur du allein in a gentle, non-operatic, but very expressive way.