Martin Rost’s tour of the illustrious centers of Northern German organ music now takes us to the baroque splendor of Lüneburg. Even though the glory of this proud city not far from Hamburg was beginning to fade, the renown of its musicians continued to extend to faraway Thuringia when Johann Sebastian Bach – then not quite fifteen years old – set out to complete his musical studies there. Martin Rost’s selection of compositions recorded on his Stellwagen organ demonstrates that a trip to Lüneburg can be rewarding even today.
The chorale setting of “O Lamm Gottes unschuldig” numbers among Bach’s earliest organ compositions, and in the Prelude and Fugue in C major his great model clearly manifests himself: Georg Böhm, from whom Bach very probably received instruction in Lüneburg. The diligent Böhm bequeathed an extensive oeuvre to posterity, and it is no coincidence that his Prelude in G minor played a prominent role during the rediscovery of German organ music 150 years later. Even Robert Schumann was impressed!
The enormous breadth of Lüneburg’s organ music is truly unique. Johann Steffens, one of the first
representatives of what is known as the Northern German organ school, was active even prior to 1600 as a famous and highly remunerated artist in Lüneburg, and this local tradition continued through to Johann Christoph Schmügel, who had studied with Telemann. However, Schmügel left Lüneburg already in 1766: the city was short on funds and could not maintain his organ on a level corresponding to his artistic rank.
On this recording the magnificent Stellwagen organ in St. Mary’s Church in Stralsund shows its best side. This instrument’s absolutely inexhaustible wealth of color is enhanced by the employment of calcants; replacing the electric motor in use today, they apply pressure to the mighty air unit with twelve bellows, supplying an additional dimension: the foot-operated air flow creates such a peaceful sound that even the nightingale resident in the church feels obliged to
postpone its trilling – thereby competing with the sound engineer and organist, who planned to record the quiet pieces during the traffic-free night hours.