The German composer Gustav Merkel has been the main interest of Norwegian organist Halgeir Schiager the last couple of years. This interest has resulted in a pioneer doctorate thesis on the composer’s organ works, and four CD recordings.
Gustav Merkel (1827-1885): From fame to oblivion
In his own time Merkel was one of the most popular organ composers in Europe and the USA. As a young teacher in Dresden, he came into contact with Robert Schumann and participated in his Verein für Chorgesang. In addition he received organ lessons with J.G. Schneider, himself a part of the living organ tradition with roots back to J.S. Bach. In 1860 Merkel was given his first important position as organist at the Kreuzkirche – with one of the best instruments of Dresden at his disposal. I 1864, despite his Lutheran background, Merkel was hired as organist in the catholic Hofkirche.
Much of the key to Merkel’s success was the interest from good publishers and his dedications to the foremost organists at home and abroad. The interest for Merkel’s music dropped dramatically in the early 1900s when a growing interest for recreating the renaissance and baroque organs and music completely eclipsed the contemporary scene.
The works of vol. 1
In the early Fantasy and Fugue we hear a rich tonal language, reminiscent of both the more lyrical movements of Mendelssohn and Bach. Bach was of course a major re-discovery at the time, and the tradition after him is also heard in the Choral Preludes, Sonatas 2 and 3, and of course in the Fuga on B-A-C-H. The sonata for four hands, op. 30, reflects the great popularity of this genre in Sachsen, and is the only one of Merkel’s pieces that is still to be found in concert programmes.
Halgeir Schiager’s thesis on Merkel’s organ works
In 2008 finished his pioneer work on interpretational aspects of Merkel’s organ works. As a part of this project he recorded much of the composer’s works, including pieces that have never been released before, on instruments of the same type that Merkel himself used. This material is now to be released on four separate CDs. Halgeir Schiager has studied professor Franz Lehrndorfer (Munich) and professor Daniel Roth (Strasbourg). He has previously recorded the complete organ works of Petr Eben for Hyperion.