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 on vol. 2
On this release we find the very first of Merkel’s organ works (op. 3) with melodic lines that brings the mind to Brahms. Another major creative force is of course present in the Variations on a theme by Beethoven, where Merkel is outstanding in his work on the theme from the last movement of the Piano Sonata op. 109 – in a fashion closely linked to how Mozart worked on his variations. The Fantasy in Free Style was dedicated to Clarence Eddy, the foremost American organist at the time, who premiered it in Chicago in 1879. Finally, we find exquisite examples of smaller pieces written for liturgical use.
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.