Volume I/1 Chorale fantasias
The richness in melody of the Protestant liturgy faszinated Max Reger – though grown up in a catholic family home – since his youth and influenced his works lifelong. In all periods of his artistic oeuvre chorale quotes are to be found, that are skilfully arranged and interpreted very personally. From late summer 1898 to autumn 1990, therefore in a relatively short span of time of two and a half years, Reger composed overall seven chorale fantasias in Weiden that had a determining influence on his breakthrough as organ music composer. Today they belong to the virtuosic core repertoire of the late romantic organ music. Reger’s impulse to write fantasias over chorales divided into verses came from the Berlin organist and composer Heinrich Reimann and his Phantasie über den Choral »Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern« op. 25, published in 1895. All seven of Reger’s chorale fantasias adopt the strophically modeled form with several internal sections introduced by Reimann, but exceed his conception in their structural and technical complexity. They culminate in great final intensifications, often through large-scaled fugues. To his former teacher Reger described »Wie schön leucht’t uns der Morgenstern« op. 40 No. 1 as a »program music work«.
Volume I/2-3 Fantasias and fugues, variations, sonatas, suites
In his organ works in the »grand style« not based on chorales Reger intended to fully exhaust the innovative possibilities of the modern concert organ (as well as the player). The multi-layered orientation towards the works of his great model Johann Sebastian Bach is notably present - of course mainly in Fantasia and Fugue on B-A-C-H op. 46, but also in Suite in E minor op. 16 that was already dedicated o the »spirit of Joh. Seb. Bach.« By this means Reger reanimated the genre of organ music that was regarded »as a relic of bygone times« without decoupling it from its baroque tradition. A considerable issue in both volumes is the influence of Karl Straube on the form of Regers works. In the I. Sonata in Fis minor op. 33 he leads onto a re-scoring of a whole verse (its original version is to be found on the DVD as PDF document), in Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue in E minor op. 127 probably the majority of the performance instructions is to be traced back to Straube and in Fantasia and Fugue in D minor op. 135b surely the one or other cancellation may be a result of conversations between Reger and his friend; in this special case in Volume I/3 the authorized shortened version is to be found beside a reconstruction of the discarded long version, that is also present in concert programmes.
Volume I/4 Chorale Preludes
With his chorale preludes Max Reger, almost uniquely amongst composers around the turn of the century, has set artistic standards for the music for liturgical practice. This genre accompanied him throughout his entire career, however the majority of his about hundred contributions to this genre originate in the years 1899 to 1902. Initially Reger composed the chorale preludes exclusively as inserts for journals, particularly in two very recent periodicals: the Monatschrift für Gottesdienst und kirchliche Kunst, was brought into being 1896 by the Strasbourgian theologians Friedrich Spitta und Julius Smend as well as the Blätter für Haus- und Kirchenmusik, that was published since 1897 by the press Beyer & Söhne in Bad Langensalza (all preludes published there has been collected as op. 79b). The Fifty-two Easy Preludes on the most common protestant chorales op. 67. that has been published 1903 by Lauterbach & Kuhn, were the first one that has been structured as collection and thus are stylistic diversely: Short preludes of few bars are confronted with distinctive concert pieces. With the Thirty Little Chorale Preludes op. 135a that originate in summer and autumn 1914 and are the counterpart to the more weighty Fantasia and Fugue in D minor op. 135b, Reger satisfied the demand for light compositions that can be played on more modestly equiped organs. These introverted preludes belong to a broader group of sacred works, with which Reger reacted to the beginning First World War.
Volume I/5-7 Organ pieces
Max Regers organ pieces basically are composed within the tradition of the musical Romantic, like he also composed many pieces of this kind for piano. With exception of the works without opus number, they have been published in collections and spread throughout all of his productive period. They are – in contrary to the large-dimensioned pieces of Volume I/1 to I/3 – shorter pieces of mainly intermediate difficulty. Many of those could be played by ambitious amaters or students, who Reger wanted to reach and thereby increase his popularity. Some pieces owe its origin to demand of the publishers and occasionally Reger kept his eye on the needs of the organ eduction. The majority of the pieces has been played in concerts. Reger used forms from the piano music, sometimes he also used liturgicaly bound forms or melodies from Catholic music (Kyrie, Gloria, Benedictus, Te Deum, Ave Maria). The systamatically conceived collections integreate smaller movements, whereas Reger frequently combined Prelude or Toccata with a Fugue (resp. Fuguette).