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University of Iowa News Release

Nov. 23, 2004

Disselhorst Will Play Bach Organ Works For The Christmas Season Dec. 9

Organist Delbert Disselhorst from the University of Iowa School of Music will play a program of music composed by J.S. Bach for performance during the Christmas season at 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 9 in Clapp Recital Hall on the UI campus.

Disselhorst's faculty recital will be free and open to the public.

Revered today as one of the greatest composers of European music history, J.S. Bach was a devout Lutheran who spent much of his creative life writing music for church services. He was also recognized as one of the greatest organists of his generation, and his organ works in particular reflect a remarkable combination of deep devotion, complete mastery of compositional technique and a thorough knowledge of the instrument. They are considered among the essential works for all church organists.

Much of the music written for Lutheran services was based on church chorales -- tunes that were known and sung by the congregation, much like modern church hymns. And like the melodies in modern hymnals, chorale tunes were available for every season and celebration in the entire church year.

"I have focused my program on the chorales that are appropriate for the full Christmas season, from the Annunciation to Epiphany," Disselhorst explained. "I will frame the program by playing a prelude and fugue at the beginning and the end."

To open the recital, Disselhorst will play the Prelude and Fugue in G Major, S.541.

The first part of the seasonal cycle will be music for the Annunciation -- the celebration of the angel's announcement to Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus. The text associated with this occasion, "Magnificat anima mea Domine" (My soul doth magnify the Lord), was set by Bach as a vocal duo in German, "Meine Seele erhebt den Herren," in his Cantata No. 10.

Disselhorst will play Bach's organ arrangement of the original vocal duo from Cantata 10, followed by Bach's Fugue on the "Magnificat." Disselhorst explained that the fugue "is an unusual free-standing work in which the melody is quoted in part throughout the work, but does not appear in its complete form until the pedal entry near the end."

For the Advent season that leads up to the celebration of Christmas, Disselhorst will play four different versions of the chorale tune "Nun komm' der Heiden Heiland" (Come, Savior of the nations). The first will be from the "Orgelbuechlein" (Little organ book), a collection of 46 chorale tunes arranged for organ. Bach's ambitious plan had been to write 164 short settings of chorales, but the project was never finished. The composer wrote that the collection was designed to teach organists and composers how to develop chorale tunes in many varied ways, and even the incomplete collection is considered as one of the great teaching and performing volumes for the organ.

After the version of "Nun komm' der Heiden Heiland" from the "Orgelbuechlein," Disselhorst will play a version from the "Leipzig Chorales" -- extended chorale settings completed in Bach's later years -- followed by a Trio setting of the chorale tune (S.660) and a version with the melody in the pedals (S.661).

From the Christmas season, Disselhorst will play versions of two chorale tunes, "In dulci jubilo" (In sweet joy) and "Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her" (From heaven above to Earth I come). Each will be played first in the version from the "Orgelbuechlein" and followed by a more elaborate setting of the same chorale tune.

"The second setting of 'In dulci jubilo' presents improvisational interludes between the lines," Disselhorst explained. "This kind of embellishment, if in fact it occurred with congregational singing, is the kind of writing that brought Bach severe criticism in his early church position in Arnstadt."

The second version of "Vom Himmel hoch" represents one of Bach's most elaborate chorale settings. It was written as proof of his musical knowledge and abilities for the distinguished "Society for the Musical Sciences" in Leipzig, and consists of a set of canons on the melody, written at every interval up to an octave.

"This work stands at the very pinnacle of compositional excellence in canonic writing," Disselhorst said. "The work begins with three voices, shifts from three to four in the middle variations and concludes with four voices. It is interesting that at precisely the midpoint of the set Bach combines all four lines of the chorale and in the accompanying counterpoint signs his name with the notes B (B-flat)-A-C-H (B natural)!"

The recital will conclude with the Prelude and Fugue in C major, S. 547, which resembles in its thematic content the Epiphany Cantata No. 65, "Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen" (They all will come out of Saba), written for the Festival of the Three Kings.

"The fugue is a real tour de force in contrapuntal writing, and prepares the way for Bach's monumental 'Art of Fugue'," Disselhorst said. "The subject is heard in its original form, in its inverted form, and in both together. The pedal is reserved for the final portion and when it enters it presents the augmented form of the subject together with the other forms."

Disselhorst has been a member of the UI School of Music faculty since 1970. He holds both bachelors and masters degrees in music from the University of Illinois, where he graduated as a Bronze Tablet Scholar. As a recipient of a Fulbright grant in organ, he also studied at the Staatliche Hochschule fuer Musik in Frankfurt, Germany. He earned the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Michigan.

As a concert artist, Disselhorst has performed in the United States, Canada and Europe. He has appeared as a recitalist for several regional conventions and for the National Convention of the American Guild of Organists in Houston, Texas, in 1989. He has recorded the Organ Books of Ned Rorem and "Prophesies" by Daniel Pinkham on the Arkay Label.

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