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University of Iowa News Release


Sept. 14, 2007

Wolgast will play organ music from the German and French traditions Sept. 27

Brett Wolgast, who teaches organ at both the University of Iowa and Coe College in Cedar Rapids, will present a UI faculty recital at 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27, in Clapp Recital Hall on the UI campus.

Wolgast's recital, featuring music from both the German and French organ traditions, will be free and open to the public. The complete program will be:

-- Fantasy on "Hallelujah! Gott zu loben" (Hellelujah, Praise God!) by Max Reger;

-- Chorale Fantasy on "Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein" (Rejoice, dear Christians) by Dieterich Buxtehude;

-- the Passacaglia, BWV 582 by Johann Sebastian Bach;

-- "Naïades " (Water nymphs) from Fantasy Pieces, op. 55, no. 4 by Louis Vierne; and

-- Toccata, op. 9 by Jean Guillou.

The German composer Max Reger and the organ virtuoso Karl Straube were, according to legend, great competitors. Reger is supposed to have claimed, "I can compose music more difficult than you can play!" And Straube supposedly replied, "I can play anything you can write!"

Whether the anecdote is true or not, there is no doubt that Reger wrote -- and Straube played -- some of the great virtuoso organ pieces of the time, including the Fantasy on "Hallelujah! Gott zu loben." The Fantasy opens with a dramatic introduction, followed by six stanzas that vary the original chorale tune; a fugue of massive proportions and complexity; and the final stanza of the chorale embedded in a complex contrapuntal fabric.

This year marks the 300th anniversary of the death of the great North German composer and organist Dieterich Buxtehude. For most of his career Buxtehude was organist and music director of St. Mary's Church in Lübeck. His reputation was great enough that the young J.S. Bach once traveled hundreds of miles just to hear Buxtehude play.

The Chorale Fantasy is Buxtehude's grandest chorale-based work and one of the largest in the repertoire, combining the fantasy style of composition with the chorale tune.

One of Bach's most recognizable organ works, the Passacaglia, offers a compendium of Baroque keyboard figurations through a set of 21 continuous variations based on an eight-measure theme. While similar figurations can be found in the works of Bach's contemporaries and predecessors, none are so skillfully developed and joined together to provide a unified whole.

Vierne was organist at Paris's famous Notre Dame Cathedral for 37 years. Nearly blind at birth, Vierne showed musical ability at an early age and received instruction on piano, organ and violin. He studied at the Paris Conservatory with the famous organist, composer, and teacher César Franck. Vierne suffered a massive stroke in 1937 while performing a joint organ concert at Notre Dame with his prize student Maurice Duruflé and was pronounced dead at the organ console.

Guillou, an internationally renowned organist, pianist and improviser, received his musical training at the Paris Conservatory with the important organists and teachers Marcel Dupré, Maurice Duruflé and Olivier Messiaen. In addition to an impressive concert career, Guillou has served as organist at St. Eustache in Paris since 1963.

Most of Guillou's organ compositions capitalize on his own virtuosic technique.  The Toccata, composed in 1962, follows a long tradition of French organ toccatas. Unlike earlier "perpetual motion" models, Guillou's Toccata starts tentatively, but eventually becomes a true virtuoso tour-de-force.

Wolgast serves as adjunct assistant professor at the UI and at Coe College, where he is also college organist. In addition, he is cantor at First Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids, where his responsibilities include serving as organist, accompanist and director of instrumental ensembles. He has won two national competitions, the American Guild of Organists Open Competition in Organ Playing and the Ft. Wayne National Organ Competition. He has performed throughout the United States as a guest recitalist. For more information, see:

The School of Music is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. You may visit the UI School of Music web site at

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Peter Alexander, Arts Center Relations, 319-384-0072; cell: 319-541-2846;

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