hoyer organ ars sonora

Karl Hoyer (1891-1936)
Organ Works Volumes 1-3

Anna Przbysz (organ)
rec. 2019-22, Wilhelm Sauer organs, Michaelskirche, Leipzig & Lutherkirche, Chemnitz
Ars Sonara CD182/206/222 [3 CDs: 194]

This is a valuable series of recordings which may help to allow Karl Hoyer’s reputation to emerge from the shadows – at least outside Germany. Hoyer was one of the less well-known pupils of both Max Reger (1873-1916) and Karl Straube (1873-1950) and his musical language is clearly indebted to the influence of his teachers. While studying at the Leipzig Conservatoire, he was a pupil of Karl Straube (1873-1950) and acted as his deputy to in the Thomaskirche. He would go on to hold posts in Chemnitz, in Tallin, Estonia, where he was the cathedral organist, and in the Nicolaikirche in Leipzig. 

Her was active at a time when there were many changes in aesthetics characterised by the work Reger, who seems to look both backwards and forwards in his music. The all-pervading influence of J. S. Bach, with the emphasis on contrapuntal skill, a strong Lutheran musical tradition – despite Reger’s Catholicism – and the use of stereotypical musical forms such as sonata, canon, fugue and passacaglia, all indicate the high value Reger placed on musical tradition and which he transmitted through his teaching to his pupil. 

However, this is only a partial account of the situation in which composers found themselves; the apparently contradictory blend of neo-conservatism and the avant-garde can be found in much German music of this period. The visionary element arguably found its expression in Expressionism and the work of the Second Viennese School, but figures like Hoyer are important because the progressive and conservative can be observed in the works which they left. Towards the end of his life there was evidence that Hoyer was attempting to alter his style and it is interesting to speculate on the directions he might have followed had he lived longer.

The first volume of his organ works consists of three large-scale chorale-based works and a set of four Character Pieces. In her notes, the performer, Anna Przbysz, points out that this set of pieces probably recalls Reger’s set of Seven Pieces Op.145. Both were written as a reaction to the slaughter of the First World War and use chorale melodies as the basis for their construction. The other pieces also follow Reger’s example being in the form of a series of linked variations in the manner of one of the older composer’s chorale fantasias. Similarly, the texture and extensive and skilful use of counterpoint makes the attribution clear. This is no bad source of inspiration, although the chromatic idiom which pervades these pieces may not be to everyone’s taste.

The organ  employed here is a 1904 instrument by Wilhelm Sauer of some 46 stops, which was restored between 1996 and 1999 by Scheffler. The fact that a comparatively modest instrument is used is helpful in allowing the listener to assimilate this unfamiliar music, at least outside Germany, without feeling overstimulated by the sheer volume of sound. 

The second volume contains Hoyer’s two essays in the writing of organ sonatas. The Sonata in D minor Op. 19 is one of the composer’s earliest compositions for the organ and was published by Simrock. It has a three-movement structure and somewhat recalls Reger’s First Organ Sonata in F sharp minor, which is also in three movements. What is unusual is Hoyer’s inclusion of the second movement, Allegro, alla burla, a characterful scherzo with a contrasting central section. Reger wrote quite a number of movements of a similar type, but they tended to be in collections of pieces rather than as part of a sonata structure. This lifts Hoyer’s sonata completely out of the ordinary, at least as far as German examples of the genre are concerned, with the outer sections sounding almost like a piece of light music, which in a sense they are, but in places I was reminded of some British examples of the genre such as Non Stop by John Malcolm, which for many years was the signature tune of the ITN News. Perhaps a closer parallel might be the Scherzetto of the Sonata in C minor by Percy Whitlock (1937).

The Sonata in C minor was a work without opus number and was published by Portius of Leipzig in 1935. By this time Hoyer had been appointed professor of theory, composition and organ at the Leipzig Conservatory and his style had changed somewhat from the late Romanticism of his earlier works. There is a greater tonal freedom with some suggestions of expressionism. The influence of his teachers has not receded entirely, but it is interesting to hear how the developments in contemporary music during the first quarter of the twentieth century affected this composer who had achieved so much writing in what, by the end of his life, had become a distinctly conservative idiom.

The music in the third instalment is almost exclusively concerned with counterpoint, a skill in which Hoyer was no mean practitioner. For the most part it is rooted in traditional tonality, even if it is somewhat chromatic in approach, but the writing never sounds forced. On the contrary, there is an inevitability about the progress of each work which infallibly recalls Reger, particularly, as here, when Hoyer chooses to use the baroque forms of Toccata, Fugue and Canon. The ingenuity of the writing in the Trio Sonata, where each movement is canonic, the outer movements at the octave and the slow movement at the fifth, seems to recall Bach’s tour de force in the Goldberg Variations, where every third variation is a canon at a different interval. 

This is music which is often complex and will be unfamiliar to British and American listeners; it deserves to be better known . Anna Przbysz is a persuasive and sure-footed advocate of it, playing it with complete conviction, but without the slightest suggestion that she regards it as a vehicle for her own virtuosity, which is in no way lacking; She is throughout a most reliable guide both technically and psychologically, playing with complete command of the music and the instrument. Everything is well projected, ably assisted by a clear recording which never draws attention to itself, but simply presents the sound in the best possible way. The two organs employed provide the ideally authentic sound world. These three recordings make a valuable addition to our understanding of Germany’s musical world in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

Martyn Strachan

Availability: Dobreplyty (Poland)
Volume 1 ~ Volume 2 ~ Volume 3

Volume 1
Einleitung, Variationen und Fuge über den Choral ‘Jerusalem, du hoch gebaute Stadt‘ op.3 (1913)
Variationen über ein geistliches Volkslied op. 33 (1925)
Vier Charakterstücke op. 35 (1926)
Fantasie und Fuge über den Choral ‘Wunderbarer König‘ WoO 7 (1937)
Michaelskirche, Leipzig, on the Wilhelm Sauer organ, (1904)
Volume 2
Orgelsonate d-moll op.19 (1921)
Sonate in c-moll WoO 8 (1938)
Volume 3
Lutherkirche, Chemnitz, on the Wilhelm Sauer organ (1908)
Toccata und Fuge e-moll op.46 (1932)
Vier Fughetten für Orgel op.62 (1937)
Toccata und Fuge D-dur WoO 5 (1937)
Trio-sonate op.64 (1937)