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‘Bach at his royal instrument’ comes from Schumann’s review of Mendelssohn’s organ recital given in Leipzig in 1840, and many of Stinson’s seven essays are concerned with the reception of Bach’s organ music extending to modern times.

The first chapter must be the most detailed review of Peter Williams’s The Organ Music of J.S. Bach (Cambridge University Press, 2003). While congratulating the author on ‘another magnificent contribution to the Bach literature’, Stinson is able to supplement Williams’s arguments in the light of recent scholarship. The last movement of the Pastorale (BWV 590), convincingly suggested, is a diminution of the Christmas carol Resonet in laudibus, and the relation between BWV 578 and a fugue by J.G. Schübler is deconstructed. Stinson has examined every word of Williams’s book, and is able to correct, amplify, and supplement issues that arise. This chapter alone is essential reading for Bach performers and scholars.

In Chapter 2, Stinson analyses Bach’s treatment of varied repeats in chorale preludes based on bar-form chorales (‘Stollen’) from the Neumeister, Orgelbüchlein, ‘Great 18’, Clavierübung III collections as well as ‘miscellaneous’ preludes. The following chapters deal with reception history. Mendelssohn’s reception of Bach organ works is studied in Chapter 3, although the title ‘Some Observations’ implies that greater depth is waiting to be unearthed – particularly Mendelssohn’s English connections with reference to Bach. Schumann’s reception of Bach is discussed in Chapter 4, as is César Franck’s in Chapter 5, together with two appendices of Bach organ works known to have been played by Franck’s pupils, plus Franck’s own comments about those pupils. Pedagogical matters and Franck’s compositional responses to Bach are also included. Chapter 6 deals with Elgar’s responses to Bach – not only his interpretations from the markings in his own Peter’s edition, but as a critic and as an arranger of certain of Bach’s organ works, BWV 537 and BWV 540/1 (still unpublished).

The final chapter addresses particular collections (e.g. the Six Sonatas) and specific organ pieces (BWV 532, 533, 540, 542, 543-8, 552, 564, 565, 572, 582, 639 and 727) with respect to their individual reception histories. Stinson seizes on the most significant topics, from performers such as Lemmens, Virgil Fox, Widor, Schweitzer, Liszt, Wagner and Messiaen, to uses made in Coppola’s film The Godfather and pop groups such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Besides the enormous amount of knowledge contained, this book could generate many more fascinating research projects.

DAVID PONSFORD Read the full review on Agora Classica


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