It is not at all self-evident to play sonatas on the organ. The organ had grown up with music for the liturgy of the church. The alternation with singers, the connection to chorales and church songs, and finally the preparation and accompaniment of the parish singing were traditional tasks that cannot be solved with a multi-movement sonata.
The sonata, the "sound piece" for instruments, had two parents: the sonata da chiesa (church sonata) and the sonata da camera (chamber sonata). Since the singing did not always take place during the Mass, the sonata da chiesa also had a place between stations of the liturgy or during communion. Now the jump to the organ is still missing.
Johann Sebastian Bach seems to have been an innovator without an immediate successor. He left behind a handwritten collection of six mostly three-movement "Sonatas" for organ alone. Composed around 1730, the consistently three-part compositions could have been meant for the education of his first-born son, as his biographer Forkel described it making use of information by Bach's sons: "Bach put it on for his eldest son, Wilh.
Friedemann, who thus had to prepare himself for becoming the great organist he later became." Among the movements are also those that have older roots in Bach's chamber music works and have now been arranged so that the bass could be played from two feet on the organ pedal.
In the 18th century, these works were hardly comparable in terms of demands on performers and compositional quality. In organ music we can jump straight to the sonatas of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. He was one of the few musicians of his time who played Bach's organ works in public concerts. As far as this was possible on the small English instruments at that time, Mendelssohn introduced Bach's music to his hosts on the island. It did not take long, and the desire for organ compositions was brought to him. From organ pieces written in England, strongly revised early works and reminiscences of improvisations, Mendelssohn created the six sonatas for the organ in Frankfurt (Main) in 1845, which he published simultaneously in London, Paris, Leipzig and Milan in September as op. 65. As with Bach, "Sonata" here stands for loose series of different types of movements such as fugue, toccata, fantasy or chorale arrangement.
Sigfrid Karg-Elert was only four years younger than Max Reger. Like Reger, he is one of the few composers of distinction who, in the years around the First World War, gave the organ sophisticated works at the height of their time. Karg-Elert also cultivated playing and composition for the Kunstharmonium. His style is closely tied to the dynamically flexible German symphonic organ. Finely graded string and flute stops, less the brilliant reeds of France, must be able to be mixed in many gradations. Like the late Reger, Karg-Elert also occasionally penetrates new tonal territory without being a revolutionary, but not far enough to protect him from oblivion. This is gradually changing. The technical demands are often high. Especially such an understating title like that of a cute "Sonatine" has to make you suspicious. This full-grown cycle is a heavyweight sonata.
Karg-Elert, who in 1919 was appointed to the Chair of Composition in Leipzig, once filled by Reger, was able to get to know the USA on a tour in 1932. Reger, who would have loved to have a 72-hours working day, never had the opportunity to do so. His first sonata for organ was written in 1899, when he lived under the care of the family in Weiden again after some dissipating years. He dedicated the sonata to Alexander Wilhelm Gottschalg in Weimar, who had once advised Franz Liszt on organ matters and who, at the age of 70, was already a reviewer for Reger's organ works. For him Reger was a "Bavarian organ titan". The sonata begins in the baroque style with a fantasy and fugue and ends with a passacaglia. Only an intermezzo can stand in between. Motivic references connect the movements. He himself considered the sonata to be "very difficult to make properly 'enjoyable' and a very spiritual organist is needed for it".
His second sonata for organ followed the first already after two years and went into print in 1901. Meanwhile publishers ordered compositions from Reger. The opening improvisation seems fictitious and contradicts the traditional form of a sonata head movement. The invocation in the middle runs towards a quotation from Luther's church song melody "Vom Himmel hoch". Introduction and fugue round off the gloomy cycle.
English translation: Sonja Pitsker