For our musicians' consideration.
Please note the first link below for a neat music discussion.
Church musicians are often in a quandary when selecting sheet music to add to their libraries: a finite budget and seemingly infinite choices from music publishers. The musician needs a discerning eye to determine what will be useful at their skill level and worship context. Random selection might yield a few gems, but also result in a bloated collection. A quality library doesn't necessarily have to be large. It does, however, have to be well chosen. (I previously wrote about The Other Essential Lutheran Library – Musician Edition which included some of my "core" organ books.)
So where does a musician find resources to sift through all the choices? I have usually received the best advice from my mentors and friends who are Lutheran musicians. (Organists and Choir Directors: The Good Shepherd Institute's bi-annual newsletter His Voice normally has music recommendations from Kantor Kevin Hildebrand).
To that end, I would like to share with you a recent acquisition to my organ music library which I think will be quite valuable: the six volume series "Choralvorspiele Zum Evangelischen Gesangbuch." The journey to this collection began in the summer of 2007 while I was at an Organist Workshop at Concordia Theological Seminary with Kantor Resch. He had a volume of this series on the organ console and this gave me a hint to consider adding it to the library. I recently inquired with Kantor Resch about the series and he highly recommended it.
Don't expect to find this series in your local music store. I worked with the Organ Historical Society to import the series from Germany and they now carry it as an in-stock item ($36.95/volume). This is frankly a bargain – each volume is 100-160 pages with between 70-140 pieces.
I suspect the Choralvorspiele Zum Evangelischen Gesangbuch is virtually unknown in the United States. If you Google it, you will find lots of German retail sites, but only a handful of items in English — one of which is a review by Daniel Zager (Associate Professor/Dean at the Eastman School of Music). If you have any inkling of interest, you should read Zager's review.
The series is published by Barenreiter, the text is completely in German, and is intended as an organ prelude supplement to the German hymnal "Evangelischen Gesangbuch." In certain respects it is similar to the Concordia Hymn Prelude Series from CPH (now slowly going out of print) – it provides chorale preludes (and sometimes an intonation) on many, but not all, of the hymns in the German hymnal.
Since the text is all in German, you either need to know German, know your chorale tunes via name, or be willing to do some sight reading to determine the tune. Just as a disclaimer: not all of the tunes in this series will be familiar and some will not be in our American hymnals (like Lutheran Service Book). You can get a feel for the tunes used by looking at the "table of contents" at the Organ Historical Society site. However, even though you might not find all the tunes in the LSB tune index, some of these tunes are still familiar. "Den die Hirten lobeten sehre" AND "Kommt und laßt uns Christus ehren"? We know them as Quem Pastores. "Nun singet und seid froh"? We know it as "In dulci jubilo". Why the difference? My guess is that the text at the top of each prelude is the hymnal number and hymn name — and like our own hymnals, multiple hymns can use the same tune. The particular prelude/intonation may be written/associated with the given text. The volumes are ordered based on the hymn numbers in the German hymnal and are generally divided seasonally/topically.
The contents of these volumes are not "new" in the strictest sense of the term. Barenreiter has previously published most all of the pieces in other books. This series could then be thought of as an anthology. The pieces represent a broad spectrum of primarily German composers from 1600's – mid/late 1900's. Walther, Kauffmann, Reger, and Jan Bender (to name a few). J.S. Bach and Buxtehude appear occasionally, but certainly don't predominate (I assume the editor believed these works are already in the organist's library). There is some redundancy in pieces that overlap Keller's 80 Chorales & Preludes, Reger preludes, the Organist's Golden Treasury, etc. But there is plenty of content that will be "new" to the American organist.
The preludes vary in difficulty from moderately easy to medium difficulty. There are a wide variety of presentations — manuals only, cantus firmus in the pedal or tenor line, bicinium, 4-part settings, toccata, etc.. Each tune will have at least one, but often more, preludes and/or intonations (Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott has 10 pieces). Most are short (one or two pages long) and don't require any page turning. Some of the preludes have been transposed into a different key to match the German hymnal — which many times will also match those of modern Lutheran hymnals. However, as I have lamented in the past, these books, like many others, do not lie flat on the music rack and I have had them rebound with coil binding at the local Office Depot ($3/volume).
Just a brief anecdote: If you have either of the Concordia Theological Seminary Kantorei CD's – "Infant Holy" or "With Angels and Archangels", the prelude to Jesus Has Come and Brings Pleasure Eternal is written by Jan Bender and is in volume 1.
Part of the appeal of this series is that it "fits" with the recent resurgence in the interest in the Lutheran music heritage. CPH has released two comprehensive CD sets – Luther's hymns and Heirs of the Reformation. The Good Shepherd Institute has released the excellent Singing the Faith DVD. Musicians can help to encourage and reinforce this heritage by the music we play.
Choralvorspiele Zum Evangelischen Gesangbuch is a practical and valuable collection for the average Lutheran organist of tried and tested chorale preludes. It is a collection that can grow with you — whether you are a newbie or experienced organist. While this series doesn't have strictly "new" content, I think it will still be convenient to have so many chorale preludes under one "roof." Definitely consider it.
Have questions? Ask away. I'm still exploring it and finding new treasures.