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Josef Klička
Five Concert Fantasies

F10138   [8595017413827]   released 11/2006

play all Pět koncertních fantasií - Petr Rajnoha 68:54
Fantasie na symfonickou báseň Vyšehrad 12:12
Koncertní fantasie na chorál Svatý Václave 19:49
Koncertní fantasie c moll 10:58
Koncertní fantasie g moll 12:15
Koncertní fantasie fis moll 13:10

Fantasia on the Symphonic Poem "Vysehrad" by Bedrich Smetana
Concert Fantasia on the St. Wenceslas Chorale
Concert Fantasias in C minor, G minor, F sharp minor 

Petr Rajnoha - organ in the church of St. Moritz, Kromeriz, built by Emanuel Stepan Petr in 1910


Josef Klicka was born in 1855 and died in 1937. His efforts to use and develop his natural gifts in the service of the beautiful art of music were crowned in his thirtieth year, when he was appointed professor of church music at the organ school and also gave concerts on the newly built organ in the Rudolfinum. This was also the period in his life when his activities as a composer of organ music took wing. Inspired by the Rudolfinum organ built by the German Sauer firm and by pieces written by his European contemporaries, he wrote the first of the longer organ pieces presented on the CD.
     On this CD we encounter late 19th-century pieces that changed the face of Czech organ music. In the work of Josef Klicka the instrument (like the piano for other musicians) became a concert instrument capable of replacing a symphony orchestra. Klicka not only arranged originally orchestral pieces for the instrument, but also wrote new organ pieces in precisely the style of orchestral compositions. In comparison to his contemporaries, who continued to produce minor preludes and fugues in the spirit of church reform or else expressed their changing styles in pieces that were longer and emotionally richer than before (such as sonatas for example) but nonetheless remained in the grip of strict forms and the conventional harmonic progressions, Josef Klička came up with unusual expressions of feeling and concert fantasias in a freer, virtuoso mode that reflected his Late Romantic orchestral sensibility. His passion for orchestral sound showed itself from his early youth. In a biography written by Karel Hoffmeister we read that, “His ideal was not the poor una voce of the violin but the rich colourful fullness of the orchestra. With no theoretical training he embarked on his first orchestral work, an overture he then dedicated to Leopold Mechura at Christmas. And immediately afterwards he wrote a second overture. He made up for the lack of live performance with a child’s imagination: chairs placed all over the room stood in for orchestral players, and he stood in front of them and conducted the noiseless orchestra with youthful fire, with broad and sharp movements of the arms.” This passion for full and colourful orchestral sound evidently stayed with him, and much later, in 1885, by which time he was fully committed to the organ, his orchestral sensibility found expression in his compositions for the instrument.
     The Fantasia on the Symphonic Poem “Vysehrad” by Bedrich Smetana is unusual among the Josef Klicka’s concert fantasias because, as an initial reading and listening makes clear, it is clear that it is not an original work of Klicka’s but a transcription of Smetana’s symphonic poem. Smetana’s great work undoubtedly stirred Klicka’s patriotism. He probably wanted to transcribe the whole work for organ but for some sections this is nigh on impossible and so he decided to modify the piece, leaving some parts out, elaborating others and generally casting the piece in a slightly different form. This might seem like a piece of audacity, and the same project today would definitely be taken as disrespect or even irreverence for a literally national classic. But Klicka certainly had no desire to cock a snook at Smetana or set himself up on the same level, According to all the sources he was much to modest a man for that. Undoubtedly he was just concerned to make the piece something performable on the organ, and his arrangement entirely lived up to his aim. It is almost extraordinary how natural the piece sounds on the organ! Klicka’s arrangement is so convincing that someone who had never heard the original version might well think Smetana had actually composed it for the instrument. Klicka’s Fantasia on “Vysehrad” later became his most frequently performed composition, as his own records on the back of the manuscript pages show. These include notes of many performances for charitable purposes; one interesting example is a benefit performance for the “Union for the Support of Teachers‘ Widows and Orphans”.
     The Concert Fantasia on the St. Wenceslas Chorale was written in 1895. This makes it the latest of the pieces on the CD but it has been placed second on the recording because it is so ambitiously monumental that it deserves to be appreciated with fresh ears. In fact, it can hardly be properly appreciated on a first listening and comes into its own only on closer acquaintance, but the effort is certainly worth it! Astounding structure, onomatopoeic elements and symphonic character give the Fantasia great power. An announcement in the period press, Národní politika [National Politics] of the 28th of September 1913 is justly eloquent on its behalf: “The piece is the Prof. Klička’s most ambitious yet, and in the distinguished virtuoso interpretation of Mr. Wiedermann it makes an unforgettable impression on the listener. As far as virtuosos technique is concerned, the piece has no equal in the whole of organ repertoire.” The piece was printed by the Paris Publishers Maurice Senart in 1914 and is among the more frequently performed of Klička’s compositions, although given its length and technical difficulties it is not played as often as all that. The melody that it uses dates only from the mid-19th century and is not the original version of the old Czech hymn. As has already been suggested, it exploits to the full all the resources of the organ, both in terms of technique and in terms of the colour based on registration equipment. This level of difficulty requires free register combinations or a crescendo roll (in fact these are prerequisites for any good performance of Klička’s other works, but here they are absolutely essential). The listener is struck by the unusual monumentality of the piece from the very beginning, when the massive chords in tutti present the chorale in fantasia spirit. Later we hear brilliant passages in flamboyant Lisztian style, a massive fugue and gradation of an incredibly broadly spread kind heard perhaps only in great symphonic works. The profundity of the piece is effectively expressed in the meditative conclusion with which the piece fades away.
     The Concert Fantasia in C minor was written in 1885, and was the first of Josef Klička’s longer organ compositions. In this fantasia he abundantly demonstrates his predilection for the full and indeed bewitching sound of the romantic organ by basing its structure predominantly the harmonic and chord element. The introductory motif consists of waves of spread chords that generate emotional agitation of the kind we hear in the work of later composers such as Scriabin. The charming and soft line of the melody in the central section is likewise almost intrinsically dependent on the accompaniment of the other parts that give the melody its peculiar character by colourful harmonic transformations. Undeniably, Czech music of the period was influenced by Wagner and his unbelievably powerful harmony, and in this respect Klicka did not add much that was new. Yet to organ music he did in fact bring something, and that was a fullness and emotive sensuality in sound, a breadth and emotionality that no one had brought to the organ in Bohemia in his time. We can find a certain similarity with Liszt, who was also primarily interested in emotional flamboyance, orchestral sensibility and virtuosity. On the other hand, if we look at the later work of the passionate Max Reger, we do not find the same feeling for sound quality and attempt to create a purely aesthetic impression (“atmosphere“). In this respect Klicka has more affinities with the French, who had a highly developed feeling for sound aesthetics. Perhaps if an organ built by the phenomenal organ maker Cavaillé-Coll had been installed in the Rudolfinum, (an idea that F. Z. Skuhersky for example, tried to make a reality), Klicka’s work would have developed even more clearly in this direction. But that is mere speculation. We must stress that our musical culture, and especially our organ music, was very much under the influence of German culture. This encouraged a certain rigidity of approach, manifest for example in the obligatory presence of fugues in organ compositions. In Klička’s Concerto Fantasia in C minor we likewise find a fugue, appearing after the quiet conclusion of the middle section – but after a moment this fugue metamorphoses into the return of the introductory chord waves and with a short stop on the way the piece launches into its final gradation. It is in C Major and makes a very stately impression.
     Klicka continued along the path of Late Romantic flamboyance and fantasia form in the second of his great organ pieces, the Concert Fantasia in G minor. Again a minor key, again the title Concert Fantasia...and here we can see a stabilisation of form, which remains the same for this type of composition up to 1917 when Klicka wrote the Large Sonata in F sharp minor. Originally the composer called what was to be the Concert Fantasia in G Minor a Sonata as well, but when he wrote only the first movement he altered the title. The composer seems to have wanted to continue in the style of his first fantasia for here too the introduction consists of waves of spread chords, this time in a reverse direction. But the piece is more mature; it involves a “more independent“ melody in the contrasting quiet sections and greater gradation treatment in the middle section, which in terms of a sonata movement might be regarded as an exposition. There is no fugue, and we could consider it to have been replaced by the imitational and “Baroque-style” section just before the exposition culminates. In any case it is a very beautiful and powerful passage. The piece ends relatively abruptly with two chords, without Klicka “romantically” drawing out the end of the quite lengthy piece. This is one of many indications that the composition was meant to have further movements and this conclusion was conceived as final.
     Neither of these two concert fantasias were ever printed, which is why they are practically unknown to the public. Indeed, the autograph of the Fantasia in C Minor lay untouched in Klicka’s estate for so long that the pages stuck together and the ink went through to the other side, so that suddenly there was double the number of notes there should have been on the staves.¨
     The first to be printed was the Concert Fantasia in F sharp minor. This is why it is presented as the “First Concert Fantasia for Organ” on the title page, although the word “first” does not appear on the autograph and so it is unclear whether the publisher or author added it or whether there was some misunderstanding. In any case the date at the end of the piece indicates that this fantasia was completed after the three others, in 1888. The piece shares some elements of the earlier fantasias and it is interesting to see just how much Klička had developed as a composer over three years! The composition is grand and exquisite, in its way unique in the entire organ repertoire. A distinctive form has also crystallised, an introductory „wave“ passage being followed by a new idea that seems to be the secondary theme but in fact is not, but only an episode that prepares the way for the secondary theme. One might think that it was unnecessary for Klicka to respect this schema strictly in the second part of the piece when all the themes return, but in fact it is just this broad tectonic spread and long drawn out character that is so typical of the Late Romantics. The piece ends in the same abrupt way as the Concert Fantasia in G minor, and the preliminary sketch confirms that the original idea was for a long sonata. The Concert Fantasia in F Sharp minor is very much a virtuoso piece, splendidly rich in harmony and melody. We may justly consider it a major contribution to the art of the organ.

Petr Rajnoha

You should be also interested in:

Czech Organ Music of 19th and 20th Centuries
Josef Klička: Legends For Organ

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