Helmut Walcha (October 27, 1907 in Leipzig, Germany – August 11, 1991 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany) was a German organist. He specialized in the organ works of the Dutch and German baroque organ masters, and is best known for his recordings of the complete organ works of Johann Sebastian Bach.
He recorded Bach's complete works twice, once in mono, and again in stereo from 1956-71. This latter stereo cycle (released 10/09/2001), remastered with more bass definition, brilliant highs and repackaged in an economical collector's edition 12 CD box, has his only recording of The Art of Fugue. The original analog DG engineering contained in these recordings surpasses many digital efforts.
His performances set a new standard in their day they and have not yet been supplanted by more recent attempts for several reasons:
His search and use of two of the best Baroque organs (which he preferred to those of the modern or romantic period): the great organ of the St. Laurenskerk in Alkmaar (Holland) and the the organ of Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune in Strasburg (he held fundraisers for the authentic restoration of these and other Baroque organs).
His brilliant registrations (the careful pipe rank selections, he never allowed their publication) enable multiple voice lines to be clearly legible.
His supple pedal technique and keyboard skill give balanced and complete musical images which remain in the mind long after listening.
His musical Inner Vision: As a result of a smallpox vaccination, Walcha had poor eyesight since childhood, and was fully blind by sixteen. He learned new pieces by having musicians (including his mother in his childhood and his wife in later years), play for him four times (each hand separately, the pedal part separately, and the complete piece). Having perfect pitch, he would memorize the piece while listening.
The inner vision capacities of the blind have been well documented but perhaps never so compellingly as with Walchas recordings. They are an extraordinary example not only of the human and his music but of the human spirit.
Walcha could envision Bach's multiple lines simultaneously and share each of them with the listener, not crowding them with unecessary ranks for the sake of volume, enabling the sheer drama of the music, a view of its architectural genius, and allowing attention to any line at any time.
Walcha also composed for the organ. He published several sets of original chorale preludes, (publsihed by C.F Peters) as well as arrangements for organ of orchestral works written by others.
He would lecture on organ music and composition (illustrated by his own playing) at the Frankfurt College of Music and Performing Arts. One other contribution to music scholarship is his attempted completion of the final (unfinished) fugue of The Art of Fugue (also included above).
Walcha taught many significant American organists of the twentieth century who travelled to Germany as Fulbright scholars: these include Robert Anderson, Margaret Leupold Dickinson, Melvin Dickinson and David Mulbury, all of whom went on to become major pedagogues and performers in the USA after their studies abroad.
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