4. The Welte-recordings: an appreciation

Reger (1913) arriving at the Welte music studios

Above a nice picture of Dr. Max Reger arriving in 1913 at the music studios of M. Welte & Soehne in Freiburg i. Br. The buildings, the palms, the car, the uniforms: it all points to the last year in which one could state to be living in the peaceful Romantic Period.

The Welte-recordings were essentially a digital way to preserve playing-characteristics. Reger played the Welte-Mignon piano in 1905 (December 8) and obviously recognized the potentially historic value of the recordings for later generations. In 1913 (July 26) he made recordings on the Welte-Philharmonie organ.

The value of the Welte - recordings may be disputed in terms of tempo, dynamics and multiplication methods, they nevertheless give us an unexpected insight in some characteristics of Reger's way of performing his own music. These characteristics are notably different for the organ and the piano recordings. Therefore, they are dealt with here separately.

The complete Piano repertoire played by Max Reger on December 8, 1905:

p1. Humoreske g-moll opus 20 nr. 5 Roll Nr. 1017
p2. Intermezzo es-moll opus 45 nr. 3 Roll Nr. 1018
p3. Intermezzo es-moll opus 45 nr. 5 Roll Nr. 1019
p4. Silhouette D-dur opus 53 nr. 2 Roll Nr. 1010
p5. Silhouette Fis-dur opus 53 nr. 3 Roll Nr. 1011
p6. Andante sostenuto D-dur opus 82 nr. 3 Roll Nr. 1012
p7. Moderato (Gavotte) E-dur opus 82 nr. 5 Roll Nr. 1013
p8. Sostenuto F-dur opus 82 nr. 6 Roll Nr. 1014
p9. Andante innocente E-dur opus 82 nr. 10 Roll Nr. 1015
p10. Sostenuto ed espressivo B-dur opus 82 nr. 11 Roll Nr. 1016

All (!) these registrations were newly released in Germany on CD in April 2006 by Evangelische Verlagsanstalt GmbH.
The ISBN-number is: 3374023371. Behind this is an international release of TACET with the number TACET152CD.
All Reger-admirers: BUY!

This CD starts with a performance of the Telemann-variations opus 134 by Reger's Leipzig collegue and personal friend Frida Kwast-Hodapp. This is a very important addition!
Mrs. Kwast-Hodapp performed many works of Reger and played the "Uraufführung" of Reger's pianoconcerto under Arthur Nikisch on December 15, 1910. Together with Reger she often played the Beethoven-variations opus 86 in concert. Especially around 1910, Reger wrote many letters to her, in a very informal way, starting with "Dearest Passacaglia Prima" or " Honoured Klarinettensonata". Max Reger obviously respected this pianist. And he should have because she was able to play the piano-part of the pianoconcerto by heart within two months (according to Fritz Stein 1939, page 57).
I have also an acoustic recording of her, playing a Bach prelude and fugue from WTC1. The playing characteristics correspond largely with the Welte-recordings. Her playing clearly belongs to the time of recording concerning tempo and freedom of interpretation. As she was a sort of Reger-specialist in her days, this interpretation of the Telemann-variations can be viewed as largely reflecting Reger's wish of how these should be played.

The CD further contains all 10 piano rolls recorded by Reger in 1905. Welte had also a studio in Leipzig and the recordings were made there. Earlier releases contained only fragments of this repertoire. So on Telefunken (LP ca. 1958 (p1, p2, p4 and p6, p7 on another release); LP 1971 and CD in 1988: both containing p1, p2) and on Intercord (CD in 1986: p2 and p5).

Anyone listening to this recordings would wonder "What is the degree of originality of the playing we hear?" Peter Hagmann in his invaluable book on Welte-recordings (see links and literature) discussed this at length. Some reservations should be made and I'll deal with them in a short way here.

With all this in mind, what do we hear as characteristics of Reger's own piano-playing?

The conclusion is that many characteristics and idiosyncracies of Reger's playing have been conserved within the Welte-Mignon recordings. This makes it worth listening to even if the reproduction cannot be 100% correct. Even if it is only 60%, we have a much better impression and idea of Reger's playing than without these recordings. Why should we be so overly critical as Reger himself apparently was very fond of the possibilities of the system. He wrote: "In my opinion the 'Welte-Mignon' is the hitherto unrealized ideal in musical instruments. This invention is of invaluable importance to professors, pupils, the public, and to all artists."

The Organ repertoire played by Reger on July 26, 1913 (complete listing):

o1. Fuge G-dur opus 56 nr. 3
o2. Benedictus opus 59 nr. 9
o3. Melodia B-dur opus 59 nr. 11
o4. Canzone Es-dur opus 65 nr. 9
o5. "Jesus meine Zuversicht" opus 67 nr. 20
o6. "Lobt Gott, ihr Christen alle gleich" opus 67 nr. 23
o7. "Mach's mit mir, Gott, nach deiner Güt" opus 67 nr. 25
o8. "O Welt, ich muß dich lassen" opus 67 nr. 33
o9. "Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten" opus 67 nr. 45
o10. "Wie wohl ist mir, o Freund der Seelen" opus 67 nr. 50
o11. "O wie selig seid ihr doch" opus 67 nr. 52
o12. Moment musical opus 69 nr. 4
o13. Romanze a-moll opus 80 nr. 8
o14. Ave Maria opus 80 nr. 5
o15. Präludium F-dur opus 85 nr 3
o16. Basso ostinato opus 92 nr 4

The first release of organ works played by Max Reger I know of, is on LP by EMI (recorded and issued in 1961, reissued around 1970 under number 1-C 053-28 925-F), but now only available second-hand. These recordings were made under the guidance of Hans Klotz in April 1961 in Wipperfürth, were a Welte-organ (made in 1912 for Kodak-director Nagel in Stuttgart) stood in a hall of Radium EG (photo in Acta Organologica 28 (2004), page 422; the stop-list is found on page 421). This organ has undergone a rebuilding upon its transport from Stuttgart to Wipperfürth. It is now in Seewen (CH).

Later, in 1986, Intercord re-recorded anew several pieces(o1, o4, o6, o12), added one (o14) and released them on CD: INT 860.857 (also on the CD are recordings of French organists). These 1986 recordings were made on an original Welte-organ that has been restored and moved to the Museum for mechanical Instruments in Burg Linz a. Rh. On the occasion of this recording, a very sympathetic article written by Hans Buschmann was published in the Fono Forum (June 1986, page 28-29). The conservator of the organ and the museum, Klaus Fischer, mentiones 16 rolls played by Reger himself (the article mentiones a Fugue op 50 nr. 3, but this should be opus 56 nr.3 as opus 50 contains two Romanzen for violin and orchestra).

In 2014, at last the whole set of organ-recordings was released in a series concerning "The Brittannic Organ". This instrument was meant for the Brittanic, but never built into that ship. So it got Stuttgart, Wipperfürth and at last to Seewen.
This release restored, with the now available possibilities of computer technology using all available sources: all rolls, masters and copies alike. The booklet contains contains a kind of the "Kritischer Bericht" to the recordings. It is the release I have been awaiting for years!
All Reger-admirers: BUY!

What are the conclusions after listening to these recordings? I'll discuss this only briefly here, as there is, nxt to the analysis in the booklet of the Britannic release a thorough analysis available on-line, written by David Rumsey. This analysis also provides sonic examples (also available in German here).
Reger was not an organ virtuoso but had considerable capacities in playing his own music. The way in which Reger performed his own organ music lets us hear a world beyond the simple notes. The concentration and single-music-mindedness of the playing, which takes hold of the attention of the carefull listener, seemingly leads us on to the very source of music itself. The great composers had more or less unlimited access to this source and we can be happy enough to listen to a sprankle of this source. To hear a composer like Reger play his own music adds an important feature to the music: this is near to how he heard the music himself in his head before writing it down for us.

Below a photograph of Reger in 1913, recording his own organ music at the Welte-studio in Freiburg i. Br.

Reger (1913) recording at the Welte-Phiharmonie organ

The organ recordings are notably differing from the piano recordings. Where the played piano pieces are philosophical (opus 82) or sometimes of a more virtuose nature (opus 20, 45), the organ pieces are meditative in character. But it goes further. It seems as if Reger is so much more concentrated while playing the organ. Is it because of his religion, his thorough understanding of the organ or because the organ set off his inspiration more than any other instrument? We do not know and will never know.
At least well, we have a total of 26 pieces played by Reger himself. Not bad. Although, had we only 1 (one!) fugue played by Bach.... Reger would surely have liked that kind of information also. Therefore he made sure that he conserved his way of playing his own works for us. We should listen to the Welte-Mignon and Welte-Philharmonie with that in mind.