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Forbes Classical CD of the Week: Schubert At His Secret Best With Four Hands

…Franz Schubert’s Fantasia in F minor for piano four-hands D940 from his last year (1828) is, in short, the composer’s most beautiful work for any number of pianos or hands. I am not alone in this opinion (although I admittedly express it more for effect thank for thinking it absolutely incontestable); the former German critic and ‘piano-pope’ Joachim Kaiser, too, deemed it “not just one of the most important compositions Schubert ever created, but even one of the greatest works in music history.”…

-> Classical CD Of The Week: Schubert At His Secret Best With Four Hands


A Survey of Bach Organ Cycles

An Index of ionarts Discographies

Like the Beethoven Piano Sonata Cycle Survey, the Sibelius Symphony Cycle Survey, the Bruckner Cycle Survey, and the Dvořák Symphony Cycle Survey this is a mere inventory of what has been recorded and whether it is still available. Favorites are denoted with the “ionarts’ choice” graphic. There are few cycles that I don't love or like or wouldn’t find a reason to recommend (the most charming Berlin Classics set for its use of different Gottfried Silbermann organs, for example, or the Weinberger set for its total, exhaustive, scholarly completeness). To restrict the wild throwing about of recommendations somewhat, they are limited to sets that are decidedly in print.

The sets are listed in (roughly) chronological order. If you can add or correct information, you are most welcome to do so. Where known, the organs used are added in ‘mouseover’ text on the set’s image.

The idea of “complete” Bach organ works, meanwhile, is a concept open to considerable interpretation. One can, in all genuineness, define Bach’s organ works in such a restrictive way, that they fill some 12 CDs. But one can throw in miscellany, transcriptions, concertos, and apocryphal works to reach (depending on spacing and speed) well over 20. Unless a Bach organ cycle sets out to be über-complete as a matter of principle, editorial decisions have to be made as to what gets included and what not.

Updated: 8/10/2023: David Goode's cycle on Signum has come out as a set in 2020.

Updated: 02/14/2019: I have dug a little, to see if I can't find out more about the alleged two sets of Lionel Rogg's that never appeared on CD. Turns out, firstly, that the man is very much alive, busily composing and performing at that! Secondly that he has a very nifty website. And thirdly very generous explaining the somewhat convoluted history of those three cycles, upon query. I am including those two cycles, unavailable though they are, below, for completeness' sake.

Updated: 02/10/2019: André Isoir has been re-issued again, this time the terrific La Dolce Volta label has included the Art of the Fugue, bringing the set to 17 CDs. Marie-Claire Alain's first cycle, hitherto never available on CDs, has been re-issued by Warner. Now all her three cycles are available from the label. Stefano Molardi snuck a complete cycle by me which exists on its own right and as part of a super-set of the complete organ works of the Bach family (Brilliant). Furthermore we have new cycles under way by David Goode (Signum; on vol.10) and Benjamin Alard (Harmonia Mundi - including all cross-platform keyboard works; on vol.2).

Updated: 03/15/2018: Hurford's cycle has been re-issued on Decca Italy!

Updated: 11/11/2017: Benjamin Alard is slated to record the complete organ works and the complete other keyboard works for Harmonia Mundi, with the first release coming out in 2018. If anyone can provide information about Anton Heiller's cycle (perhaps recorded for Amadeo? And was it ever issued as a set on LP? It seems never to have made it into the CD age...), that would be much appreciated.

Updated: 08/26/2017: Happily, Olivier Vernet's Bach cycle (a favorite cycle of many Bach organ lovers I know) has been re-issued by Ligia and is available as a CD-set (so far) from and .fr. and digitally elsewhere. It contains 15 discs omitting the four bonus discs of the original release that included "Clavier-Übung 0", the Concertos for 2, 3 & 4 organs, the disc with transcriptions and a Bach-Vernet CD which I've forgotten the contents of). The concerto disc is available seperately now; the box includes a coupon for this disc!

Kay Johannsen has a set available - if "available" is the right word, since it can only be bought at the info-point of the Stiftskirche in Stuttgart. Jacques van Oortmerssen died just before he could finish his cycle. Nine individual releases are available from his estate directly.

New sets are currently underway by David Goode (on the Trinity College Chapel Cambridge; Signum, 4 volumes), and Kei Koito (Claves, 5 volumes) which I like a lot, so far. (Special thanks to Karsten Unverricht, who seems to know absolutely everything about Bach organ cycles both ongoing and past.)

Updated: 04/24/2016: André Isoir and the Hänssler cycle have been put into chronological order on this list. The details of the organs used (on mouse-over, depending on your browser) are now included for Koopman, Alain III, Weinberger, Foccroulle and (partly) Phillips.

Updated: 01/25/2015: André Isoir has been re-issued by the terrific La Dolce Volta label and included below.


À mon chevet: 'Les deux poètes'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
By the beginning of September, Lucien had ceased to be a printer's foreman; he was M. de Rubempré, housed sumptuously in comparison with his late quarters in the tumbledown attic with the dormer-window, where "young Chardon" had lived in L'Houmeau; he was not even a "man of L'Houmeau"; he lived in the heights of Angoulême, and dined four times a week with Mme. de Bargeton. A friendship had grown up between M. de Rubempré and the Bishop, and he went to the palace. His occupations put him upon a level with the highest rank; his name would be one day among the great names of France; and, in truth, as he went to and fro in his apartments, the pretty sitting-room, the charming bedroom, and the tastefully furnished study, he might console himself for the thought that he drew thirty francs every month out of his mother's and sister's hard earnings; for he saw the day approaching when An Archer of Charles IX, the historical romance on which he had been at work for two years, and a volume of verse entitled Marguérites, should spread his fame through the world of literature, and bring in money enough to repay them all, his mother and sister and David. So, grown great in his own eyes, and giving ear to the echoes of his name in the future, he could accept present sacrifices with noble assurance; he smiled at his poverty, he relished the sense of these last days of penury.

Ève and David had set Lucien's happiness before their own. They had put off their wedding, for it took some time to paper and paint their rooms, and to buy the furniture, and Lucien's affairs had been settled first. No one who knew Lucien could wonder at their devotion. Lucien was so engaging, he had such winning ways, his impatience and his desires were so graciously expressed, that his cause was always won before he opened his mouth to speak. This unlucky gift of fortune, if it is the salvation of some, is the ruin of many more. Lucien and his like find a world predisposed in favor of youth and good looks, and ready to protect those who give it pleasure with the selfish good-nature that flings alms to a beggar, if he appeals to the feelings and awakens emotion; and in this favor many a grown child is content to bask instead of putting it to a profitable use. With mistaken notions as to the significance and the motive of social relations they imagine that they shall always meet with deceptive smiles; and so at last the moment comes for them when the world leaves them bald, stripped bare, without fortune or worth, like an elderly coquette by the door of a salon, or a stray rag in the gutter.

-- Honoré de Balzac, Lost Illusions: The Two Poets (trans. by Ellen Marriage)
I am returning to an ongoing project to read all of Balzac's La Comédie Humaine, picking up where I had left off, near the end of the Scènes de la vie de province section. This excerpt is from the first part of a long novel that concludes that section, Lost Illusions. This features especially the advent of one of Balzac's most important characters, Lucien de Rubempré, who rises from the penury of a fallen quasi-aristocratic family through the sacrifices of his sister, Ève, and his best friend, David Sechard, a printer in Angoulême who hires Lucien to work for him. Although born as Lucien Chardon, the character takes on the aristocratic name of his mother's family, de Rubempré. The story mirrors the life of Balzac, who was also born into a modest family of artisans. He also worked as a printer early in his life, and he also changed his name (he was born Honoré Balssa) and added the noble particle "de" to it.

Lucien rises out of his low position because of his good looks, as a lonely woman at the top of the social ladder embraces his talent as a poet. It will ruin his life. The television show 30 Rock explored a comic version of the phenomenon Balzac is describing here. Liz Lemon's boyfriend, played by Jon Hamm, is so handsome that he lives in what she calls "the bubble" (related clip below). Everyone he meets bends over backwards to gratify and help him, and he has no idea that he is actually stupid and helpless.