The Organ Sonata on Psalm 94 of Julius Reubke (1834–1858) is perhaps the best example of programmatic music in the organ repertoire—wholly unusual for a mid-nineteenth-century composition in multiple regards. Firstly, composers and performers exploited the expressive and virtuosic capabilities afforded by the piano. The use of the piano in solo and collaborative works was undoubtedly a hallmark of nineteenth-century composition. In contrast, relatively few major compositions for the organ were produced during this period. The Romantic perspective noted the “organ’s expressive and dynamic possibilities were deficient, falling far short of those of the piano . . . .”1 Just as the organ was the tenor2 of north-German keyboard literature of the eighteenth century, the piano was likewise in nineteenth-century composition. Secondly, period composers frequently used contemporary literary works as programmatic, extra-musical bases for their compositions.3 Ecclesiastical associations and the archaic nature of the organ were certainly not aligned with the growing secularization of the enlightenment and emphasis on innovation and modernity at the beginning of the industrial revolution.
Reubke’s substantial contribution of an organ composition based on a religious program was somewhat countercultural for the mid-1800s. This novelty provides a landmark, revolutionary composition in organ literature, demonstrating great sensitivity towards the program and virtuosity previously unseen. The piece reflects several important characteristics of Psalm 94, namely the personal and human perspectives of the psalmist and the literary structure of the psalm.
Several influences in Julius’s short life make his unusual organ sonata appear to be a natural outgrowth of his experience. His childhood was undoubtedly formative. Born in Hausneindorf, he was baptized and educated in the village’s Evangelical (Lutheran) Church and received instruction from the parish cantor. One can presume that education in religious matters was taught, though no sources cited mention curriculum. The village was insulated from the effects of the 1848 revolution.4
Julius was exposed to the cutting edge of music throughout his life. He was a child prodigy, having studied with many notable teachers, and quickly gained a reputation as a regarded pupil, performer, and composer. As the son of an organ builder, Julius was undoubtedly exposed to the organ world in his youth5 as his father, Adolf, was completing notable projects in the style of organ building prevalent at that time.
Reubke’s later studies with Franz Liszt (1811–1886) in Weimar coincided with Liszt’s development of the symphonic poem. His influence on the young Reubke was profound.6 Liszt began to realize, explore, and exploit the possibilities that modern German Romantic organs afforded in compositions such as his Fantasie and Fugue on the Chorale “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam” (written 1850, premiered 1852) and the Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H (premiered 1855).7 Organs built during this time reflected larger trends in music. Large instruments were constructed in Germany and France, facilitated by technological innovations. Greater emphasis on unison (8′) color stops and increasing tonal resources allowed new and rebuilt organs to accommodate the gamut of dynamic and color possibilities previously unavailable to organists. The organs of Friedrich Ladegast and Adolf Reubke defined this modern style in north Germany.8 Julius’s musical experiences from early youth to developing composer culminate in his Organ Sonata.
Liszt and Reubke “strove to emancipate the organ, to raise it to the level of the piano,”9 by exploring and exploiting the new avenues of modern organs. “Liszt set new standards for handling the instrument,”10 and Reubke followed Liszt’s orchestral approach to the organ.11 Such efforts solved one problem and created another. Their organ works were revolutionary, but the technical demands exceeded the abilities of most organists of the time. Any progressive traits in their organ compositions were negated by the relative unavailability of suitable organists to perform and promote such innovations.
Discrepancies surround the initial relationship and presentation of the program and music at the sonata’s premiere performance at the Merseburg Cathedral on June 17, 1857,12 with Reubke performing. Franz Brendel notes in a review: “The work is not titled as a sonata, quite the contrary, the 94th Psalm was printed as the program, a procedure of which I completely approve.”13 Daniel Chorzempa interprets this to mean the entire text of Psalm 94 was included in the program.14 However, only select verses were included in Otto Reubke’s (Julius’s brother) 1877 edition of the sonata (Figures 1 and 2). Michael Gailit comments that Brendel likely would not have realized if the full psalm text was actually present in the program, considering its “rather long and very rarely used” nature.15 In contrast, Choonhae Kim Lee understands that “The 94th Psalm” was printed as the title, not the program.16 Programs from the premiere performance are not known to exist. No sources determine whether the work was based on the psalm text from its inception or if it was added as a program after the sonata was completed.
Existing discussions focus on direct text-music relationships and sectional comparisons. All have used the verses appearing in Otto’s edition of the sonata, despite the ambiguity surrounding Reubke’s use of the psalm text. The writings of Chorzempa (1971), Lee (1989), Manwarren (1994), Nieuwkoop (1995), and Gailit (1992) emphasize different aspects of the sonata. References to its programmatic and formal analysis are included to varying degrees in all papers. Chorzempa’s interpretation in part revolves around the Baroque idea of Affektenlehre, whereby specific musical characteristics elicit emotional responses. He extends this into a Romantic notion that the inclusion of programmatic music, according to Wilhelm Wackenroder, allows the written word to take on fuller meaning, as music is the “completion of philosophy.”17 He also mentions the general “atmosphere” in particular sections. Lee’s dissertation approaches the sonata from the perspective of the psalmist in the first two movements and later God’s presence in the final. She conjectures specific text-music relationships, “double function” formal structure, and includes an analysis of rhythmic treatments of the principal theme (Figure 3A). Manwarren offers the most objective analysis of the sonata, relating the organ sonata to the piano sonatas of Liszt and Reubke. Psalm 94 itself is mentioned only briefly, aside from his formal and harmonic analysis. In contrast, the analysis offered by Nieuwkoop distinctly relates text and music, describing Reubke as a “master of musical depiction.”18 His commentary on the music’s textual representation is undergirded by specific musical features. Gailit’s journal article (which later evolved into a book) is dominated by detailed motivic analysis with the occasional comment referencing programmatic meaning. Lee, Manwarren, and Gailit all cite Chorzempa’s dissertation and draw upon his interpretation.
Direct correlations are commonly made when discussing program and sonata. Nieuwkoop describes measures 16–21 as
. . . an impressive musical rendering of another key word from verse 1: “. . . erscheine (. . . shew thyself).” It is an imperative exclamation, which Reubke represents by means of the following musical techniques: 1. dotted rhythms, 2. a sequential treatment, 3. an increased number of voices (from 3 to 10), 4. a large ambitus.
Similarly, Lee describes, “The second verse ‘Rise up’ is portrayed immediately after the repetition of the opening phrase in the full organ. The music builds with the sequence of rising phrases.”20 Numerous similar descriptions are routine in existing literature. These descriptions portray Reubke’s treatment of the psalm text as “Mickey Mousing” (to borrow a phrase from film music scholars), wherein musical gestures intend to describe, reinforce, and clarify specific on-screen actions; or, in our case, a specific word, phrase, or mood from the psalm text. Nonetheless, each interpretation offered is informative and provides different perspectives.21 Curiously, while the importance of the program has been highlighted to varying degrees in the sources detailed below, none cite any scholarly resources pertaining directly to the psalm text itself.
Psalm 94 features a distinct three-part construction, as reflected in the commentaries of Clifford, Howard, Kraus, and Limburg. Clifford’s analysis is more microscopic but is consistent with the larger sectional division of the others (Figure 2). The opening and closing sections are laments for the community and individual respectively. The middle introduces wisdom literature. This “wisdom interlude” is one of the defining features of Psalm 94, as it interrupts the psalm’s otherwise lament form. In verses 1–7, the psalmist writes of the injustice and violence occurring in the world. Frustrated with God’s inactivity, he invokes God to action in hopes that the numerous atrocities cited will end and the oppressors see justice. Verses 1–2 directly invoke God to be present and act in the world. Concern for the larger community is expressed. The middle section (verses 8–15) employs wisdom poetry, which is often used to describe human nature22 and the education of humankind. The teachings of an all-knowing God are “supremely strange,” as God is better known as a creator and judge in Old Testament Judaic thinking.23 The resulting advantages are described in verses 12–15, where those who accept such teachings are happy24 and assured of God’s faithfulness to humanity.25 The lament returns in the concluding section; however, focus shifts now towards the psalmist’s relationship with and reliance on God. Clifford notes several statements of trust and confidence: God is referred to as “rock” and “refuge.” Howard mentions Kraus’s interpretations of the last section as “a prayer of an individual.”26 Thoughts expressed about God’s interaction with the world are constantly developing in the psalm, as the psalmist is quick to find comfort in God despite the terrible circumstances of his present condition.
The human, earthly, and personal perspective of the psalmist is readily noticed in Psalm 94. Personal pronouns are found throughout. Questions and petitions are offered to God. The general affect of Reubke’s Organ Sonata is one of bewilderment and chaos. Such a setting is most appropriate as the psalmist is likewise perplexed and angered by the world’s “wicked” state. The very nature of God is questioned. This confused and seemingly illogical state of both the psalmist and the world are musically portrayed. Harmonic stability is rare and definitive cadences are lacking throughout much of the sonata. The introduction establishes this confused state with the first thematic entrance (measures 1–7) cadencing in D-flat major and the second (measures 8–15) cadencing in C major—neither establishes nor alludes to the work’s tonic of C minor (Figure 4).27 This “veiled” and “amorphous” tonality28 in conjunction with the rapid shifts in both dynamics and tempo preclude predictability, anticipation, and order. Just as the psalmist is left to the mercy of God for a response to his dire situation, so, too, must the listener wait for musical answers and conclusions. The laws of God and of conventional western music theory seem to be abandoned to some extent.
Monothematicism offers the only possibility of reliable predictability as the entire work revolves around a single, two-part theme. Gailit’s analysis and nomenclature refers to the “falling melody line” as the main theme. This theme consists of two-halves: a head motive consisting of a “semitone + third” (measures1–2) and a descending chromatic scale (measures 3–4) (Figure 3A).29, 30 Principal and secondary themes first appear in the Grave and Larghetto sections of the first movement, respectively (P1, S1). The themes of the second movement (Adagio) are derived from those of the first. Although different, these two themes are simply in altered guise (P2, S2). The fugue of the third movement is a distinct but not exact return of the principal theme from the first movement (Figure 3).
Thematic variation of both main theme, especially the head motive, and descending scale is present throughout and comprises repetition and fragmentation.31 The distinctive rhythmic and melodic qualities of the head motive, in particular, permeate virtually every section of the piece.32 This incessant use of the head motive represents the psalmist’s similarly frequent address and reference to God. Titles such as “Lord,” “God,” and “He” appear in several verses of Psalm 94. Divine names are distributed equally in all the three parts of the psalm.33 Hence, the head motive is a musical address of God, just as the titles mentioned are verbal addresses. The psalmist is constantly invoking God in both text and music. This may be a simple side effect of the sonata’s cyclic, monothematic construction; however, it is an undeniable commonality between text and sonata.
Moreover, thematic variation further reinforces the personal view exhibited by the psalmist. Each address of God is framed differently—petition, questioning, trust, confidence. The principal themes of each movement demonstrate this. The precise rhythmic (as examined and described by Lee) and melodic characteristics of each iteration are different, yet each retains the essence of the original. Respective iterations are likewise harmonized differently and presented in the context of different textures, all in addition to motivic alterations themselves. The head motive’s distinctive nature readily identifies it in various textures. Voices throughout the sonata resemble the theme’s scalar portion making distinctive identification thereof challenging—the temptation of over-identifying such sections is very possible.
The third movement’s fugue subject (Figure 3E) is clearly derived from the principal theme (P1), and the descending scale of P1 is now inverted. Gailit offers that this scalar ascent “could be taken to symbolically represent the portion of the text which speaks of hope and trust in the Lord.”34 Indeed, this programmatic correlation bears more significance as this literal change in direction reflects the psalmist’s changed attitude towards and opinion of God. Compared to the damning accusations of the psalm’s opening, he reverses his position by placing trust and confidence in God. The programmatic function of the scale seems to represent the psalmist’s general attitude towards the Divine.
The juxtaposition between sections of Psalm 94 bears elements of plot archetype. For the psalmist, confusion and question leads to trust and understanding. A musical trajectory of chaos to order can be found in harmonic and phrase structures, paralleling the psalmist evolving understanding of God’s nature. Chorzempa comments on the first movement’s Larghetto that “a measure for measure analysis reveals no governing system or imposed order. Harmonic color is exploited for its own sake.”35 Manwarren undergirds this statement, mentioning a “shifting chromatic nature” and later states that Reubke “avoids tonicizing the key outright.”36 Harmonic chaos continues in the second movement (Adagio) as three keys are established in a five-measure section (measures 237–242).37 Phrase structure seems to have little regularity, though some can be found. Unlike the sonata’s first two movements, the final movement is harmonically and structurally stable. The fugue is stricter as a tonal center and phrase structures are overtly present. Manwarren notes a “traditional tonic-dominant relationship” between subject and answer, mentioning a “firm grounding” in the tonic.38 Lee identifies a constancy of the C-minor tonality (Figure 5).39 Gailit observes regular four- and eight-bar phrases in episodic and developmental sections of the fugue; subject statements are consistently seven bars.40 The fugue is unambiguous and goal-orientated. The sonata and program establish clear musical and textual dichotomies respectively that are placed in parallel. Such transformations, however, do not extend to the sonata’s mode. One expects or desires a “happy,” triumphant ending with minor giving way to major. Curiously, the sonata’s conclusion is not consistent with aspects of a plot archetype model, as Reubke defies any such expectations and concludes the sonata with a dramatic, defiant conclusion in C minor using the fullest resources of the organ. This inconsistency is justified when considering items absent from the music and its program.
Parallels between music and program support and reflect each other. Likewise, these may be extended to elements that are not present. Gailit states,
It is of great importance to understand that the second theme does not show the regular contrast to the first theme. It does not use another (major) key, it stays in C minor. Those contrasting, “friendly” themes are very often used for the triumphant ending of the composition. The lyric themes are, so to speak, the germ of redemption. . . . In his organ sonata, Reubke does not “program” the redemption. When listening to the second theme one can already guess that the piece will not have a happy ending!41
Reubke’s compositional style is understandably influenced by the works and teachings of Liszt. Manwarren’s analysis of Liszt’s and Reubke’s piano sonatas finds similar treatment of the second theme, describing them as “lyrical” and mentions their “even phrase structures.”42 The second theme from Reubke’s
Organ Sonata does not conform to this description. Gailit notes that Reubke seems to purposefully “avoid regular bar numbers,”43 consistent with the initial presentation of the primary theme. This supposed intention of developing a clear, non-contrasting second theme is supported by Reubke’s exposure to Liszt’s lyrical second theme of and creation of his own in the Piano Sonata, as Manwarren’s dissertation demonstrates.
The closest thing to a “redemptive” theme is a soloed melody in measures 81–86, beat 1, intended to be played on an 8′ Trompete (Figure 6). Reubke specifies several other instances where lines are to be soloed on different registrations. For example, Reubke prescribes “Man. I Viola da Gamba 8′” for the second statement of first movement’s secondary theme (S1) (measure 64) with the melody to be “very prominent.”44 Several other similar prescriptions for soloing are found in both first and second movements and always solo thematic material. This solo Trompete line is curious as it bears little, if any, resemblance to any of the primary or secondary themes, with the exception of the ubiquitous head motive (measure 82). Reubke makes clear that it should be understood as a thematic statement, considering its soloed distinction, yet it is intrinsically athematic. The listener is intended to hear this as important and substantive (especially when played using the prominent, distinct Trompete color), despite its content being contextually unrelated. This contradiction is confusing. Such an oddity is explained if labeled as the sonata’s “redemptive theme.” Such a label is further justified as it aligns with the typical “lyrical” and “evenly phrased” qualities previously mentioned, in particular the slur markings within each bar, routine use of eighth notes, and stepwise and tertian motion. However, its singular appearance in the whole sonata disqualifies it as thematic material. Rather, it seems Reubke intends this to be a fake theme, presented as authentic but without credentials. Any true redemptive theme is simply not present in the organ sonata—an imposter offers false hope. The lack of a true contrasting second theme appears to have basis in the program’s own lack.
It is precisely the wisdom interlude of Psalm 94 (verses 8–15) that is excluded from the sonata’s program as listed in Otto Reubke’s edition. The program thus unites the two lament sections of Psalm 94 into a more unified whole. The single-movement and monothematic structure of the sonata reflect this. The absence of text focusing on education and human behavior precludes any chance for a musical depiction of redemption in the world. Without accepting and understanding the wisdom, teaching, and guidance through God’s presence in the world, humankind has little chance of achieving a just world. The psalmist does not desire the wicked to return to a righteous lifestyle, nor does he intercede on their behalf. Rather, the psalmist concludes by expressing desire for God’s justice and retribution in the form of eradication of the unjust. Redemption is denied to this demographic in the psalm, just as a redemptive theme is denied in the sonata. Gailit’s comment about the lack of a “redemptive” secondary theme foreshadowing and fulfilling a “bad ending” therefore stems from the program itself. This is yet more sinister when realizing the intentionality inherent in both text and music.
Reubke demonstrates a more profound understanding and realization of Psalm 94’s text, extending beyond the straightforward “depiction” as described by others’ analysis identifying, relating, and explaining the sonata’s affect with specific musical features. He seems to offer the listener something more akin to a critical reading, one that helps us understand, sympathize with, and participate in the emotions and thoughts of the psalmist. Reubke’s Organ Sonata on Psalm 94 offers a visceral musical experience, whether one is performer or listener. His virtuosic and highly technical writing in combination with a religious program places the sonata in a unique position as it engages performer and audience sonically and theologically as found in few other compositions in the organ repertoire.
1. Hans van Nieuwkoop, “Interpretation of Reubke’s ‘Sonate der 94 Psalm,’” in Proceedings of the Göteborg International Organ Academy 1994, trans. Rechard van der Hart, ed. Hans Davidsson and Sverker Jullander, 383–402 (Göteborg: Novum Grafiska AB, 1995): 383.
2. In the Latin sense of “holder.”
3. J. Peter Burkholder, Donald J. Grout, and Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music, 8th ed. (New York: W. W. Morton, 2010), 606.
4. Daniel W. Chorzempa, “Julius Reubke: Life and Works” (Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, 1971), 14–15.
5. Nieuwkoop, “Interpretation of Reubke’s ‘Sonate der 94 Psalm,’” 384.
6. Michael Gailit, “Julius Reubke and His Organ Sonata: The 94th Psalm, Part I,” The Diapason, 83, no. 1 (Jan. 1992), 12–14.
7. Ibid., 13.
8. Nieuwkoop, “Interpretation of Reubke’s ‘Sonate der 94 Psalm,’” 384.
9. Ibid., 384.
10. Gailit, “Julius Reubke: Part I,” 13.
11. Matthew C. Manwarren, “The Influence of Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor on Julius Reubke: A Study of Reubke’s Sonata in B-flat Minor for Piano and the Sonata on the Ninety-fourth Psalm for Organ” (DMA diss., University of Cincinnati, 1994), 91.
12. Chorzempa, “Julius Reubke,” 101.
13. Chorzempa, “Julius Reubke,” 102.
14. Chorzempa, “Julius Reubke,” 252.
15. Gailit, “Julius Reubke: Part II,” 10.
16. Choonhae Kim Lee, “Reubke’s The 94th Psalm: Synthesis of conservative and progressive styles, A lecture recital, Together with three Recitals of Selected works of J. S. Bach, C. Franck, A. Heillerds, M. Reger, L. Sowerby, M. Widor, and Others” (DMA diss., University of North Texas-Denton, 1989), 24.
17. Chorzempa, “Julius Reubke,” 250.
18. Nieuwkoop, “Interpretation of Reubke’s ‘Sonate der 94 Psalm,’” 394.
19. Nieuwkoop, “Interpretation of Reubke’s ‘Sonate der 94 Psalm,’” 388.
20. Lee, “Reubke’s The 94th Psalm,” 26.
21. Music scholarship prior to 1971 was not examined as research presented by Chorzempa corrects previous errors and misunderstandings.
22. Richard J. Clifford, Psalms 73–150, Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 113–114.
23. Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60–150: A Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1989), 241.
24. Clifford, Psalms 73–150, 114.
25. Kraus, Psalms 60–150, 241.
26. David M. Howard, Jr., The Structure of Psalms 93–100 (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1997), 49.
27. Lee, “Reubke’s The 94th Psalm,” 41.
28. Chorzempa, “Julius Reubke,” 224.
29. Gailit, “Julius Reubke: Part II,” 10.
30. Gailit includes the rising chords in mm. 4–7 in addition to the head motive, creating a “Main Idea.” I do not find this useful in my analysis.
31. Lee, “Reubke’s The 94th Psalm,” 312.
32. Chorzempa, “Julius Reubke,” 206.
33. Howard, The Structure of Psalms 93–100, 50.
34. Gailit, “Julius Reubke: Part IV,” 13.
35. Chorzempa, “Julius Reubke,” 232.
36. Manwarren, “The Influence of Liszt,” 47.
37. Ibid., 67.
38. Manwarren, “The Influence of Liszt,” 80.
39. Lee, “Reubke’s The 94th Psalm,” 42.
40. Gailit, “Julius Reubke: Part IV,” 14
41. Gailit, “Julius Reubke: Part III,” 12.
42. Manwarren, “The Influence of Liszt,” 37.
43. Gailit, “Julius Reubke: Part III,” 12.
44. “Melodie sehr hervortretend.”
Clifford, Richard J. Psalms 73–150: Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003.
Gillingham, Susan. Psalms through the Centuries. Singapore: Blackwell, 2008.
Howard, David M., Jr. “Psalm 94 amongst the Kingship-of Yhwh Psalms.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 61, no. 4 (Oct. 1999): 667–685.
______ . The Structure of Psalms 93–100. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1997.
Kraus, Hans-Joachim. Psalms 60–150: A commentary. Translated by Hilton C. Oswald. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1989.
Limburg, James. Psalms. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000.
Chorzempa, Daniel W. “Julius Reubke: Life and Works.” Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, 1971.
Gailit, Michael. “Julius Reubke and His Organ Sonata: The 94th Psalm, Part I.” The Diapason, 83, no. 1 (Jan. 1992): 12–14.
______ . “Julius Reubke and His Organ Sonata: The 94th Psalm, Part II.” The Diapason, 83, no. 2 (Feb. 1992): 10–11.
______ . “Julius Reubke and His Organ Sonata: The 94th Psalm, Part III.” The Diapason, 83, no. 3 (March 1992): 12–13.
______ . “Julius Reubke and His Organ Sonata: The 94th Psalm, Part IV.” The Diapason, 83, no. 4 (April 1992): 12–14.
Klotz, Hans, and Daniel Chorzempa. “Reubke.” Grove Music Online, accessed March 7, 2016, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.
Lee, Choonhae Kim. “Reubke’s The 94th Psalm: Synthesis of conservative and progressive styles, A lecture recital, Together with three Recitals of Selected works of J. S. Bach, C. Franck, A Heillerds, M. Reger, L. Sowerby, M. Widor, and Others.” DMA diss., University of North Texas-Denton, 1989.
Manwarren, Matthew C. “The influence of Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor on Julius Reubke: A study of Reubke’s Sonata in B-flat Minor for Piano and the Sonata on the Ninety-fourth Psalm for Organ.” DMA diss., University of Cincinnati, 1994.
Nieuwkoop, Hans van. “Interpretation of Reubke’s ‘Sonate der 94 Psalm.’” In Proceedings of the Göteborg International Organ Academy 1994, translated by Rechard van der Hart, edited by Hans Davidsson and Sverker Jullander, 383–402. Göteborg: Novum Grafiska AB, 1995.
Reubke, Julius. Orgelwerke. Edited by Günther Kaunzinger. Vienna: Wiener Urtext Edition, 2004.
Reubke, Julius. Der 94ste Psalm für die Orgel. Edited by Otto Reubke. Leipzig: J. Schuberth & Co., 1871.