J.S.Bach en Thuringe


Jean-Michel Douiller

After completing piano studies to an advanced level, Jean-Michel Douiller began studying the harpsichord and organ with Jean-Luc Salique. His organ studies were crowned in France with the Gold Medal, awarded unanimously and with the congratulations of the jury. After this he studied with Daniel Chorzempa at the Music College of Basel (Switzerland) and then at the Mozarteum Academy of Salzburg (Austria) whilst continuing to study improvisation with Jean-Pierre Leguay, a titular organist at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Paris.

He was a concert performer throughout Europe at the same time as being artistic director for the Organ Festival in Sankt Gerold (Austria). Jean-Michel Douiller finally settled in Strasbourg in 1999. The titular organist of the Thomas organ in the Protestant Reform Church of Bouclier, and responsible for its reconstruction, Jean- Michel Douiller is Professor at the Protestant Organ School in Strasbourg and Associate Professor “Agrégé” of music at the Sturm Gymnasium, the oldest high school in the Alsatian capital.

A specialist in Early Music and particularly the organ works of Bach, Jean-Michel Douiller also plays the harpsichord and the clavichord of which he owns historical replicas.

J.S. Bach in Thuringia

The Thomas organ from Bouclier Church

In the heart of Petite France, the oldest neighbourhood in Strasbourg, the Bouclier Protestant Reformed Church houses an exceptional organ built by the Belgian organ factory, Thomas. This instrument, inaugurated in 2007 is unique in its conception as it is inspired by the Thuringian organs of the first half of the 18th century. This region, situated in the centre of Germany, saw the birth and youth of the greatest organist and composer of the Western world, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 –1750). It also still houses today numerous historic organs. Although these instruments are appealing and occasionally fascinating the quality of their sound does not always reach the required standard.

The challenge of the project to reconstruct the Bouclier organ consisted of being able to bring together modern methods yet maintain a respect for the old traditions that made the baroque organs of Thuringia so special.

A precocious creativity

“Who’s talking about winning? It’s enough to survive!” wrote the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Johann Sebastian Bach might well have expressed himself thus around 1713, a moment in his life when we can place the composition of his masterpiece for the organ, the Passacaglia. But after this victory Bach was able to survive and his work for the organ was continued throughout his life with varying pace but with constancy.

It was during the Thuringian period, just up to his departure for Koethen in 1717, that Bach composed the most for the organ. We certainly know how much his sound imagination was stimulated by the discovery of the great Nordic instruments heard and played in Lübeck; a veil of forgetfulness has fallen over the equally fundamental role played by the manufacture of the Thuringian organs. In fact, who can deny the evidence? The instruments of Bach’s native region, although of smaller size and more modest build, are the fertile ground from which his creative roots grew.

The organ in the Bouclier church, a perfect version of the Thuringian organ with its combination of refinement and rustic charm, has determined the programme for this recording. The works I have chosen were all composed in Thuringia with the exception of the six Schübler Chorale, first published around 1748. The close sound relationship which links the Bouclier organ to the transcriptions of these chorale settings from Leipzig time proves to what extent the Thuringian organ inspired Bach’s thoughts until the very end of his life. Through this a whole forgotten world of sound is brought back to life. The music has in fact the marvellous characteristic of being, neither timeless nor eternal, but always new, of the moment when we listen to it. The Bouclier organ does not just take us back to a past age but allows us to hear these works as Johann Sebastian Bach would have heard them three hundred years ago.

The characteristics of the Thomas organ

Amongst the sound characteristics much appreciated at the time of Bach, gravity (Gravität) was created by an exceptional number of organ stops (so-called 16‘) with regard to the size of the instrument: 6 registers, of which two are on the principal manual keyboard. Another aspect of these Thuringian organs is their character of delicate expressive musicality which involves no less than12 registers of 8 feet. But power and brilliance are also waiting for you with 10 rows of full organ – of which a third row, always found in the Thuringian plenums, added ad libitum thanks to a register notch – and the five separate ranks of fifths and thirds as well as beautiful reed stops which are typical of Bach’s period.

Old Bach who contains everything of music ... Claude Debussy