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Fernando Germani

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- Wanamaker Store, New York, 1929

- Sant'Ignazio, Rome, c. 1947-49

- Westminster Cathedral, London, 1947-1953

- All Saints Church, London, 1952

- Sint-Laurenskerk, Alkmaar, Holland, c. 1958

Fernando Germani was an Italian organist. He studied in Rome and at age eight he started taking lessons in composition from Ottorino Resphigi who headed Germani toward the organ. In 1921 Germani thus began a career as an organist. He later taught in Siena and Rome and toured widely around the world. In a series of concerts in 1945 he played the complete organ works of J. S. Bach for the first time in Italy repeating these concerts several times abroad as well. He was titular organist at St Peter's Basilica in Rome between 1948-59. He died in 1998. 

He was the author of several “organ methods” and was well versed in organology and organ history. Alongside the organist Enrico Bossi, a generation before Germani, they were both among the leading organists in founding the modern Italian organ school in the 20th century.

An anecdote goes that the organ piece “Pageant” by Leo Sowerby was written in 1931 at the request of Germani. Germani had played Sowerby's Medieval Poem at his first concert in the United States under the composer's baton. Germani possessed a phenomenal pedal technique and Sowerby's Pageant was very obviously intended as a direct challenge for him. In its form it is a set of ingenious variations on a rather perfunctory theme presented after a bravura introduction for pedals alone. Germani's response after receiving the score is legendary: "Now write me something difficult!"

Due to his fame and technical abilities he was one of the first organists to record after 1925 when the introduction of the microphone made it possible to record the organ. Germani’s recording of Franz Liszt together with Alfred Sittard is one of the earliest preserved interpretations of organ music by Liszt. Fortunately Germani lived all the way through the LP era when the recording process became much more convenient and easy so he is well documented on records.

Most of the recordings presented here on IHORC cover the late 1920s until the early 1950s and show Germani at the height of his career. I’ve also included an LP recording from the late 1950s on which Germani plays the famous organ in Sint-Laurenskerk in Alkmaar in Holland.

One interesting thing is his version of the J. S. Bach Prelude and Fugue E flat major released on the Vatican label. Due to the time limitations of the 78rpm gramophones musicians were confined to cut music into bits of around 4:30 minutes for each side of the gramophone sides. Germani chose to record the Prelude which in his version lasts 7:30 min on two sides, but as the fugue only lasts 6:15 one of the sides would be half empty, so he chose to put the “Ich ruf zu dir”-chorale in between the Prelude and Fugue - quite possibly as an “homage” to the structure of the whole  “Clavierübung III”. 

I recommend listening to all of the recordings but especially the Schumann, his own edition of the Frescobaldi Toccata, and Liszt's BACH are simply amazing from the early recordings. From the Alkmaar recording his rendition of the Passacaglia is impressive and ranks in my opinion among the best ever to be put on record. 


A note on the recordings:

The earliest recordings were made in The Wanamaker Auditorium in New York - not the famous Wanamaker Store-organ in Philadelphia but still quite a powerful one.

The next set of recordings were recorded in Saint Ignazio in Rome by the Vatican label "SEMS Edizione di Musica Sacra". Germani’s organ playing is as expected very impressive but the technical aspect of the recordings is overall quite poorly done. The fading and the cuts at the end of the records are often very abrupt and haphazard where the technician often cuts in the middle of the reverberation. The organ sound is muffled and not as focused as with other recordings done in the same period.

The English and American recordings were quite easy to date. The Vatican recordings on the other hand have proven much more difficult to date. I've done a lot of searching through the internet and many databases date the recordings from "SEMS Edizione di Musica Sacra" as recorded between 1901-to ca. 1970 which I assume must be the entirety of the existence of the record company. That wide time span obviously translates into the fact that nobody knows when the recordings were made. Therefore it was very difficult to pinpoint the exact date of these recordings. However as mentioned above Germani performed the complete organ works of J. S. Bach in 1945 in Sant'Ignazio and Santa Maria in Ara Coeli in Rome, an event which rose him to fame, and since he was appointed in the great Saint Peter's Basilica in 1948, I assume that these recordings were done during that period.

Concerning the HMV records: Thanks to Claus Byrith I’ve been able to access the catalogue of the HMV Plum Label “C” Series where all Germani's recordings were released. This catalogue gives us among many things the exact dates and places of the recordings. This information showed an interesting thing; the Toccata and Fugue, BWV538 (The Dorian) was recorded in All Souls Church on Langham Place in London. This church and the organ were damaged in 1940 during the war and the organ was dismantled. It was then rebuilt in 1951. According to the HMV catalogue Fernando Germani recorded the Dorian Toccata and Fugue (from this release) and the Mozart F-minor Fantasia on the newly installed organ in 1952. Furthermore the catalogue shows that Germani also recorded the C minor Passacaglia of Bach and “Tu es Petrus” by Henri Mulet.

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find these recordings so if anyone has them or can get access to them and send a copy to me it would be greatly appreciated.

Since these 78rms recordings were obviously never intended to be spliced together digitally Claus Byrith and I faced a rather odd but common problem when working with them. Germani tends to make ritardandos toward the end of each side of a 78rpm side even though the cuts sometimes had to be made in some quite “unmusical” places in the piece due to the limitations of 4:30 minutes per side.

Another even greater problem is that to properly end a side and begin the next side Germani sometimes holds the last chord much too long at the end and the following side continues from the chord on the next side. This habit made perfect sense when playing the 78rpms since there no matter what had to be a gap in the music because the gramophone had to be turned to the other side.

Lastly some of the 78rpm sides for the same piece of music differs sometimes quite substantially in pitch which could be due to the digital transfer on the speed of the turntable. It could also be due to the fact that the two sides were recorded on very different days where the pitch of the organ differed.

Here we have to remember that this was not a problem at the time since the gramophone had to be turned when the music stopped on the one side. These problems only arise when trying to digitally construct a continuously running piece across multiple 78rpms; it creates some problems concerning where and how to cut and paste to join the piece together.

Thanks to Michael Gartz for providing the 78rpm transfers and to Claus Byrith for the audio restoration work and providing the Alkmaar recording.

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