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John F. Berky
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November, 2020: "Festmusik" based on an Improvisational Sketch by Bruckner

November, 2020: "Festmusik" based on an Improvisational Sketch by Bruckner
The flyer found in the church
This is a long story for a short piece of music. In 2011, I went to Austria to look into the idea of hosting Bruckner Tours of Austria. There have since been three successful tours in 2012, 2015 and 2018.

On my visit to Saint Florian, I walked into the Basilika for the first time during an organ concert. I was thrilled to hear the organist performing a transcription of the Finale to Bruckner's Symphony No. 1. Afterwards, I inquired as to the name of the organist and was told that it was Klaus Sonnleitner. Once I returned home, I contacted him by e-mail and asked if he might be willing to perform that work if and when I brought a group of Bruckner enthusiasts to Austria. We exchanged several e-mails but we were unable to pin down a schedule.

Jump ahead to 2014. During a later visit to Austria, a friend of mine and I decided to make use of our rented car and travel to the Village of Bad Ischl. We knew that there was a Bruckner plaque on the St. Nikolaus Parish Church. The plaque had to do with Bruckner performing an improvisation on the church organ for the wedding of the Emperor's daughter, the Arch-duchess Marie Valerie on July 31, 1890. That improvisation was to include music from Bruckner's First Symphony, but that particular improvisation was not played and the sketches ended up in the Austrian National Library where organist Erwin Horn discovered them and composed the "Festmusik" based on the improvisational sketch.

When my friend and I arrived at the church, we could hear that there was an organ rehearsal taking place. After a few seconds I noted that it sounded like Bruckner's music and then it broke into the theme from the Finale of the First Symphony. We ventured into the empty church and were thrilled to hear the finale of Bruckner's First Symphony in all its glory. Since this was a rehearsal, I looked around to see if there were any flyers announcing upcoming concerts. And there it was, an upcoming concert by Klaus Sonnleitner from St. Florian! (see illustration above) During one of his breaks in the rehearsal, I yelled up to the organ loft and introduced myself to Herr Sonnleitner. He invited me and my friend up into the organ loft. I reminded him of our previous e-mails and my love for the "Festmusik." He said he had an extra CD of it in his car and when we went out, he gave it to me. It was a remarkable day!

Here is the work. Klaus Sonnleitner on the Organ of St. Nikolaus Parish Church in Bad Ischl.


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