Toccata, Canzona, and Fugue on "Es sungen drei Engel"
Hans Friedrich Micheelsen (1902-1973) learned the organ at first from his father, studied composition with Paul Hindemith, and devoted himself mainly to church music. Several of his pieces have maintained a prominent place in the organ repertory, and he received an unlikely boost in the ambient music scene when Roger and Brian Eno made an album of his 18 Keyboard Studies in 2002.
A German traditionalist in a difficult time, Micheelsen composed seven multi-movement solo organ concertos, beginning in 1940. The following year he was drafted into the German army and served in the infantry on the Russian front. Nonetheless, in 1943 he was able to complete his Organ Concerto No. 2, Op. 34, also known as the Toccata, Canzona, and Fugue on “Es sungen drei Engel” for its three movements. Micheelsen often used chorale tunes in his music, and occasionally folk songs, as in this case. “Es sungen drei Engel” (Three angels were singing) was a popular song that was also used in Baroque keyboard pieces by composers such as Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck and Johann Pachelbel. (The text later appeared in the famous anthology Des Knaben Wunderhorn and in 1895 Gustav Mahler set it as a song, which he used as the fifth movement of his Third Symphony.) Micheelsen’s music here is vigorous and direct, shaped by neo-classical ideals and colorfully idiomatic as all his organ music is.