Harald Vogel

VogelHarald Harald Vogel is a leading expert in early German organs and organ music. As the director of the North German Organ Academy, which he founded in 1972, he teaches historical performance practice on the original instruments. He has been professor of organ at the University of the Arts Bremen since 1994.


Recital at Ascension
Last track is an improvisation.

Harald Vogel – Improvisation – Church of the Ascension, Seattle, WA This is the improvisation from the recording above.
Harald Vogel – Improvisation – Frederiksborg, Danemark

Kay Johannsen


YouTube Channel:
You can hear him on Spotify.

Kay Johannsen is Collegiate Cantor and and Director of liturgical music at the Collegiate Church in Stuttgart, Germany. He directs the Stuttgarter Kantorei, the solistenensemble stimmkunst and the Collegiate Philhamonic Stuttgart and oversees a weekly concert series at the church. In addition to numerous recordings of repertoire, he has made three recordings of organ improvisations.


Advent And Christmas Music

Christmas: Improvisations on Christmas Songs


Kay Johannsen – Orgelimprovisation – Mühleisen-Orgel der Stiftskirche
Kay Johannsen – Free Improvisation ‘The Great Wall’ – Stuttgart, Stiftskirche
Kay Johannsen – Orgel-Improvisation über Psalm 57 – Stuttgart, Stiftskirche
Kay Johannsen – Improvisation on “Ode an die Freude’ – Stuttgart, Stiftskirche

Es ist ein Ros entsprungen

Es ist ein Ros entsprungen
Often translated in to English as “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” the German chorale “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” first appeared in print in the late 16th century. The most familiar harmonization was written by German composer Michael Praetorius in 1609.

See a list of other hymn and chorale themes here.

Eric Dalest – Improvisation on “Es ist ein Ros” – Virtual organ of ST MAXIMIN
Paul Damjakob – Kommet ihr Hirten und Es ist ein Ros – Würzburger Dom

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland


The German chorale “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland” is a translation of the Latin chant Veni redemptor gentium made by Martin Luther. The melody for the chorale was adapted from the same chant by either Martin Luther or Johann Walter. While the chant hymn is designated as part of the Roman Catholic Office of Readings for December 17 to 24, the Lutheran hymn has become closely associated to the First Sunday of Advent.

See a list of other hymn and chorale themes here.

Ján Blahuta – Maestoso über den Choral ‘Nun komm der Heiden Heiland’
Ján Blahuta – Trio über den Choral ‘Nun komm der Heiden Heiland’
Ján Blahuta – Sarabande über den Choral ‘Nun komm der Heiden Heiland’
Ján Blahuta – Quasi Fughetta über den Choral ‘Nun komm der Heiden Heiland’
Wolfgang Seifen – Orgel-Improvisation ‘Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland’ – Charlottenburg

Jörg Abbing


Born in 1969 in Duisburg, Jörg Abbing began studies in piano and composition with erste Alexander Meyer in Bremen and organ with Günter Eumann. He then studied church music, organ playing and musicology in Düsseldorf and Saarbrücken where his teachers included Almut Rößler and Volker Hempfling. He also studied organ with Gaston Litaize. He also studied privately in Paris with André Isoir, and Naji Hakim.

Since 1995, he has served as Kantor and Organist at the Ev.Stiftskirche St. Arnual in Saarbrücken. He also teaches liturgical organ playing and improvisation at the Hochschule für Musik Saar in Saarbrücken. He has written biographies on Maurice Duruflé and Jean Guillou.

Symphonische Orgelimprovisationen
IFO-Verlag, Saarbrücken: 1998.

Jörg Abbing – Improvisation (Intermezzo) – Saarbrücken
Jörg Abbing – Improvisation – St Matthias Kirche, Berlin

Christ lag in Todesbanden

Christ lag in Todesbanden
The chorale Christ lag in Todesbanden is an adaptation of the chant Victimae Paschali laudes. The arrangement is credited to Johann Walther who published it his Geystliche Gesangk Buchleyn in 1524, but it is possible that Martin Luther may have assisted in the adaptation.

See a list of other chorale and hymn tune themes here.

Robert Descombes – Improvisation on ‘Christ lag in Todesbanden’ – Orgelet
Morten Ladehoff – Partita in baroque style on ‘Christ lag in Todesbanden’ – Symphonic Hall Aarhus
Morten Ladehoff – Symphonic movement in romantic style on ‘Christ lag in Todesbanden’ – Symphonic Hall Aarhus
Morten Ladehoff – Free modern style improvisation on ‘Christ lag in Todesbanden’ – Symphonic Hall Aarhus
Rudolf Lutz – Improvisation sur “Christ lag in Todesbanden” – l’église Saint François, Lausanne

Peter Ewers – Just play!

Peter Ewers
Just play! An invitation to improvisation

With a copyright date of 2013, this is the newest improvisation method book that I have seen. I just received my copy this week and very quickly began exploring the contents. Because the book is a hardcover (and includes a ribbon book mark!), my first impression was that rather than a method book, this might be a theoretical tome rather than an instruction manual, but the book does live up to its subtitle: An invitation to improvise.

The book is comprised of short sections of text that read almost like blog posts. While some of the sections are more philosophical in nature, they read easily and definitely are not technical academic writing. One of the earliest “philosophical” points Ewers makes by drawing a parallel with a physics experiment:

When a physics experiment is conducted, one tries to set as many parameters as possible to a fixed value in order to observe remaining parameters, ideally a single one, more precisely. In a vibrant improvisation, all aspects mix up constantly. Nevertheless, in the course of this book, the focus will be on a small number of parameters in order to lift the veil which has been drawn over improvisation.

This paragraph was a light bulb moment for me, and let me know that Ewers has a pedagogical approach to improvisation that makes sense to me. Each of the first chapters chooses a parameter as the focal point (meter and rhythm, harmony, tone colour, dynamics, melodics) before he moves into material that combines multiple elements (Storytelling, the school of Sainte-Clotilde, Pierre Cochereau, and “Be consciously unconcious!”). Within each chapter, the material is delivered in bite-size chunks – i.e. “the blog post” – with a single idea for the student to ponder or to explore at the keyboard.

Another novel idea for me is the graphic notation system for form outlined in the “Storytelling” section. By relating form to plot and a graphic scheme, the student has much more flexibility with the potential realization of the scheme and can quickly develop a form without being so concerned about the details (such as Dupré provides in his Cours Complet D’improvisation). Several compositions are analyzed using this notation, and I think this could be an excellent way to guide group improvisations.

In my quick evaluation of the book, while I have found much to recommend it, there are a few weaknesses that I want to point out. First, this book is a translation from German. While most of the phrases and instructions are clear, there are the occasional phrases that seem a little odd, and a few which simply don’t make sense. One of the other issues is a production/editorial decision to fully justify the text. While this looks beautiful on the page, it created many hyphenated words that are either divided in the wrong place or would not have been divided by a native English speaker. Finally, while the table of contents only identifies areas (not specified as chapters), it would be helpful when flipping through the other pages of the book to actually know which chapter I was in and what topic actually constitutes a major subject area change verses a new sub-topic in the same subject area. While it may be a bit of a pain to layout and proofread for these sorts of issues, a few extra hours spent pre-production could have remedied these problems. The content is good, I just wish I didn’t have these obstacles to my encounter with the content.

Just play! An invitation to improvisation by Peter Ewers provides a wonderful guide for an organist to explore the world of improvisation. It provides steps that are accessible and easily managed by the most reluctant improviser. While covering solid material, it does so in a way that is fun for the reader and student so that the contents aptly fit the title: Just play!

Nun danket alle Gott

This melody is attributed to Johann Crüger and was written around 1647. The German text “Nun danket alle Gott” was written in approximately 1636 by Martin Rinkart. It was translated into English in the 19th Century by Catherine Winkworth.

See a list of other chorale and hymn themes here.

Gabriela Montero – Improvisation on “Now thank we all our God” (piano)
Johannes Schröder – Improvisation zum Auszug über ‘Nun danket alle Gott’ – Abtei Marienstatt
Sietze de Vries – Improvisation Nun danket alle Gott – Geneve
Sietze de Vries – Improvisation Nun danket alle Gott – Martinikerk, Groningen

In the Style of Mozart


Though Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart only lived for a short time, he is one of the great masters of Classical music. While he left only a small number of pieces for organ, many improvisers have set out to imitate his style at the organ. As I create (or find) instructions for ways to learn his style, I’ll add links from this page. For now, enjoy the videos from other performers and try to identify elements that you could incorporate to imitate the style of this great master.

Gianluca Cagnani – Improvisation über ein Thema von W.A.Mozart (Allegro – Adagio – Presto)
John Riley – Overture in the style of Mozart – Paisley Abbey
John Riley – Variations on a theme by Mozart – McEwan Hall, Edinburgh

Jan Bender


Jan Bender (1909-1994) was born in Haarlem, The Netherlands. At age 13, he moved to Lübeck, Germany, and began studying organ with Karl Lichtwark at the Marienkirche. In 1929, he studied with Walter Kraft, the new Marienkirche organist. In 1930, he enrolled as a student of Karl Straube at the Kirchen-musikalische Institut of the Landeskirche Sachsen, part of the Leipzig Konservatorium. He later studied composition from Hugo Distler. He served as organist at St. Gertrudkirche in Lübeck, St. Lambertikirche in Aurich, and Michaeliskirche in Lüneburg (where J.S. Bach had studied in his early years). He eventually came to teach in the United States at Concordia Teacher’s College in Seward, Nebraska, before becoming Associate Professor of Composition and Organ at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. Though he returned to live in Germany upon his retirement in 1976, he continued teaching with occasional residencies in the US at Valparaiso University, Gustavus Adolphus College, and Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.

He composed over one hundred works, primarily for for organ and/or choir. Though active in the Missouri Synod, he served on the commission which eventually published the Lutheran Book of Worship. He wrote a method book for organ improvisation:

Organ Improvisation for Beginners: A Book of Self-Instruction for Church Musicians : Op. 59
A full review of the method book can be found here.