Three Works for Trumpet & Organ by Harald Ernst Hermann Röhlig
By Carly Johnson, Alabama State University, 2021.
This presentation chronicles the life and musical compositions of German-American organist and composer Harald Ernst Hermann Röhlig (1926-2014). Released from a prisoner of war camp in France in 1948, Röhlig resumed his musical education as an exchange student at the Royal Conservatory of Music in London, and at the Osnabrück Conservatory, where he earned a doctorate in pipe organ design. Eager to come to America after completing his musical training, his father, a Methodist clergyman, advised him to take out an ad in The Christian Advocate, a Methodist publication, seeking a church organist position in the United States. After receiving multiple job offers and emigrating from Germany to the United States in 1953, Dr. Röhlig made his home in Montgomery, Alabama from 1955-2014, serving as longtime Professor of Organ at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, and as organist at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Montgomery. Dr. Röhlig was a prolific performer who wrote more than 1,000 organ and choral works, and who published more than 300 of his own works. He played at, and composed for many of the world’s greatest churches, including Canterbury, Washington National Cathedral, Cologne, Notre Dame de Paris, and Westminster Abbey. He also hosted a weekly radio show in the 1960s featuring his performances compositions and improvisations, with the surviving correspondence and recordings being preserved and housed in the W. S. Hoole Special Collections Library at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He was recognized six times with awards from the American Society of Composers and Publishers. As a composer, he utilized a neo-Baroque style commonly observed in German composers during the interwar period, where a return to aesthetic principles and inspirations associated with the Baroque era, served as a reaction against unrestrained romanticism and the experimental nature of the early decades of the twentieth century. In this neo-Baroque style, emphasis was placed on contrapuntal textures, expanded tonal harmony, and a focus on absolute music as opposed to program music. As a church organist, Harald always had a fondness for adding trumpet descants to hymn settings, and during the 1960s and 1970s, he composed and published three secular works written for trumpet that will be featured during this session include his Sonatina for Trumpet and Organ (1966), his Toccata for Trumpet and Organ (1966) and his Intrada for Two Trumpets and Organ (1975). The session will feature archival materials retrieved from the Special Collections Library at the University of Alabama, in addition to first-hand accounts and interviews, along with an archival video performance of the Intrada for Two Trumpets and Organ, with the composer performing on organ. The three works highlighted during this session serve to expand the repertoire of twentieth century concert works for trumpet and organ, and to give recitalists access to a composer who may be somewhat less known within the trumpet community at present times, but who made a substantial contribution to the literature for organ and choral ensemble during his lifetime.