With its roughly fifty surviving pieces the concerto genre constitutes one of the major work groups of Johann Wilhelm Hertel’s (1727–1789) compositional output. A striking aspect is the fact that the composer contributed solo concertos for nearly every instrument customary in his time. The majority among these are for harpsichord (14), for oboe (10), and for violin (9); in addition Hertel wrote three solo concertos each for harp (alternatively for harpsichord), flute, bassoon, and trumpet, two concertos for violoncello, and a double concerto for trumpet and oboe. Only one of the harpsichord concertos was published (in 1767), the other concertos are transmitted in manuscript form. Not all of Hertel’s contributions to the genre have survived, however; this can be seen from the work catalogue compiled by the composer himself, which lists six concertos for violoncello as well as “several concertos” for “hunting horn”.
Apparently Hertel wrote only one organ concerto. Presented in this volume, this composition claims our special attention as the composer wrote it specifically for ‘his’ duke, dedicating it to him. The person in question is Duke Frederick “the Pious” of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, during whose reign (1756–1785) the newly erected residency at Ludwigslust developed into a renowned centre of sacred music. Duke Frederick apparently had received a thorough musical education and was a respectable harpsichordist. Taught to play this instrument since his childhood days, during his grand tour – and particularly while staying in Paris in 1738/39 – he met a great number of musicians, improved his virtuosic skills and took part in private concert performances. In his autobiography Hertel emphasizes his “deep insight into all the arts and sciences, especially music”, pointing out in particular that “his Serene Highness the Duke [...] who played the keyboard since his youth [...] was a masterful accompanist”. As early as in 1755 the composer had dedicated to Frederick (then still ducal prince) his SEI SONATE per Cembalo, published as his op. 1 by Haffner in Nuremberg.
The organ concerto is transmitted in the Schwerin music collection in a manuscript set of parts; the solo part was written by Hertel himself, who also added a dedicatory title (see facsimile 1). The manuscript is undated; it may be assumed, however, that the piece was written during the first years of Frederick’s reign, i.e. around 1756–1757. As Hertel gave up his position of Hof- und Capell-Componist in 1767, the possible time of origin is limited to the first third of Frederick’s reign; this period is reduced further by the fact that at the end of the year 1757 the Seven Years’ War reached Mecklenburg-Schwerin and before May 1762 forced the duke several times to emigrate. The ravages of the war enforced, in Hertel’s words, “a sad silence upon the music”. To this we can add another fact that speaks in favour of the organ concerto having been written still in the 1750s: The acquisition of a chamber organ (“Hausorgel”) for the ducal prince, which is documented by a payment instruction signed on 14 July 1753. Constructed by the Rostock organ builder Paul Schmidt for 600 Reichstaler, the instrument is no further specified; it probably was first intended for the palais at Rostock that Duke Christian Ludwig II used as his second residence but then must have been moved to the castle at Schwerin and later to Ludwigslust. In any case the acquisition of this instrument in 1753 attests to Frederick playing the organ in the mid-1750s.
(Karl Heller, translation by Stephanie Wollny)