Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Helmut Walcha

Lest all you American Idol fans think that Scott McIntyre is the only famous blind musician, I want to introduce you to one of the great organists of the 20th century, Helmut Walcha.

Walcha was born in Germany in 1907 and became blind as a teenager due to a smallpox vaccination. Amazingly, he went on to a brilliant career as organist and is known as one of the preeminent interpreters of Bach's organ music.

Bach's music is famously complex, with interwoven voices in the fugues being difficult for any listener to identify. Walcha would listen to each line played independently and then hear the piece performed as a whole. His musical gifts allowed him to learn and memorize the music, and he had a famous gift for organ registration on Baroque instruments across Europe. His accomplishments are enough to make any organist gape in awe.

In addition to his playing career, Walcha composed a number of chorale preludes, one of which I will play on Thursday night. It's easy for us to be complacent when listening to preludes - all the German chorales can start to sound alike to a casual listener. But even if the tune or the style of music don't speak to you, briefly meditate on the amazing accomplishment and trials of this man as well as the incredible suffering and gift of Christ as the Passion narrative continues this week.


  1. Rev. Robert FerroApril 8, 2009 at 7:05 PM

    Helmut Walcha looks pretty good for having been born in 1907.

  2. I thought that was Tom's High School graduation picture!