Bach Biennale Weimar 2021 / Improvisation & Competition




This year, the BACH BIENNALE WEIMAR / Improvisation & Competition announces for the first time an International Online Competition for Organ Improvisation. The new competition format invites young organists from all over the world to improvise and innovatively explore the world-renowned Thuringian organ landscape and the great composers who revolutionised the organ world from Thuringia.


Johann Sebastian Bach grew up in this extraordinary organ landscape. As organist at the Weimar court, he wrote his most outstanding organ works and shaped this unique sound cosmos of Central German baroque organs throughout his life as a contact person for organists and organ builders. With his numerous colourful basic voices, his desire for gravitas on the one hand and for subtle sounds on the other, Bach helped to shape an organ style on which emotional, highly differentiated and dynamic organ playing became possible in a special way - and which can still be experienced today.


A good 100 years later, the German Romantic organ had developed seamlessly from this organ type, and Franz Liszt set out from Weimar to visit numerous organs in the immediate and distant vicinity to experiment and rehearse at his rural organ conferences. Even today, for example, the organ Liszt often visited in the small village of Denstedt near Weimar still has old pencil markings on the stops, the origin of which has not been clarified. What is certain, however, is that these organ conferences became the impetus for his revolutionary organ works, which further developed Beethoven's legacy, not only in terms of sound and playing aesthetics, and brought it to the organ.


Max Reger, probably one of the most important pioneers of musical modernism, spent only his very last years of life in the town of Jena near Weimar - and yet he left great traces. His improvisation concerts at the organ of the Volkshaus Jena were legendary, his great last organ work was composed here - and numerous late Romantic instruments of the Thuringian organ landscape create ideal conditions for the reproduction of his revolutionary music, which simultaneously reflects the past and breaks all boundaries.

"Only those who know the past can understand the present and shape the future" - a motto that not only connects Bach with Liszt and Reger, but is also the objective of this new competition:

Playful and reflective engagement with music history, touching music in the now, and an innovative future for the instrument organ and young organists*!



Conditions of Participation

The online organ improvisation competition is open to young organists from all over the world, with communication in English or German. All applicants who are not older than 35 years at the time of registration are eligible to participate. There are no entry fees, prizes will be awarded by a five-member international jury on the basis of submitted videos.



Registration & Procedure

Application deadline: 5 June 2022


The applicants create four videos (mp4) according to the competition tasks (see below). These videos, including the competition documents, are to be sent via WeTransfer or similar websites to the following e-mail address:


Further documents to be submitted in addition to the videos are:

an artistic curriculum vitae including date of birth, address and contact details (pdf)

an artist's photo in high resolution (jpg) including photo credit

builder, year of construction and specification of the organ(s) used (pdf)

The handwritten declaration of consent (pdf, as scan) signed by the participant for the publication of the submitted sound and image documents by the BACH BIENNALE WEIMAR. The details are contained in the PDF "Declaration of consent".


The applicants will be informed about the result of the competition by mid-June. By participating in the online competition, the applicants undertake to perform at the public prize-winners' concert on Friday, 8 July 2022 at the BACH BIENNALE WEIMAR if they win the prize. Hotel accommodation will be borne by the organiser. Travel expenses will be reimbursed upon presentation of the original receipts.


Furthermore, the applicants agree that the submitted videos may be presented to the public in whole or in part and that the applicants may be promoted in various ways by the BACH BIENNALE WEIMAR and its media partners in radio and press on the basis of the submitted documents (see "Declaration of consent").


After receipt of the application documents, the participants will receive a confirmation of receipt and will be admitted to the competition.


The BACH BIENNALE WEIMAR awards the following cash prizes:


1st prize: 1.200 €

2nd prize: 800 €

3rd prize: 600 €


The jury is not obliged to award every prize. The prizes cannot be divided, but can be awarded twice.


In addition, the prize winners will be publicly promoted by various media partners and receive various concert engagements at home and abroad.


In addition to the cash prizes, the winners of the online competition will be invited to a public concert on Friday, 8 July during the BACH BIENNALE WEIMAR, where they will have to improvise spontaneously on audience themes. An audience prize will also be awarded during the concert.


The international jury is composed of


Laszlo Fassang (Budapest)
Monica Melcova (Copenhagen)
Karol Mossakowski (Paris)
Johannes Lang (Leipzig)
Martin Sturm (Weimar) - Chair of the Jury


Applicants must submit a total of four video recordings. The four different tasks may be recorded on four different instruments. The video may not be edited or otherwise processed. As far as possible, the entire body of the performer should be visible in the video.


Task 1 (approx. 10 - 15 min.)


An organ rehearsal with Johann Sebastian Bach


Create one or more improvisations based on the compositional, playing and organ aesthetics of Johann Sebastian Bach.


The organ rehearsals of Johann Sebastian Bach can serve as a source of inspiration, as they could have taken place, for example, on the Wender organ in Arnstadt, the Trost organ in Altenburg or the Hildebrandt organ in Naumburg with its specific Central German sound colours and possibilities. The integration of a fugue is obligatory.


Task 2 (approx. 10 - 15 min.)


  1. a) Franz Liszt at an organ conference


"Any chord can be followed by any chord" - this is what Franz Liszt said about his harmonic language. Create one or more improvisations that deal intensively with Liszt's compositional work and his handling of the instrument organ.


Traditions report in particular of Franz Liszt as a master of registration - in such a differentiated and complex way that up to four registrants were needed for the first performances of his organ works in Merseburg Cathedral. Other elements of his preoccupation with the organ instrument may have been the exploration of new articulation possibilities and playing techniques. His scores also suggest a lively approach to the organ wind - "organ as a living organism"?



  1. b) In Max Reger's mind


In one or more improvisations, reflect on Max Reger's compositional work and the tonal world of German late Romanticism.

Revolutionary as a composer, legendary as a pianist, internationally active as a conductor - and yet Max Reger is still one of the most misunderstood composers today. Let yourself be inspired by Reger's genuine polyphony, his unmistakable harmonic language, his phrase formations which, like mountain ranges, form a musical prose unheard of even today in its overthrowing expressivity.


Task 3 (approx. 3 - 5 min.)


Sound laboratory organ


For centuries, organ builders have always integrated the entire acoustic world of an era into the organ and transcended it into tonal material. But how is our contemporary acoustic world reflected in the organ? What does an organ of the 21st century sound like?

Go on a sound search for the unheard with a short improvisation.


Task 4 (approx. 5 - 7 min.)


Personal epilogue


Design an improvisation according to your individual artistic premises.