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CD reviews

"A Playlist for Rembrandt - Music from the Netherlands from Rembrandt's time"

Bob van Asperen, harpsichord

rec: July 2018, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
Aeolus - AE-10164 (© 2019) (66'22")
Liner-notes: E/D/NL
Cover & track-list

anon: Ballet Bronckhorst [6]; Rosemont [6]; Susanne un jour* [1]; Tobyas om sterven gheneghen* [1]; Wilhelmus [6]; Joseph de LA BARRE (1633-1678): Prélude non mesuré; Pierre de LA BARRE (1592-1656): Courante [9]; Johann Jacob FROBERGER (1616-1667): Suite XIV in g minor (FbWV 614); Joachim VAN DEN HOVE (1567-1620): Fortuna Englesae* [2]; Constantijn HUYGENS (1596-1687): Allemande*; Christiaan HUYGENS (1629-1695): Sarabande; Johann Caspar KERLL (1627-1693): Battaglia (Scaramuza)* [8]; Anthoni VAN NOORDT (c1619-1675): Fantasia II [7]; Cornelis Thymenszoon PADBRUÉ (c1592-1670): De Tranen Petri ende Pauli (Och! Oft geoorlooft waer)* [5]; O Kersnacht! schoonder dan de daghen*; Pavana & Gaillarde in F* [4]; Johann Adam REINCKEN (1643?-1722): Toccata in g minor; Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (c1595-1663) (attr): Ballett in d minor (WV 111) [8]; Paduana lachrymae (WV 106); Henderick SPEUY (c1575-1625): Vader ons in hemelrijck [3]; Gisbert STEENWICK (1642-1679) (attr): Amarillis [8]; Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621): Almande gratie (More Palatino) (SwWV 318); Ballo del Granduca (SwWV 319)*
*reconstructions/transcriptions Bob van Asperen

Sources: [1] Susanne van Soldt-manuscript, c1599 [2] Joachim van den Hove, Florida, sive cantiones, é quamplurimis praestantissimorum nostri aevi musicorum libris selectae, 1601 [3] Henderick Speuy, De psalmen Davids, gestelt op het tabulatuer van het orghel ende clavecymmel met 2. partijen, 1610 Cornelis Thymenszoon Padbrué, [4] Synphonia in nuptias ... Mathaei Steyn et Mariae van Napels celebrandas Februarii IV, anno 1642, 1642 [5] De Tranen Petri ende Pauli, 1646; [6] St Petersburg Clavierboek, c1655 [7] Anthoni van Noordt, Tabulatuur-boeck van psalmen en fantasyen, 1659 [8] Clavierboek Anna Maria van Eyl, 1671 [9] Gresse manuscript, c1680

On 4 October 1669, the painter Rembrandt van Rijn died in Amsterdam. He is generally considered the figurehead of that famous Dutch school of painting in the 17th century, known as the 'Golden Age', which still amazes people around the world and attracts every year thousands of art lovers to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, which owns a large collection of his paintings and drawings.

Artists at that time never worked in isolation. They received commissions to paint people from the upper echelons of society and make official portraits of town councils or the administrators of various institutions. They often also stood in close contact with other artists, not only fellow painters, but also musicians, writers and poets. The connection between Rembrandt and music has been the subject of recordings before. In 2006, when his birth in 1606 was commemorated, Brilliant Classics released a set of two discs, called "Music from the Golden age of Rembrandt". The title already indicates that the connection between the painter and the music performed on those discs, was rather loose. "We can hardly speak of a direct link between the work of Rembrandt and music. In comparison to his contemporaries he depicted only very few musicians and there are no acquaintances with musicians are known" (sic), Johannes Boer wrote in the booklet to that recording.

The present disc comes with a booklet which includes a lengthy essay by Bob van Asperen, and this shows that Boer's statement doesn't hold any ground. In his preparation of this recording, Van Asperen did some research into the relationship between Rembrandt and music. "It was no little surprise to discover that musical elements play a role no less than eighty times in his oeuvre (...), while a considerable group of music lovers and musicians could be either traced or assumed within the painter's circle". Moreover, in several paintings there are references to music, for instance in Rembrandt's depiction of the biblical story of Saul and David. Van Asperen also notices the particular way Rembrandt treats music. "Here the playing at times surpasses the player, when the painter manages to capture the soul of the music through a deeply rooted musical sensibility". This probably can be explained by the fact that Rembrandt very likely was skilled in playing various instruments. In some of his paintings he portrays himself as a singer, a player of the recorder and possibly even a harpist. Van Asperen also points out the many contacts between Rembrandt and the most prominent musicians of his time, such as Sweelinck, Van Noordt, Padbrué and Huygens. Here the liner-notes turn into a fascinating sketch of the social circles of poets, musicians, painters and scientists, who stood in more or less close contact.

The programme includes music by the main composers of the Golden Age. Sweelinck is the most famous of them, and with his Ballo del Granduca Van Asperen opens his programme. He was a sought-after teacher, and had many students from Germany, among them Heinrich Scheidemann (Pavana lachrymae). Both these pieces attest to the truly international character of the music scene at that time. Sweelinck's piece is a series of four variations on a tune by Emilio de' Cavalieri, whereas Scheidemann's piece is an arrangement of Dowland's famous lute piece. Other pieces are also based on tunes from other parts of Europe, such as Fortuna Englesae by Joachim van den Hove (originally for lute), Amarillis, attributed to Gisbert van Steenwick, and Susanne un jour, an anonymous keyboard piece from the Susanne van Soldt manuscript. Van Asperen discovered that this is an intabulation of a piece by Andrea Gabrieli. Other international links are due to Constantijn Huygens, who stood in contact with some of the leading composers of his time, such as Johann Jakob Froberger and the La Barre family from France. The former passed the Netherlands on his way to England, whereas Pierre and Joseph La Barre spent some time at Huygens' home in The Hague.

Van Asperen does not confine himself to keyboard music. He also arranged several pieces which were originally conceived for other instruments, such as the lute (Joachim van den Hove) or viola da gamba (Huygens, Courante). In addition he arranged some polyphonic vocal and instrumental items. Och! Oft geoorlooft waer is a chorus from a play by the main poet of the time, Joost van den Vondel, set to music for up to five voices and basso continuo by Cornelis Thymenszoon Padbrué. A large part of his music has been lost or has been preserved incomplete. From another play by Vondel the chorus O Kersnacht! schoonder dan de daghen is taken. It is about the massacre of the innocent children of Bethelehem, after the birth of Jesus. It developed into a popular song for Christmastide. Pavane & Gaillarde in F was originally scored for instruments and basso continuo.

Although the organ was only played during service from the second half of the 17th century onwards, organists did play an important role in music life. Sweelinck was in the service of the town council, with the duty to play the organ of the Oude Kerk during weekdays. Anthony van Noordt was the main organist of the next generation. He is represented with a Fantasia from a collection of psalm arrangements and fantasias, which can be played on either organ or on strung keyboard instruments. The same goes for the arrangements of psalms on melodies from the Genevan psalter by Henderick Speuy. The Psalmbook of the Reformed Church in the Netherlands included also some hymns, such as Vader ons in hemelrijck, on the melody of Martin Luther's version of the Lord's Prayer.

The disc ends with a piece by Johann Adam Reincken, or - as his name is spelled here - Jan Adamszoon Reinken, who was from Deventer, a town in the east of the Netherlands. He studied with Scheidemann in Hamburg, and then returned to Deventer, where he worked as organist for about one year and then went to Hamburg again to become Scheidemann's assistant. He is included here with Toccata in g minor which reflects the influence of Sweelinck.

If this all is not enough, Van Asperen plays an instrument of the kind Rembrandt may have heard and known. It was built in 1669 by Johannes Couchet, a descendant of the Ruckers family, the most famous dynasty of keyboard makers in the Netherlands. This instrument is very much in the style of Ruckers harpsichords, and therefore excellently suited for a programme as Van Asperen has recorded. His performances are superb, and so are his liner-notes. Especially nice is that Van Asperen often connects the pieces to paintings by Rembrandt.

The programme, the performance, the instrument and the documentation are exemplary. I cannot recommend this disc strongly enough. It is one of my records of the year.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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