musica Dei donum
"Rariora & Marginalia"
The Rare Fruits Council
rec: March 2001, Brunenthal, Austria, Abtei
Astrée - E 8840 (66'28")
anon: Contrapunct sopra la Baßigaglos (Variations on the chorale 'Wie
schön leuchtet der Morgenstern';
Antonio Bertali: Chiacona;
Giovanni Battista Bovicelli: Diminutions on 'Io son ferito ahi lasso'
(G.P. da Palestrina);
Philipp Friedrich Böddecker: Sonata in d minor; Sonata sopra La Monica;
Georg Muffat: Sonata per violino solo;
Johann Paul von Westhoff: Sonata 'La Guerra'
Manfredo Kraemer, violin; Josep Borrás, dulcian; Balász Máté, cello;
Eduardo Egüez, theorbo, guitar; Alessandro de Marchi, harpsichord, organ
There are people who think that the music of the 19th and 20th centuries
is much more complicated and technically demanding than the music of the
previous century - perhaps with some exceptions, like Johann Sebastian Bach
or some masters of the renaissance. And in regard to violin technique,
the name of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber is often referred to as someone
whose music displays an extraordinary amount of virtuosity.
But this recording impressively shows that there were many other composers
who wrote complex works which demand highly sophisticated technique. Most
of the names on this CD are little known, and some of the works recorded
here don’t get the attention they deserve; they hardly appear in concert
programmes and on CD.
A selection of pieces like this could easily result in a hotchpotch of
styles without any inner coherence. Fortunately that is not the case here.
The programme has been put together intelligently. All the pieces are by
composers from Italy or from Austria and Germany who were strongly
influenced by the Italian style. They are also connected by their
rhetorical character, which implies that these works are not mere
'showpieces'. Nevertheless, they are all technically demanding. This can
be explained by the fact that most composers have written these pieces for
their 'own' instrument, probably even to be played by themselves. The fact
that in the Sonata 'La Monica' by Böddecker the dulcian plays first fiddle
and this part is very virtuoso reflects the composer's own mastery of the
These works may not be mere 'showpieces', that doesn't mean they didn't
surprise the audience which heard them. Johann Paul von Westhoff is a
good example. The French king Louis XIV nicknamed this Sonata 'La
Guerra'. When he heard the passage which is written in the
concitato style - which we know, for example, from Monteverdi's
Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda - he was totally
astonished and asked Von Westhoff to repeat that passage several times.
Hence this passage got the description ‘La guerra cosi nominata di sua
maestà’. The fact that Louis XIV obviously wasn't aware of the stile
concitato shows that in the second half of the 17th century it was
already something of the past. The fact that Von Westhoff used it, on the
other hand, is an indication that German music was firmly rooted in the
Italian style, and that the rhetorical character of the stile concitato
was something which appealed to German composers. Another indication of the
roots in the Italian music of the early 17th century is the Sonata 'La
Monica by Böddecker, which is basically nothing but a set of
diminutions, so well-known from composers like Dalla Casa and
Bassano. Another one is Bovicelli, also represented here.
Anybody who knows the music of Biber will recognize characteristics of
his music in some of the compositions recorded here. One of them is the
frequent and quick alternation of slow and fast passages. In the Sonata
in d minor by Böddecker, for instance, there are no less than eight
tempo indications; in Von Westhoff’s Sonata La Guerra ten.
Another feature is the double stopping which is used in almost every piece
here: the exception is Muffat’s Sonata per violino sol, a piece
which also differs from the others in that it is a representative of the
goûts réunis. Muffat studied both in Paris and Rome, and attempted
to unite the French and Italian styles with the German.
Something which Biber seemingly wasn’t terribly interested in is quite
prominent here: the use of a popular or sacred song as starting point for
a set of variations. Palestrina’s madrigal Io son ferito ahi lasso
was a popular subject for diminutions like those of Bovicelli recorded
here. They were actually written for the cornetto, and although they
certainly can be played on the violin, in my opinion they do sound better
and more idiomatic on the cornetto. Böddecker took another popular Italian
song to compose variations: La Monica, a secular song which
Frescobaldi, for instance, used as cantus firmus for one of his
masses. Böddecker’s Sonata sopra La Monica contains a virtuoso part
for the dulcian, which is hardly different in character from a violin part.
Its many short notes and brilliant passages are extremely demanding,
reflecting the skills on the instrument of the composer. The violin
mostly takes a back seat by just playing the melody, whereas the dulcian
Another extraordinary example of a variation work is the anonymous
Contrapunct sopra la Baßigaglos d’Altr, a strange title which
isn’t explained in the booklet. It is a series of variations on the
popular Lutheran chorale melody of Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern.
It is attributed to Nicolaus Adam Strungk, who was another great virtuoso
on the violin, whose works were loved and studied by Johann Sebastian
Bach. He once met Corelli and impressed him so much that the Italian said:
"Sir, if I’m called Arcangelo, you should be called Arcidiavolo".
The CD ends with a Chiacona by Antonio Bertali, who had a strong influence
on composers for the violin in central Europe. The chaconne was a much
loved form of composition in the baroque, and this is a fine and in many
ways extraordinary specimen of the genre. It is exceptionally long –
the theme is repeated 159 times! – and remarkable for its frequent
This is a remarkable recording because of the programme, but also
because of the performance. Manfredo Kraemer has resisted the temptation
to use this music to ‘show off’. He certainly shows his own virtuosity in
a very impressive way, but never it is a purpose in itself. He uses his
technical skills to reveal the content of every piece. He displays a
clear understanding of the rhetorical character of the pieces he has
chosen, for example in the articulation and use of dynamics and his
differentiation in colouring. The fact that he has been a member of
Musica antiqua Köln has probably a lot to do with that.
Josep Borrás also shows his technical abilities in Böddecker’s Sonata
sopra La Monica and in the concluding Chiacona by Bertali.
This last work is brilliantly realised, not only by Kraemer, but also
by the other players who realise the basso continuo in such a way that
the whole work is clearly structured and gets an incredible rhythmic ‘drive’.
Whether the use of bells at the end of the anonymous variations on
Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern is something asked for in the
score isn’t told in the booklet. Is it too harsh to say that it is a
little kitschy? I could have done without it.
Anyway, I recommend this recording very strongly. Music and performance
are of utmost importance.
Johan van Veen (© 2003)