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Jacob VAN EYCK (1589/90 - 1657): "Pleasure Garden"

Johannette Zomer, sopranoa
Ensemble Armonia e Invenzione
Dir: Luis Beduschi

rec: Jan 2010, Paris, Chapelle Notre Dame de Bon Secours
Eloquentia - EL 1126 (© 2011) (68'47")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list
Score Der Fluyten Lust-Hof

anon: Ballete Gravesand/anon (Eng, 17th C): The fairest symph the valleys or mountains ever bred; Boffons; Bravade/anon (Eng, 17th C): Argeers; Comagain/John DOWLAND (1563-1626): Come againe: sweet love doth now invite; Courante, of Harte diefje waerom zoo stil/John DOWLAND: Now, o now I needs must part; Derde Carileen/William LAWES (1602-1645): The Triumphs of Peace (symfony); Doen Daphne d'over schoone Maeght/anon (Eng, 17th C): When Daphne from faire Phoebus did flie; Eerste Carileen/William LAWES: The Triumphs of Peace (symfony); Engels Nachtegaeltje/anon (Eng, 17th C): The Nightingale; Excusemoy/John DOWLAND: Can shee excuse my wrongs/Earl of Essex Galliard; Malle Symen/anon (Eng, 17th C): Mall simms; O Slaep, o zoete slaep/Robert JONES (fl 1597-1615): Farewell dear love; Tweede Carileen/William LAWES: The Triumphs of Peace (symfony); Wat zal men op den avond doen/anon (Germ, 16th C): Was wölln wir auff den Abendt thun;

Luis Beduschi, recorder; Emmanuelle Guigues, Andreas Linos, Pascale Clément, Claire Gobillard, viola da gamba; Giovanna Pessi, harp; Mathieu Dupouy, virginal

There won't be many recorder players who have never performed a piece by Jacob van Eyck, the blind recorder player and carillonneur who delighted the citizens of Utrecht with his playing and improvising. He used the best tunes of his day which most people knew. Among them were the melodies from the Genevan Psalter which was used in the Reformed Church of the Netherlands. But he also played variations on secular songs. These were mostly from abroad: England, France or Italy. Many of them disseminated across the continent, and were adapted for all kinds of instruments and often set to new texts.

There is no lack of recordings of pieces from the two collections with variations which were printed during Van Eyck's lifetime, under the title Der Fluyten Lust-Hof, litterally translated: the flute's pleasure garden. This disc is different in that Van Eyck's variations are presented with Dutch texts and with an instrumental ensemble rather than on the recorder alone. There is a specific reason for that, as Luis Beduschi explains in his liner-notes.

The original material of the tunes on which Van Eyck wrote his diminutions are known, thanks to the extensive reseach of the Dutch scholar Ruth van Baak Griffioen. She listed the music which composers have written about the various tunes in Van Eyck's collections. Beduschi came to the conclusion that in the development of his variations Van Eyck follows the various stanzas of a song. But it was impossible to simply underlay his music with the original texts. He therefore turned to the various songbooks which were printed in the Netherlands during the 17th century. These mostly don't include the melodies, but only indications as to which melody the texts should be sung. Among them are many which were also used by Van Eyck. It is clear that these tunes were generally known. The comparison between the texts and the various stanzas of these Dutch songs revealed that Van Eyck didn't write his diminutions on the original songs but rather on the Dutch adaptations. One of the tunes, Engels Nachtegaeltje, is known in three different versions by Van Eyck. In one of them the melody has one extra bar. Beduschi wondered why that was the case. When he had a look at the various texts with which this melody was underlaid, he discovered that one of them had extra syllables. Apparently this was the reason Van Eyck added a bar in one of his sets of variations.

The parallels between Van Eyck's variations and the Dutch songs go ever further. "It is intriguing to say the least that nearly all the (untransposed) songs correspond exactly to the tonalities of the pieces by Van Eyck, when they are played on an instrument in C or G. This alternative constitutes the overwhelming majority of cases: in the seventeenth century the alto recorder in G was the most popular instrument." It was in particular the correlation between the number of stanzas in the Dutch songs and the number of variations in Van Eyck's pieces that made Beduschi decide to play his diminutions with an ensemble. In most cases Johannette Zomer sings the Dutch texts whereas the recorder plays the variations and the instrumental ensemble one of the many arrangements of the originals from in particular England. Some of these arrangements, for instance by William Lawes or John Dowland, had to be adapted. Beduschi in fact presents the material in the form of consort songs.

The result is highly intriguing and musically captivating, but from a historical point of view debatable. It is very useful to shed light on the connection between Van Eyck's variations and the Dutch songs. The latter don't come with instrumental parts: as the songbooks didn't include printed melodies, there is also no instrumental material to use for the accompaniment of the voice. One may assume that these songs were either sung without instruments or - more likely - any instrument available was used to play a kind of improvised accompaniment. The performance practice of that time was quite flexible in regard to adapting existing material to the circumstances. Because of that there can be little objection against the adaptation of English music to Dutch texts. It is in particular the attempt to put them together with the diminutions of Van Eyck which causes problems.

There can be little doubt that Van Eyck's variations were written for recorder solo. In the most virtuosic variations the note values are so small that they can hardly be sung. It is notable that in some cases Johannette Zomer's diction suffers because of the speed with which she has to sing. Van Eyck may have followed the stanzas of the songs, there is no reason to believe that the songs were sung at the same speed as Van Eyck played his variations. This programme would have been far more satisfying if the various versions would have been split. The recorder could have played the tune first, followed by a sung version with accompaniment and then the recorder could have played the variations. Another option could have been the alternation of the various stanzas in a vocal version and a version for recorder.

The way Johannette Zomer sings the Dutch songs is admirable. But I noted that there are frequent differences between the text as printed in the booklet and the text she sings. I assume that this is mostly the result of printing errors. The trouble is that errors have been taken up in the translations: if the original text is wrong, so is the translation. Someone should have corrected the lyrics before they were translated. Another issue is the pronunciation: sometimes I have the impression that the texts are 'modernized' when sung. I don't know how much is known about the pronunciation of Dutch in the 17th century. Probably an attempt should have been made in the direction of a more historical pronunciation.

Musically speaking this is a delightful disc, although not completely satisfying. It is mainly from historical considerations that I am sceptical about the result of the interesting research which is the foundation of this project.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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