\ CD reviews

musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Johann Caspar Ferdinand FISCHER (1656 - 1746): "Uranie"

Elisabeth Joyé, harpsichorda, organb

rec: Oct 13 - 14, 2014, Paris, Temple du Foyer de l'Âmeb; Jan 18 - 19, 2015, Versailles (Yvelines), Bibliothèque (Galerie des Affaires Étrangères)a
Encelade - ECL 1402 (© 2015) (66'44")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Clio (praeludium harpeggiato)a [1]; Euterpe (chaconne)b [1]; Melpomenea [1]; Prelude and fugue No. 1 in Cb [4]; Prelude and fugue No. 1 in d minorb [2]; Prelude and fugue No. 3 in d minorb [4]; Prelude and fugue No. 10 in Fb [4]; Prelude and fugue No. 13 in Gb [4]; Prelude and fugue No. 15 in a minorb [4]; Ricercar pro Festis Paschalibusb [4]; Suite No. 5 in e minora [3]; Suite No. 8 in Ga [3]; Uraniea [1]

Sources: [1] Musicalischer Parnassus, [n.d.]; [2] Praeludia et Fugae per 8 tonos ecclesiasticos, [n.d.] / Blumen Strauss ... in 8 tonos ecclesiaticos eingetheilet, 1732; [3] Musicalisches Blumen-Büschlein, 16982; [4] Ariadne musica neo-organoedum, 1702

Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer is pretty well-known by name. He is mentioned in books on music history and particularly books about Johann Sebastian Bach, as his collection of preludes and fugues, published in 1702 under the title of Ariadne Musica, was one of the sources of inspiration for the latter's Well-tempered Clavier. However, he was an important composer in his own right who not only wrote keyboard music but also a large number of sacred and secular works. A considerable part of his output has been lost, especially in the realm of secular music.

Fischer was born in Schönfeld (Krásno) in Bohemia and spent his youth in Schlackenwerth (Ostrov). Around 1693 Georg Bleyer was a member of the court chapel in Schlackenwerth, and it is probably through him that Fischer got acquainted with the French style, as Bleyer had visited Paris to study Lully's music, resulting in a collection of orchestral overtures in French style. Fischer did the same: his Journal de Printems was published in 1695. Whether he ever went to Paris himself is unclear. In Schlackenwerth the position of Kapellmeister became vacant in the late 1680s; it is not known exactly when the incumbent Augustin Pfleger died. Fischer was appointed his successor. When Duke Julius Franz died without a male heir the Duchy of Saxe-Lauenburg was divided. As Margrave Ludwig Wilhelm of Baden was married the Duke's heiress he became the ruler of the Duchy and moved his court to Schlackenwerth. In 1705 the court moved to Rastatt but Fischer joined it only ten years later. He held his position as Kapellmeister until his death.

In his oeuvre Fischer mixes the various styles in vogue in his time. The orchestral suites in the Journal de Printems are purely French, in his vocal music he is under the influence of the Italian style and in his keyboard music these two styles are mixed with the German contrapuntal tradition.

His keyboard works have come down to us in four editions. In 1696 he published a collection of eight harpsichord suites under the title of Les pièces de clavessin, which were reprinted only two years later as Musicalisches Blumen-Büschlein. It was dedicated to the wife of his employer, Franziska Sibylle Auguste of Saxe-Lauenburg. Every suite opens with a prelude of an improvisatory character, which is followed by a different number of movements. Here two suites are performed. In the Suite No. 5 in e minor the prelude is followed by an aria with eight variations. The Suite No. 8 in G comprises a prelude and a chaconne.

Among those forms which are based on a basso ostinato the chaconne was one of the most popular in the baroque era. It is close to the passacaglia, and both regularly appear in the second collection of harpsichord works, Musicalischer Parnassus, whose year of publication is not known. It comprises nine suites which all bear the name of one of the muses: Parnassus, Clio, Calliope, Melpomene, Thalia, Erato, Euterpe, Terpsichore, Polyhymnia and Urania. Here again we find the mixture of styles. Urania opens with a toccata which includes some dissonant chords. This suite includes the four dances which had become standard in German keyboard suites since Froberger: allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue. However, Fischer included some other dances, known at the time as galanteries, such as a gavotte and a rigaudon. The latter has a double, as was common in French harpsichord music. The suite ends with a pair of menuets and a passacaglia. More galanteries are included in Melpomene which opens with a praeludium which is followed by an allemande, a passepied and a rondeau. The latter was another fashionable form in France. This and the galanteries - which also appear in some of Bach's suites - suggest that this collection is of a considerable later date than the suites of 1696. Melpomene ends with a gigue and a short chaconne. Elisabeth Joyé has also included two individual movements from other suites: the praeludium harpeggiato which opens Clio, and the chaconne which closes Euterpe.

The latter is played on the organ, like the pieces from two other collections of organ works. As was already mentioned above, Ariadne musica neo-organoedum was published in Schlackenwerth in 1702 and includes 20 short preludes and fugues in different keys: 19 of the 24 major and minor keys plus an E in Phrygian mode. In this project Fischer cooperated closely with the organ builder Abraham Stark. They tuned the choir organ of the Premonstratensian monastery of Tepl near Marienbad, bordering on the Schlackenwerth estates, to something approaching equal temperament in 1700. In a later edition of Ariadne musica Fischer added five ricercares for various feasts of the ecclesiastical year in a more traditional style. The present disc closes with a ricercar for Easter which includes the melody of the hymn Christ ist erstanden.

The second collection of organ music includes eight preludes and fugues in the eight ecclesiastical modes (Praeludia et Fugae per 8 tonos ecclesiasticos). The date of the original edition is not known; a reprint appeared in 1732 under the title of Blumen Strauss. The pieces have the title of prelude and fugue but in fact the fugues comprise a sequence of short fugues - the Praeludium I played here has six of them - and a finale where Fischer returns to the more free style of the prelude. Whereas the Ariadne musica was mainly part of a scientific experiment, these preludes and fugues have a liturgical function, as the original title of the collection indicates.

For those who are not acquainted with Fischer's keyboard works, this disc offers a perfect introduction. We have extracts from his four collections of keyboard music, played on a copy of a Fleischer harpsichord of 1720 and on an organ of 2009 built after German 18th-century models. Elisabeth Joyé is a fine player and under her hands we get fully idiomatic interpretations of both harpsichord and organ works. In the latter I would probably have liked a stronger differentiation between good and bad notes. The acoustic is pretty reverberant and this requires an articulation which may seem a bit exaggerated. However, this is only a minor point. It is to be hoped that a disc like this will result in a stronger interest in a composer who deserves to receive more attention.

In case you are interested in the complete collections of Fischer's keyboard music: these are all available on disc. Olga Martynov recorded the Musicalisches Blumen-Büschlein (Caro Mitis, 2009). The Musicalischer Parnassus has been recorded by Luc Beauséjour (Naxos, 2000; 2 separate discs) and by Mitzi Meyerson (MDG, 2000). Ariadne musica and Blumen Strauss are available in a recording by Serge Schoonbroodt (Aeolus, 2002).

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

CD Reviews