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"Fortuna desperata - Orgelmusik aus Gothik und Renaissance" (Organ music from Gothic and Renaissance)

Daniel Beilschmidt, organ
Christine Mothes, sopranoa; Veit Heller, bellsb

rec: Sept 16 - 18, 2016, Leipzig, Universität Leipzig, Universitätskirche
Genuin - GEN 17453 (© 2017) (77'22")
Liner-notes: E/D; no lyrics
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Adesto/Firmissime fidem teneamus/Alleluia [3]; Christ ist erstandenb [4]; Fortuna in fa 4 vocum [6]; Fortuna in mi [6]; Fortuna desperata [incipit]ab; Kyrieab & Gloriaa Cunctipotens genitor Deus [2]; Praeambulum super d a f et g [5]; Redeuntes in idem [Ut]b [1]; Redeuntes in mi [1]; Sequitur aliud praeambulum super d manualiter et variatur super a g f et c [5]; Sequitur mensura sex notarum eiusdem tenoris 'Frowe al myn hoffen an dyr lyed' [5]; Sequitur praeambulum in C et potest variari in d f g a [5]; Hans BUCHNER (1483-1538): Dantz Moss. Benczenauer; Fortuna in fa 3 vocum, tenor in basso; Antoine BUSNOIS (?) (1430-1492): Fortuna desperata; Antoine BUSNOIS, arr Alexander AGRICOLA (1445/46-1506): Fortuna desperata a 6 (intab Daniel Beilschmidt); Sethus CALVISIUS (1556-1615): Christ ist erstanden; Paul HOFHAIMER (1459-1537): Salve Reginaab; Guillaume DE MACHAUT (1300-1377): Messe de Nostre Dame (Sanctus, intab Daniel Beilschmidt)b; Fridolin SICHER (1490-1546): Tota pulchra es (after Heinrich Isaac, 1450/55-1517) [4]

Sources: [1] Buxheimer Orgelbuch; [2] Codex Faenza; [3] Robertsbridge Codex; [4] St. Galler Orgelbuch; [5] Tablature of Adam Ileborgh of Stendal; [6] Tablature of Leonhard Kleber

The organ has played a major role in Western music since the Middle Ages. Today it is mainly connected to sacred music, and especially the liturgy of Christian churches, but throughout history it was also often used in secular music. In the baroque era it was one of the instruments which could be used to realize basso continuo parts, not only in sacred concertos and cantatas, but also in instrumental music. In the 18th century several composers wrote solo concertos for organ. However, often these concertos were intended for a keyboard instrument and could also be played on a strung keyboard. Organ and other keyboard instruments were often interchangeable. That is also the case in the music, which is performed on the present disc.

From the Gothic and Renaissance periods only a relatively few number of pieces have come down to us in manuscript. The main reason is that organists were expected to improvise. The music which was written down was mostly intended as examples of how, for instance, to intabulate a vocal piece, or as pedagogical material. Daniel Beilschmidt, in his liner-notes, points out that there were more Fundamenta organisandi (organ textbooks) than notated music. In his programme he selected pieces from some of the sources of organ music from before the 16th century. One of them - and the best-known - is the Buxheimer Orgelbuch. The pieces are written in the German organ tablature, which is the reason that the collection has been given its title. However, these pieces are not exclusively intended for the organ, and can also be played on other keyboard instruments, such as the clavichord, as well as on other chordal instruments and with various instruments in ensemble. The content of this collection and of other comparable collections shows that the organ was used in sacred and in secular music. This is reflected by the programme of the present disc.

Several pieces are called redeuntes, which is derived from the Latin participle rediens, meaning "returning, reappearing". Such pieces are based on a pedal point, a fixed tenor. Two of such pieces, both from the Buxheimer Orgelbuch, are included here. Whether such pieces were used for liturgical performance is hard to tell. That is different in the case of the praeambula, which were almost certainly intended for liturgical use, for instance to prepare for a vocal piece, like a mass or a motet. An important part of liturgical practice was the alternatim performance of masses and hymns. In such cases the verses were alternately sung in plainchant and played at the organ. Specimens of this practice are the two mass movements from then Codex Faenza and the Salve Regina by Paul Hofhaimer.

I already referred to the practice of intabulation. "The practice of making intabulations arose in the late Middle Ages, doubtless as a result of the fact that keyboard players had to prepare special scores for themselves when they wished to take part in performances of vocal music, which was normally written into manuscripts not in score but as a series of separate parts ('choirbook format')", according to Howard Mayer Brown in New Grove. The earliest examples appear in the Robertsbridge Codex, which is from about 1360. Adesto/Firmissime fidem teneamus/Alleluia is the intabulation of a motet by Philippe de Vitry, included in the so-called Roman de Fauvel. In the St. Galler Orgelbuch we find the intabulation of Heinrich Isaac's motet Tota pulchra es, written by Fridolin Sicher, an organist and composer from Switzerland, who was a pupil of Hans Buchner. Daniel Beilschmidt also made some intabulations of his own, such as the Sanctus from Guillaume de Machaut's Messe de Nostre Dame. Intabulations could be literal transcriptions, but an arranger could also add parts of his own. In that case we have to do with real arrangements rather than transcriptions. That is the case with the various settings of Fortuna desperata, one of the most popular songs of the renaissance. Alexander Agricola turned the three-part setting which is attributed to Antoine Busnois, into a six-part piece; Beilschmidt made his own intabulation of this arrangement. These arrangements of Fortuna desperata represent the secular part of the programme. The same is true for Hans Buchner's Dantz Moss. Benczenauer, one of several dances, which appear in collections of instrumental pieces; famous are especially various istanpittas.

The programme ends with pieces which carry us to the 16th century: Christ ist erstanden, one of the oldest sacred songs in German. Its melody is derived from the Easter sequence Victimae paschali laudes. Three different settings are played here. One of them is from the pen of Sethus Calvisius, one of the main composers of music for the Lutheran liturgy. Although he held a position as organist in Leipzig, he seems to have left no organ music. His setting is probably written as a vocal harmonisation, which is performed here on the organ. The practice of intabulation was still very much alive in his time; the oeuvre of Heinrich Scheidemann, considered the father of the North German organ school, includes various intabulations of motets.

There are not that many recordings of the kind of repertoire performed here. The main reason is that there are very few instruments, which are suited for a stylistically satisfying interpretation. Daniel Beilschmidt plays an organ, that was built in 2015 by Metzler in the University Church of St Paul in Leipzig, a so-called 'swallow's nest organ'. It is an attempt to construct an organ as it was used in the mid-15th century. It is in meantone temperament and the pitch is a1=465 Hz. It sounds like the right kind of instrument, and Beilschmidt proves himself to be an excellent guide through the repertoire. The vocal contributions of Christine Mothes are admirable. She is a specialist in music from the Middle Ages and renaissance, and that shows. I am less enthusiastic about the participation of bells. There can be little doubt that they were used at the time, but where, when and how is much harder to decide. I don't see, for instance, any reason for its use in the Sanctus from Machaut's Mass.

However, what I find really annoying is the sound of the bells of University Church in the opening and closing items (Redeuntes in idem and Christ ist erstanden respectively, both anonymous). In the latter case the bells start at the last bars of the previous piece (Calvisius). The problem is that the sound of the bells virtually overshadows that of the organ. To make things worse, Veit Heller adds the sound of his bells too, and the result is more noise than music. In Redeuntes in idem the sound of the organ increases in volume during the first 30 seconds or so; that is the result of the recording technique, and is highly unnatural and inappropriate in music from this period. This is a serious blot on an otherwise fine and interesting production.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Daniel Beilschmidt
Christine Mothes

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