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"Schein & Scheidt - German Consort Music of the 17th Century"

Brisk Recorder Quartet Amsterdam; Erik Beijer, viola da gamba; Susanne Braumann, viola da gamba, lirone; Bernard Winsemius, harpsichord, organ
rec: September 2005, Bunnik (Neth), Oude Dorpskerk
Globe - GLO 5214 (© 2006) (72'03")

Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654): Ach, du feiner Reiter [4]; Allemande 'Also gehts, also stehts' [4]; Canzon super Cantionem Gallicam [3]; Canzon super O Nachbar Roland [3]; Courant dolorosa [3]; Paduan [3]; Paduan dolorosa [3]; Weh, Windchen, weh [4]; Johann Hermann Schein (1586-1630): Canzon [1]; Intrada [2]; Suite VI [2]; Suite XV [2]

(Sources: Johann Hermann Schein, [1] Venuskränzlein, 1609; [2] Banchetto Musicale, 1617; Samuel Scheidt, [3] Ludi Musici, 1621; [4] Tabulaturo Nova, 1624)

Marjan Banis, Alide Verheij, Bert Honig, recorder; Saskia Coolen, recorder, viola da gamba

Until the beginning of th 17th century instruments played a minor role in music life. They were mainly used to support or replace singers in vocal, in particular sacred, music. If they were used independently, their repertoire mainly consisted of dance music or transcriptions of vocal pieces. It was in the first half of the 17th century that the emancipation of instruments took place and a large repertoire of music came into existence, which was specifically meant to be played. A large part still consisted of dances (sometimes put together into suites), but these were not meant to be danced to, but rather to be listened to.

Apart from these dances, other forms were used, like the canzon - originally referring to a vocal model as well, but in practice moving away from it. When it had a vocal piece as its basis, then a canzon mostly varied the melody, giving the players the opportunity to show their skills in ornamentation and variation.

The instruments for which music was written were mostly not specified. This gave the performers many options, depending on what was available or what was appropriate for a specific occasion. Instrumental music was written for performances at court or in the cities, by ensembles like the Ratsmusik or the Stadtpfeifer. In the first half of the 17th century Germany was still in the middle of the development from prima prattica and the seconda prattica. This is reflected by the instrumental music of the time. Whereas Scheidt added a basso continuo part to his Ludi Musici, Schein's Banchetto Musicale is without it, although the composer indicated he would add a basso continuo part in his next publications. The music on this disc is ensemble music, in which no specific instrument has a dominating role, and therefore the term consort music in the title of this disc is exactly describing what kind of repertoire is played here.

The word consort music is mostly associated with England, where this kind of music - more specific: music for viol consort - was one of the dominating genres around 1600. In this case this connection is not wrong, as some English composers worked in the north of Germany, like William Brade, who was director of the Ratsmusik in Hamburg for several years in the first decades of the 17th century, and Thomas Simpson. The English style left its mark in the instrumental music written by German composers of the time. In particular a dance like the paduan frequently appears in collections of instrumental music. And as popular melodies were often used by English composers they are also recognisable in German music.

Some of these melodies had an international character, and were known in different countries with different titles. But German composers also started to use homegrown melodies. Johann Hermann Schein and Samuel Scheidt were two of the most important composers of Northern Germany in the first half of the 17th century. They, and their colleague Heinrich Schütz, were close friends, working and living in the same part of Germany. Schein became Thomaskantor in Leipzig, but due to ill health he died at a young age. Scheidt was born in Halle, and lived there most of his life. The largest part of his career he was Kapellmeister at the court in Halle.

Schein's most important collection of instrumental music is his Banchetto Musicale which contains dances, which - although he didn't call them suites - were grouped on the basis of a connection in thematic material and key. Instrumental pieces based on popular melodies can be found in Scheidt's Ludi Musici and in the three volumes with keyboard music, Tabulatura Nova. This collection can be interpreted as a kind of tribute to his teacher, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, who also was influenced by the English habit of writing variations on popular tunes. In the booklet of this disc it is stated that keyboard music could be played on instruments, and therefore some of the pieces in the Tabulatura Nova are played here as consort music.

There can be no doubt that it is justified to play instrumental music like this on recorders. Even when composers indicated they preferred a piece to be played on viols they left the possibility of using other instruments to the interpreters. In the end it depends on how the music sounds whether a performance on recorders is defendable. And it is here where I disagree with some of the choices made here. For instance, in my view the Galliard Battaglia, which depicts a military battle, can't be played on recorders. It asks for more dynamic contrasts than recorders can deliver, and the many effects Scheidt has included in this piece just can't be realised on recorders.

Just as unsatisfying are some of the variations from the Tabulatura Nova. It is probably for technical reasons that in some variations of the Allemande 'Also gehts, also wehts' the lowest part is played on the bass viol, and that other variations are performed with organ only, or with organ and viol. As a result the unity of this set of variations is lost. This choice of music is a shame, as the playing of all participants is of the highest order. The variety of recorders used creates a nice diversity in the programme, as does the variety of musical forms. Therefore I recommend this disc with caution.

Johan van Veen (© 2007)

Relevant links:

Brisk Recorder Quartet Amsterdam

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