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Johann FISCHER (1646 - 1716/17): "Der habile Violiste"

Furor Musicus; Furor Agraricusa
Dir: Antoinette Lohmann

rec: Feb 2020, Renswoude (NL), Koepelkerk
Globe - GLO 5274 (© 2020) (65'52")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Johann FISCHER: Balettae a 4b; Das Eins-Dreij und Dreij Eins oder Der habile Violiste; Hertzlich thut mich verlangenc; [Hoff- und bauerngeyger schicken sich an, eyn ballet zu spielen und zu tantzen]a; Polnische Dänßed [3]; Suite I [2]; Suite à violino piculo solo, componiret in memoriam der chur-ländische Freüden (attr); Unterschied zwischen einen rechten Violinisten und gemeinen Bauern-Fiedlera [3]; Hans Leo HASSLER (1564-1612): Mein G'müt ist mir verwirret [1]

Sources: [1] Hans leo Haßler, Lusttgarten neuer Teutscher Gesang, 1601; Johann Fischer, [2] Musikalisch Divertissement, 1701; [3] Musikalische Fürsten-Lust, 1706

[FM] Antoinette Lohmann, violino piccolo, violin, viola; Marta Jiménez Vegac, Nino Natroshvilib, Giorgos Samoilisc, violin; Sara de Vries, violabcd; María Sánchez Ramírez, cello; Harjo Neutkens, theorbo; Jörn Boysen, harpsichord
[FA] [Tonia Knirps-Strauch], clog violin; [Jarne Krümmersen], hurdy-gurdy, zither; [Mariedl Haarlos], bumbass; [Harke Absacker], Kistegitarre

Around 1600, the violin emerged as one of the main instruments at the music scene. Whereas in the late renaissance it was mainly used as an ensemble instrument, in the early 17th century Italian composers started to write virtuosic sonatas, canzonas and diminutions for violin and basso continuo. In the course of the first half of the century, the Italian violin style disseminated across Europe, and it was in particular embraced in the German-speaking world. Especially in the second half of the 17th century, large numbers of pieces for violin or for small ensembles of strings were written, which show the influence of the Italian style. Among the products of the German/Bohemian/Austrian violin school are composers as Johann Jakob Walther, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber and Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. However, there are many more, most of whom have remained largely unknown, or even completely unknown, witness the many anonymous pieces preserved in various manuscripts, such as the Partiturbuch Ludwig of 1662. Johann Fischer, who is the subject of the disc under review here, has to be ranked among the lesser-known representatives of this violin school.

There is quite some biographical information about Fischer and his career, but that has to be taken from various sources, which are not always very reliable. A complicating factor is that there is some insecurity about the identity of composers with the name of Fischer. It seems likely that sometimes this name refers to different composers. One of the pieces in the programme can only be attributed to the Johann Fischer, to whom this disc is devoted.

He was born in Augsburg and may well have received his first music lessons from his father Jonas, who was a Spielmann - the term generally used for a 'fiddler' without formal education. As his father died when he was only ten years old, others must have taken responsibility of his further musical education. One of them was Tobias Kriegsdorfer, director of the Kantorei of the St Anna Gymnasium in Augsburg. In 1661 Fischer went to Stuttgart, where he studied with Samuel Capricornus, the Kapellmeister at the court. The latter died in 1665 and shortly after that, Fischer went to Paris, where he worked as one of the copyists of Jean-Baptiste Lully for five years. This had a decisive influence on his development as a composer. Fischer was one of those German composers who adopted the French style, which was very popular at the aristocratic courts in the German-speaking world. These composers were generally known as Lullistes. In the programme, performed by Furor Musicus, the Suite I from Musikalisch Divertissement bears witness to his French leanings. It opens with an ouverture, which is followed by seven dances with French titles: air, menuet, chique (gigue) and bourrée.

In 1673 he returned to Stuttgart, and the next year to Augsburg, where he was mainly active as a musician in various churches. During his time in Augsburg, he wrote a number of vocal works; very little of his output in this department seems to have been preserved. In 1683 he entered the service of the court in Ansbach, which at the time shifted from the Italian to the French style. That same year, Johann Sigismund Kusser, one of the most prominent Lullistes, was appointed to train the members of the court chapel in the French style of playing. Among Fischer's duties was the instruction of giving at least two violinists lessons in French performance practice every year. The next stage in Fischer's career was the position of Kapellmeister at the court in Mitau in Courland (today Jelgava, Latvia). At this time he regularly performed in Riga as well, and when in 1698 the court in Mitau was dissolved, he moved to Riga. During the last stage of his life, Fischer moved across Europe. He worked for some time in Lüneburg, acted for some years as Kapellmeister at the court of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, then travelled to Copenhagen in the hope of a position at the court, which he did not obtain. He worked then in Bayreuth and Stralsund, went to Stockholm, but returned, partly due to hearing and sight problems, and went to Schwedt, where he entered the service at the court. There he also died.

The largest part of the programme is stylistically close to what was written by the likes of Schmelzer and Biber. The Balettae a 4 have been preserved in the archive of Kromeriz, which came into existence during the reign of Karl Liechtenstein-Kastelkorn, Prince Bishop of Olomouc. It includes many pieces by Biber as well. Interestingly, in these pieces the violino piccolo is playing a solo role. That is also the case in the Suite à violino piculo solo, in which it is accompanied by basso continuo. The author of this piece, which is part of a private collection, is mentioned only with the initials 'J.F.', and therefore we can't be absolutely sure that Johann Fischer is the composer. However, considering that the title refers to Courland, and that it includes Latvian folk songs, it seems very likely. This piece is a lamento, probably written at the occasion of Fischer's departure from Miltau.

The violino piccolo is also one of the instruments in Das Eins-Dreij und Dreij Eins oder Der habile Violiste. The other instruments are a violin and a viola, which both are playing in scordatura. This use of altered tunings was very popular in Bohemia and Austria, and is part of many pieces by Biber. What is notable here is that these instruments are not played by different players, but by one and the same. The competent violinist ("habile Violiste") has to show his skills by switching between the various instruments almost attacca. It is the kind of challenge violin composers of the time liked very much. Another piece explores the skills of the educated violinist in a different way. In Unterschied zwischen einen rechten Violinisten und gemeinen Bauern-Fiedler, the "difference between a real violinist and a simple peasant fiddler" is demonstrated through the contrast between sophisticated dances (air, gigue, menuet) and unspecified folksy tunes, which are technically questionable. "[Fischer] also seems to have deliberately included mistakes in the Bauern-Fiedler part: inconsistent numbers of bars in the different instrumental parts, resolutions that either come too early or too late and, in some cases, too many beats in a bar", Antoinette Lohmann states in her liner-notes. Although the two violins never play together, the score indicates that two different instruments are needed. When the Violinist plays, the part of the Bauern-Fiedler indicates, for instance, "Air paus.", meaning that while the air is played, the Bauern-Fiedler should keep quiet. In the former's part, the dances are followed by a comparable indication, but here the title of the episode of the Bauern-Fiedler is not mentioned, as its contributions have no titles.

This work is taken from a collection which was published in Lübeck in 1706 under the title of Musicalische Fürsten-Lust. This music was intended for performance as Tafelmusik (during meals) and includes mainly French dances, but also an appendix with Polish dances, although these are mostly 'Frenchified', as Lohmann writes. The last of those performed here is a Ballet, which is then repeated in the last track. Its title, Hoff- und bauerngeyger schicken sich an, eyn ballet zu spielen und zu tantzen, is clearly the product of the fantasy of the performers. "Furor Musicus and Furor Agraricus finally lay aside their differences in a joint performance of the ballet from the Polnische Tänze".

Only relatively few works for instrumental ensemble of the 17th century are based on hymns. One of them is included here: Fischer composed a piece in five parts on the chorale Hertzlich thut mich verlangen, whose melody is taken from a madrigal by Hans-Leo Hassler. The text of the chorale was written by Christoph Knoll (1611). The same melody has become best known with the text 'O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden'. The chorale melody appears in all the parts, from start to finish.

This is a fascinating disc, which is a substantial contribution of our knowledge of violin music in the German-speaking world of the 17th century. It highlights several features: the influence of the French style, thanks to the fascination of German aristocrats for the splendour of the French court and its music, the use of the scordatura technique, and the love of imitating all sorts of phenomena of daily life, including the activities of 'fiddlers'. That is emphasized here by the performance of the two violin parts in the Unterschied with two different sorts of ensemble (apparently consisting of the same musicians, who have been given different names as members of Furor Agraricus). I can't find any indication in the parts about which instruments should be used. Fischer may well have expected an educated violinist to perform that part on his violin in a different way. Whatever is the case, it is quite interesting to hear a musical opinion on the differences in the musical landscape, and the apparent importance of a formal education.

The playing of Antoine Lohmann and her colleagues is excellent, as always. They play with great commitment and intensity, and they have a perfect understanding of the stylistic features of this kind of repertoire. My only slight reservation is the performance of the Suite I, which could have been a little more relaxed, considering its French features. However, that is only a very minor issue. I am most happy with this disc which puts a composer on the map, who has been almost completely forgotten. There is more to be discovered and as several of his collections are available online, there is really no excuse to overlook him. This disc convincingly demonstrates the qualities and unique features of his oeuvre.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Furor Musicus

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