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Samuel SCHEIDT (1587 - 1654): Tabulatura Nova III

Franz Raml, organ

rec: May 25 - 26, 2013, Tangermünde, St. Stephana; August 12 - 13, 2013, Hamburg, St. Jacobib; June 10 - 11, 2014, Schlägl (A), Praemonstratenser-Chorherrenstiftc
MDG - 614 1895-2 (2 CDs) (© 2015) (2.44'55")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Credo in unum Deum (SSWV 155) a; Hymnus. Christe qui lux es & dies (SSWV 151)b; Hymnus. De Adventu Domini (SSWV 149)b; Hymnus. De Nativitate Christi (SSWV 150)b; Hymnus. O Lux beata Trinitas (SSWV 154)a; Hymnus. Veni Creator Spiritus (SSWV 153)b; Hymnus. Vita Sanctorum decus Angelorum (SSWV 152)b; Kyrie Dominicale 4. toni - (Gloria) Et in terra pax à 4 Voc (SSWV 139)c; Magnificat 1. toni (SSWV 140)a; Magnificat 2. toni (SSWV 141)c; Magnificat 3. toni (SSWV 142)a; Magnificat 4. toni (SSWV 143)a; Magnificat 5. toni (SSWV 144)b; Magnificat 6. toni (SSWV 145)a; Magnificat 7. toni (SSWV 146)c; Magnificat 8. toni (SSWV 147)b; Magnificat 9. toni (SSWV 148)b; Modus ludendi pleno Organo pedaliter (SSWV 157)b; Modus pleno Organo pedaliter (SSWV 158)b; Psalmus sub Communione (SSWV 156)a;

Samuel Scheidt is one of the main representatives of the North German organ school, alongside organist/composers like Heinrich Scheidemann, Nicolaus Bruhns, members of the Praetorius dynasty and Dieterich Buxtehude. One of the 'founding fathers' of that school was not German, but Dutch: Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. Scheidt was only one of many German organists who went to Amsterdam to study with him.

Amsterdam seems to have been the only other city where he lived, except his hometown of Halle. There he was born and there he died. Before his studies in Amsterdam he was already active as an organist at the Moritzkirche. After is return he became organist at the Brandenburg court under the Margrave Christian Wilhelm. In 1619 or 1620 he was also appointed Kapellmeister, after the departure of the English-born William Brade. At first he worked under ideal circumstances, and at times cooperated with some of the best composers of his time, such as Michael Praetorius, Heinrich Schütz and Johann Staden. However, in 1625 his employer became actively involved in the Thirty Years War and the court and its chapel suffered severely: because they were not paid most musicians left the court to look for employment elsewhere. This was not all: in the early 1630s he became involved in a conflict with the Rektor of the Gymnasium about the jurisdiction over the choirboys. And if that was not enough: in 1636 Halle was hit by the plague and Scheidt lost four of his children. Considering these hardships it is remarkable that he was able to compose and publish music. In the late 1630s things turned for the better and under the new Margrave, Friedrich Wilhelm, the court chapel started to recover.

Scheidt's oeuvre includes sacred and secular vocal music, music for an instrumental ensemble and keyboard works. In his sacred music the Lutheran chorale takes a central place. The same is true for his keyboard music. His last publication was a large collection of settings of Psalms and hymns. However, his main collection of keyboard music is the Tabulatura Nova which was printed in three volumes in 1624. The first and second include a mixture of sacred and secular pieces: variations of secular melodies from England, France and the Netherlands, and of chorales in the Lutheran tradition. These pieces can be played on various keyboard instruments: organ, harpsichord or clavichord. The third volume is entirely devoted to liturgical music and reflects the kind of music Scheidt played during services.

Every piece comprises a number of verses, but they are of a different character. In the hymns these verses have the character of variations on the cantus firmus; a notable feature is that the chorale melody appears in all the voices, in contrast to the treatment of the melody in the previous volumes. The various Magnificats, the Kyrie and the Benedicamus (Modus pleno Organo pedaliter) are examples of alternatim settings of the even verses of the respective chants. The exception here is the Credo (Et in terra pax) which is through-composed and is based on the melody in use since the Reformation.

For whom was this volume intended? Organists were expected to improvise, but not every organist may have been very skilled in this department. The publication of this volume could well have had a pedagogical purpose: organists could use these pieces as models for their own improvisations. The fact that it includes exclusively pieces with Latin titles firstly indicates that Latin was still in use in Lutheran churches. This also explains Bach's setting of the Kyrie and Gloria in his so-called Lutheran Masses or missae breves. However, it is certainly possible that Scheidt also aimed at use in Catholic churches. In the 16th and 17th centuries there was no clear watershed between the two main religious camps. Collections of hymns to be used in churches and schools in Lutheran Germany included pieces by Catholic composers. In his liner-notes to the present disc Johannes Hoyer points out that a copy of this collection has been found in the Benedictine Abbey of Ottobeuren which suggests that Scheidt's settings may have been used there in the liturgy.

Stylistically they are strongly rooted in the past. Counterpoint dominates, the cantus firmus is clearly discernible and there is far less elaborate ornamentation than in the previous volumes. This probably explains why the performances by Franz Raml are completely convincing. In my review of Volume I I was not entirely happy with the way Raml played the pieces of that part of this collection. I noted a lack of imagination and found his performances somewhat one-dimensional. The liturgical repertoire requires a different approach and here the rather straight-forward interpretation works much better. These pieces have a more solemn character than those in the previous volumes and that comes off very well here. Raml plays three wonderful historical organs which are perfectly suitable for Scheidt's music, partly due to the historical tunings.

All in all this is a very fine and important recording of music which sheds light on the use of the organ in the liturgy in 17th-century Germany.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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