musica Dei donum
Scheidt: Tabulatura Nova, I (1624) (SSWV 102 - 114)
Franz Raml, harpsichord a, organ b; Christina
Landshamer, soprano c
rec: May 2002, Lüdingworth, St Jakobi b & July 2002, Schloss Leitheim
Dabringhaus und Grimm - MDG 614 1155-2 (2 CDs; 69'53" - 64'10")
Cantio Sacra 'Vater unser im Himmelreich' bc; Cantio Sacra 'Warum
betrübstu dich mein Hertz' bc; Cantio Sacra 'Wir gleuben all an einen
Gott' bc; Curant a; Curant a; Fantasia super 'Ich
ruffe zu dir Herr Jesu Christ' b; Fantasia super 'Io son ferito lasso'.
Fuga quadruplici a; Fantasia super 'Ut.Re.Mi.Fa.Sol.La' a;
Frantzösisch Liedgen. Cantio Gallica 'Est ce Mars' (sup>a; Niederländisch
Liedgen. Cantio Belgica 'Ach du feiner Reuter' a; Niederländisch
Liedgen. Cantio Belgica 'Weh windgen weh' a; Passamezzo a;
Psalm 'Da Jesus an dem Creutze stundt' bc
Many German composers of the early 17th century went to Italy to study the newest
musical trends. Samuel Scheidt, one of the main representatives of the North
German organ school, did not do this. He went to Amsterdam instead, to study with
the famous organist and composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. But although Sweelinck,
as far as we know, never left the Netherlands, he was very well aware of
everything that was happening all over Europe.
For most of his life Scheidt was connected in some way or another to his home town
of Halle. It was there that he experienced the devastating consequences of the
Thirty Years’ War. After his return from Amsterdam he became organist at the court
of the administrator of the Archbishopric of Magdeburg in Halle, but in 1625, as a
result of the war, the court dispersed. Scheidt lost his job and was left without
any income; he also lost his sizeable fortune due to inflation. He was forced to
take a teaching job to feed his children. In 1636 his four children died from the
plague. Only in 1638, when Duke August of Saxony became the new administrator, did
he return as Hofkapellmeister and start to compose vocal music for the limited
number of musicians the chapel had at its disposal.
In 1624 Scheidt published the first of three volumes with keyboard music, entitled
Tabulatura Nova. This collection was a tribute to his teacher Sweelinck –
Scheidt even included a series of variations on the same song (Est ce Mars) on
which Sweelinck based his own set of variations. But at the same time it can be
seen as a catalogue of the musical forms en vogue in Europe in the first half of
the 17th century, like toccatas, fantasias, chorale variations, variations on
popular songs and dances. As was common practice in those days, most pieces –
sacred or secular – could be played on both the church organ and on smaller
keyboard instruments in courts and private homes, like the spinet, harpsichord and
One of the features of the chorale-based works is that they follow the stanzas of
the chorales. Therefore every variation can be left out and the stanza be sung
instead, or each variation can be used as a prelude to the chorale to be sung.
This practice is reflected here by inserting the appropriate chorale settings from
Scheidt’s Tabulaturbuch hundert geistlicher Lieder und Psalmen of 1650 and
the Cantional of 1627/45.
As far as I know this is the first recording of the complete first volume of the
Tabulatura Nova, which is most welcome, considering its historical importance and
musical quality. Two excellent historical instruments are used. The organ in
Lüdingworth (North Germany) was initially built by Antonius Wilde in 1598, and
enlarged by Arp Schnitger in 1682/83 and was restored and partly reconstructed by
Jürgen Ahrend in 1981/82. It is tuned in meantone, like the harpsichord played
here. This is a very exquisite and uncommon instrument. The Bavarian National
Museum in Munich owns a harpsichord from an unknown builder from South Germany,
dating from the first half of the 17th century. This instrument, the only
surviving of its kind, is in unplayable condition, but a reconstruction was
commissioned by the museum, and made by Bernhard von Tucher. What makes this
single-manual instrument unique is that it has no fewer than 6 registers: Flöte,
Prinzipal I, Prinzipal II, Nasal, Zunge and Lautenzug. This underlines the close
connection between organ and harpsichord in those days. This instrument is also
tuned in meantone and its pitch is a=465 Hz.
Considering all this I would have loved to recommend this recording wholeheartedly.
But I have some reservations.
To begin with, some decisions taken here are disappointing or questionable. Like I
said before, most pieces can be played on both the organ and other keyboard
instruments. In this recording the most traditional path has been followed: all
sacred works, based on chorales, are played at the organ, and all secular works
are played on the harpsichord. But at that time the organ wasn’t a strictly
religious instrument. It is perfectly possible to play the variations on secular
songs on the organ. And we know some of Georg Böhm’s chorale partitas, which are
mostly played on the organ nowadays, were originally composed for the harpsichord.
It would have been nice if this practice had been reflected in this recording.
I am greatly pleased by the sound of the harpsichord. Its registers make this
instrument quite colourful. The obvious question, though, is how common this kind
of instrument was, and – more importantly – if this was a typically Southern
German phenomenon or if a Northern German composer like Scheidt has known such
In all sets of chorale variations settings of the chorale have been inserted. They
are sung by a solo soprano. That is a reasonable option from a practical point of
view, but I would have liked a ‘community choir’ singing the chorales, like in
Praetorius' 'Christmas Mass', recorded by Paul McCreesh with his Gabrieli Consort
and Players on Archiv. I also find it very strange that some stanzas are inserted
at the wrong place. In the Cantio sacra 'Vater unser', for instance, the
fourth stanza is sung after the fifth variation. But Scheidt obviously follows the
stanzas of the chorale very closely: the chorale has nine stanzas and there are
nine variations. Therefore the fourth stanza should have been sung after the
fourth variation. Even worse is the Cantio Sacra ‘Warum betrübstu dich mein
Hertz', where the first stanza is sung after the second variation, and the
ninth variation is followed by the second stanza!
There are also questions regarding the registration of the organ works. In the
aforementioned Cantio Sacra ‘Warum betrübstu dich’ the first variation,
traditionally the ‘presentation’ of the chorale, is played with the Regal 8'
only, where one would expect a more fuller and stronger sound, with stops like the
Principal and the Octave.
I have reservations regarding the interpretation as well. The contribution of the
soprano Christiane Landshamer is small, fortunately. Her continuous vibrato is
annoying and very unstylish. If these chorale settings are to be sung by a single
voice, then a treble would be the best choice. Being from Bavaria, Raml only
needed to go to the Tölzer Knabenchor to find an appropriate voice.
Franz Raml studied with Ton Koopman and learnt a great deal from him. But
temperament is something one cannot learn, and Raml seems to have little of that.
His playing is not very bold and imaginative. He tends to be a little academic,
somewhat one-dimensional and mechanical in his articulation, and his tempi – in
particular in the variations on popular songs – are slow. In the booklet, Johannes
Hoyer refers to the ‘pleasure’ which is characteristic of these variations, but in
the performance I hear too little ‘pleasure’. I am not saying this recording is
deadly boring or bad, but on the whole it is rather uneven. The first piece, the
Cantio Sacra ‘Wir gleuben all’ is too straightforward, but the next, the
Cantio Sacra ‘Vater unser’, is quite good. Whereas some secular variations
are too slow, the Cantio Sacra ‘Warum betrübstu dich’ is rather too fast.
Technically this is a first class production. The engineers have done a good job,
and the programme notes are very informative. The disposition of the organ and the
registration of all organ works are given. Unfortunately only the texts of the
stanzas which are sung have been printed. But since there is a close connection
between text and music it would have been helpful if the text of all stanzas of
the chorales appearing in this recording had been printed.
To sum up: an important and interesting project which has its merits, but doesn’t
quite live up to the expectations.
N.B. This review first appeared on MusicWeb
Johan van Veen (© 2003)
Samuel Scheidt (discography)
Dabringhaus und Grimm