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Hieronymus & Jacob jun. PRAETORIUS: "Organ Works"

Joseph Kelemen, organ

rec: August 5 - 7, 2013, Tangermünde, St. Stephan
Oehms - OC 691 (© 2014) (77'00")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Hieronymus PRAETORIUS (1560-1629): Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam; Hymnus: Christe qui lux; Hymnus: Dies absoluti; Hymnus: Te lucis; Magnificat 5. toni; Jacob PRAETORIUS jr (1586-1651): Magnificat 3. toni; Praeambulum ex d; Von allen Menschen abgewandt; Was kann uns kommen an für Not

This disc takes us to the early stages of an 'organ school' which is considered one of the most important and most influential of the pre-romantic era. There is a direct link between the north German organ school and Johann Sebastian Bach, especially through Dietrich Buxtehude, one of its last representatives. Hieronymus Praetorius was one of its first representatives, and one of its founders. He is the link between the aesthetics of the renaissance and the baroque era.

Praetorius - or the German version: Schultz or Schultzen - was a pretty common name at the time and music encyclopedias include various composers with that name. The best-known of them is Michael Praetorius, the composer of a large corpus of sacred vocal music and the author of Syntagma Musicum which is a major source of information about the performance practice and the various instruments in use around 1600. However, he is not related in any way to the two composers who are the subject of the present disc.

Hieronymus was a member of a dynasty of organists. His father, Jacob (senior), was from Magdeburg and moved to Hamburg after converting to the Protestant faith. Here he became clerk at the Jacobikirche, and from 1554 until his death in 1586 he acted as assistant organist and then as first organist at that church. After his death that position was taken by his son Hieronymus who received his first lessons from his father. Having studied with other organists in Hamburg and in Cologne he became organist at Erfurt in 1580. Two years later he returned to Hamburg where he became assistant to his father. Relatively few organ works from his pen have come down to us. The largest part of his extant oeuvre comprises sacred vocal music. This includes works in the Venetian polychoral style. According to the Organistenchronik, an important history of German music and especially organists, by Johann Kortkamp (1643-1721) Praetorius' masses and motets were highly rated: "When the Pope in Rome heard them, the Cardinals said that it was a pity that the man is a heretic, a Lutheran".

The only organ works whose authenticity is established are a set of eight Magnificat settings, a further separate Magnificat and two chorale arrangements. One of the latter is Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam. It dates from 1625 and is dedicated to "His Serene Highness, Lord and Ruler August, Prince of Brunswick and Lüneburg", on the occasion of the baptism of the latter's "newborn male heir". In this work Praetorius explores the then common meantone temperament for expressive reasons. That is also the case in some of his other organ works, even if - as Joseph Kelemen states in his liner-notes - these are "hardly perceptible for the listener in the flow of the music, but provide a certain attraction in Hieronymus's organ music".

The Magnificat 5. toni and the three hymns are generally similar in their texture: the various verses show contrasting ways of arranging the chorale melody which is sometimes clearly audible but elsewhere divided into fragments and also often strongly ornamented. As one would expect in organ music from north Germany the pedal plays an important role. The Magnificat is one of the set of eight mentioned above; this set is part of the so-called Visby Tablature. This also includes a number of anonymous organ works which are generally considered as being from Praetorius' pen as well. Among them are the three hymns recorded here. Christe qui lux comprises four verses, the others two.

The second half of this disc is devoted to organ works by Hieronymus' son Jacob (junior). He was his father's second son and one may assume that he received his first organ lessons from his father. He then went to Amsterdam to study with Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, one of the first organists from north Germany to do so. Sweelinck must have held him in high esteem: in 1608 he composed a motet for Praetorius' wedding. From 1603 until his death he was organist of the St Petrikirche in Hamburg. He also was a sough-after teacher; one of his most famous pupils was Matthias Weckmann. Another pupil is mainly responsible for a substantial part of Jacob's organ music coming down to us, as part of the above-mentioned Visby Tablature. As with most of the organ works from the north German organ school they require a large organ with two or three manuals and pedal. Only one piece has been preserved in autograph. The variations on Von allen Menschen abgewandt is dedicated to the same ruler as Hieronymus' Christ, unser Herr zum Jordan kam.

This part of the programme opens with a free work, the Praeambulum ex d which shows the composer's skills in counterpoint. It is followed by variations on two chorales and a Magnificat. The manuscript of the latter work which dates from 1640 was trimmed around 1700 during the renovation work on the organ of the chapel of Clausholm Castle (Denmark) and used to seal the bellows. It was rediscovered in 1964 during the restoration of the organ. As some parts were missing Kelemen plays this work in the reconstruction by Michael Belotti. In the second verse we hear echo effects, a reference to Praetorius's teacher Sweelinck.

Kelemen is a specialist in German organ music and this disc is part of a project devoted to music from the north German organ school. Before this he had recorded four discs with music by composers from south Germany. Here he plays a magnificent organ from 1624 built by Hans Scherer the younger in St Stephan's in Tangermünde. With over 32 stops, three manuals and pedal and a meantone tuning (after M Praetorius, 1/4 comma) it is the perfect instrument for the performance of this repertoire. That is even more the case as there is a close connection between Scherer and father and son Praetorius: the former took care of Hieronymus' organ in the St Jacobi in Hamburg and expanded it several times. Jacob's organ in St Petri was built by the Dutch builder Niehoff who influenced the Scherer family. The latter then took care of this organ and renovated it in 1603-04 when Jacob had just taken up his position as organist at this church.

Obviously it is not enough to use the right organ. One also needs a thorough understanding of the stylistic features of the repertoire, and that is certainly the case with Kelemen, as he has already shown in previous recordings. We get here fully idiomatic interpretations in which the possibilities of the organ are explored in the interest of an expressive performance. It is also obvious that Kelemen knows the liturgical setting in which this kind of pieces were performed. It certainly helps that he himself is active as a church organist in Germany (Neu-Ulm). If you are interested in German organ music this is a disc not to be missed, especially as the organ works by these two composers are not that often played and recorded.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

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