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CD reviews

Organ Music from South Germany and Austria

[I] "Organ Music at the Viennese Court (Froberger, Kerll, Muffat)"
Jeremy Joseph, organ; Wiener Choralschola (Daniel Mair)a

rec: May 29 - 31, 2008, Klosterneuburg, Stiftskirche
NCA - 60207 (© 2009) (70'55")

[II] Georg MUFFAT (1653 - 1704): Apparatus musico-organisticus
Tobias Lindner, harpsichorda, organb

rec: Oct 2004, Irrsee (Ostallgäu, Schwaben), Klosterkirche St. Mariä Himmelfahrt
Organum Classics - Ogm 292016 (2 CDs) (© 2009) (1.40'35")

[III] "Organ Music at the Viennese Court (Georg and Gottlieb Muffat)"
Wolfgang Kogert, organ; Wiener Choralschola (Daniel Mair)a

rec: June 2008, Vienna, Michaelerkirche
NCA - 60206 (© 2009) (69'21")

[IV] Gottlieb MUFFAT (1690 - 1770): "Toccatas - Capriccios - Canzonas - Ricercars"
Jörg-Andreas Bötticher, organ

rec: July 6 - 8, 2009, Muri, Klosterkirche
PanClassics - PC 10224 (© 2010) (73'31")

[I] Johann Jacob FROBERGER (1616-1667): Capriccio in F (FbWV 516) [2]; Capriccio in g minor (FbWV 505) [3]; Fantasia sopra Sollare [Sol, La, Re] (FbWV 204) [1]; Ricercar in d minor (FbWV 411) [2]; Ricercar in g minor (FbWV 405) [3]; Toccata in d minor (FbWV 102) [1]; Toccata in G (FbWV 103) [1]; Toccata da sonarsi alla leuatione in d minor (FbWV 105) [1]; Johann Caspar KERLL (1627-1693): Canzona in d minor; Magnificat 4. tonia [4]; Passacaglia; Ricercata in cylindrum phonotacticum transferenda; Toccata IV cromatica con durezze e ligature; Toccata V tutta de salti; Georg MUFFAT (1653-1704): Toccata I in d minor [5]

[II] Georg MUFFAT: Ciaconaa [5]; Nova Cyclopeias Harmonicaa [5]; Passacagliaa [5]; Toccata I in d minorb [5]; Toccata II in g minorb [5]; Toccata III in a minorb [5]; Toccata IV in e minorb [5]; Toccata V in Cb [5]; Toccata VI in Fb [5]; Toccata VII in Cb [5]; Toccata VIII in Gb [5]; Toccata IX in e minorb [5]; Toccata X in Db [5]; Toccata XII in B flatb [5]

[III] Georg MUFFAT: Passacaglia [5]; Toccata VII in C [5]; Toccata XII in B flat [5]; Gottlieb MUFFAT: Canzona XI; Capriccio XV 'desperato' in a minor; Missa in F: Kyrie, Gloriaa; Toccata XI 'sammt sechs Versetl'a; Toccata XV

[IV] Gottlieb MUFFAT: Canzona III in D; Canzona V in G; Canzona XI in e & a minor; Canzona XII in C; Capriccio V con pedale obligato in C; Capriccio VI con pedale obligato in F; Capriccio VII in D; Capriccio X in c minor; Capriccio XV 'desperato' in a minor; Capriccio XVIII in F; Ricercar I in d minor; Ricercar XXIII in G; Ricercar XXV in c minor; Ricercar XXVII in e minor; Ricercar XXVIII in F; Ricercar XXIX in g minor Toccata I in d minor; Toccata III in a minor; Toccata IV in e minor; Toccata V in C; Toccata VII in D; Toccata X in c minor; Toccata XIV in g minor; Toccata XVIII in F; Toccata XX in G

(Sources: [1] Johann Jacob Froberger, Libro secondo di toccate, fantasie, canzone, allemande, courante, sarabande, gigue et altre partite, 1649; [2] Libro quarto di toccate, ricercari, capricci, allemande, gigue, courante, sarabande, 1656; [3] Libro di capricci e ricercate, c1658; [4] Johann Caspar Kerll, Modulatio organica super Magnificat octo ecclesiasticis tonis respondens, 1686; [5] Georg Muffat, Apparatus musico-organisticus, 1690)

Organ music in Germany in the 17th and 18th centuries had two faces, so to speak. On the one hand there was the North-German organ school, whose best-known representative was Dietrich Buxtehude. It was influenced by the Italian stylus phantasticus, but was also founded on the teachings of the Dutch organ virtuoso Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck.
And, on the other hand, there was the South-German organ school, although the word 'school' is less appropriate here. What the composers from the southern part of Germany - and Austria - had in common was that their style was derived from the teachings of, in particular, Girolamo Frescobaldi. The four discs to be reviewed here present music by four composers who were mainly active in southern Germany and in Austria: Johann Jacob Froberger, Johann Caspar Kerll, Georg Muffat and his son Gottlieb.

Johann Jacob Froberger was one of the most important keyboard virtuosos of the 17th century, whose reputation was widespread and lasted well into the 18th century. When he became organist at the imperial court in Vienna he was granted leave to study with Frescobaldi in Rome, and this had a lasting influence. It is mainly through him that Frescobaldi's music and style was disseminated throughout Europe.

Johann Caspar Kerll also went to Rome, but in this case to study with Giacomo Carissimi. At the time he arrived in Rome Frescobaldi had very likely died already. But it is quite possible that Frescobaldi's music was still very much part of the musical culture in Rome, and Frescobaldi's influence in Kerll's music is obvious.

Georg Muffat could be considered a 'multicultural' composer. He was of Scottish ancestry, studied in Paris with Jean-Baptiste Lully and in Rome with Arcangelo Corelli. He worked in Germany and Austria and considered himself a German. But in his music he aimed at a mixture of the Italian and French styles and that makes him one of the very first representatives of the goûts réunis, which would become dominant in the first half of the 18th century in Germany and France.

Muffat attempted to become organist at the imperial court in Vienna, like Froberger and Kerll before him, but to no avail. It was his son Gottlieb who was able to find a post at the court. The first report of his presence in Vienna dates from 1711, studying with Johann Josef Fux. In 1717 he was appointed court organist, and remained at the court until he was pensioned in 1763 or 1764.

The four discs comprise pieces in the main genres of keyboard music of the 17th century: the toccata, the fantasia, the canzona, the ricercar and the capriccio.
The toccata was originally a piece of a strongly improvisatory character, without clear subjects or a fixed structure. This is the kind of toccata which was composed by Girolamo Frescobaldi. Froberger, on his turn, brought some structure in his toccatas, which usually consist of five sections: the first, third and last are dominated by virtuoso runs and embellishments, whereas the second and fourth are of a more imitative nature. Kerll's toccatas are on the one hand more technically virtuosic than those of Frescobaldi and Froberger, but in character go back to older Italian toccatas.

Muffat was, as has been said, an advocate of the mixture of the Italian and the French style. That comes especially to the fore in his various collections with music for instrumental ensemble, but also in his Apparatus musico-organisticus. This collection contains 12 toccatas, a ciacona, a passacaglia and a piece, called Nova Cyclopeias Harmonica. The Toccatas VII and X begin with a section which reminds of the French overture and in the Passacaglia which is modelled after the French passacaille en rondeau. The Italian element is the form of the toccata itself, whereas the virtuosic passages in these pieces are derived from the Italian violin music. Also Italian in character is the Ciacona. This is all mixed with the traditional German counterpoint.

Gottlieb Muffat's toccatas are much shorter than his father's, but also consist of sequences of contrasting sections. His harmonic idiom is more modern. He sometimes combined the toccata with a capriccio, a piece of a more thematic character, thus taking the form of a prelude and fugue.

The fantasia and the ricercar derive from 16th century vocal music and are based on subjects in long notes which are then contrapuntally arranged. Froberger mostly used just one subject, and his fantasias and ricercars are divided into contrasting sections. The Ricercata by Kerll is the only one from his pen that has survived. Gottlieb Muffat's ricercari are based on several subjects.

The capriccio and the canzona are not fundamentally different from the fantasia and the ricercar. Froberger's compositions in these genres are also monothematic and divided into contrasting sections, but the subjects are more vivid, and written in quavers and semiquavers rather than long notes. They also contain short transitional passages in the style of a toccata. Even more toccata-like is the Canzona in d minor by Kerll, also because he uses more than one subject. Gottlieb Muffat's canzonas are also more free in style than those of Frescobaldi and Froberger.

In addition to these five forms we hear various other forms. In the 17th century the passacaglia was an increasingly popular form, both in the Italian and in the French style. Jeremy Joseph plays a Passacaglia by Johann Caspar Kerll, a series of 40 variations on a falling tetrachord bass. In his Apparatus musico-organisticus Georg Muffat included a Passacaglia which is modelled after the French passacaille en rondeau: it begins with a grand couplet, which returns after every four brief couplets. Whereas the toccatas in Muffat's first edition of this collection contain instructions on pedal usage, these are absent in this passacaglia, which implies it was conceived as a piece for harpsichord. That doesn't mean it can't be performed on the organ, as Wolfgang Kogert shows.

Organists in the South-German region and Austria also wrote organ pieces for liturgical use, as part of the alternatim practice. Gottlieb Muffat composed quite a lot of such music, and it is assumed even the music which is not specifically written for liturgical practice can be used as such, including the pieces Jörg-Andreas Bötticher has chosen. Of his specificaly liturgical organ music Wolfgang Kogert plays Kyrie and Gloria from the Missa in F, with the Wiener Choralschola. In the recording of Jeremy Joseph we hear an earlier example of liturgical organ music, with the Magnificat 4. toni by Kerll (*).

What about the various performances? Generally they vary from good to outstanding. In addition, together these four discs deliver a highly interesting survey of the various genres of keyboard music and their development in the southern part of Germany and in Austria. And as, with the exception of Froberger, this keyboard repertoire is far lesser-known than the keyboard music from further north, this only makes them even more recommendable. That doesn't mean there is no reason for criticism.

I have enjoyed Jeremy Joseph's recording most. He delivers excellent performances which are speechlike and rhetorical, and he fully explores the many contrasts which are such important features of this repertoire. His timing is perfect, and because of that unexpected pauses are indeed unexpected. His recording is dramatic and exciting, and that isn't only due to his playing but also to the meantone temperament of the organ. As a result the dissonants in pieces like Froberger's Toccata da sonarsi alla levatione and Capriccio (FbWV 516) and in particular the Toccata IV by Kerll receive a maximum effect.

Tobias Lindner plays the three pieces at the end of Georg Muffat's Apparatus musico-organisticum at the harpsichord. He uses an Italian harpsichord by Volker Platte, a copy of an instrument by Carlo Grimaldi, built in Messina in 1697. It is a very fine instrument and is highly appropriate for this music, although a French instrument also had been possible. It is pitched at a1=415 Hz, whereas the tuning is meantone temperament. In the light of this it the choice of the organ is rather odd. It was built in 1754 by Balthasar Freywis, but has changed considerably since. In the 1980s it was restored and returned to the situation of 1857. About 70% of the existing pipework dates back to Freywis. The original pitch was recreated at a1=450 Hz, but it was impossible to restore the original tuning. The present temperature is Kirnberger III, which Tobias Lindner calls a "justifiable compromise". Maybe he is right, but it is not the ideal tuning for Muffat's toccatas. Why didn't Lindner choose a more appropriate organ?

But he gives very good performances of both the organ and the harpsichord pieces. The toccatas are played in dramatic fashion, and the contrasts come off well. But I think the frequent changes in the registration are highly questionable. It is generally assumed organists didn't use registration assistants, so they could only switch from one manual to another or change the registration during a short pause. But the toccatas don't give any opportunities to do so, therefore the changes of registration at the same manual have to be considered unhistorical. Its just a shame such good performances are undermined by two questionable decisions which could have been avoided.

The same problem can be noticed in the recording by Wolfgang Kogert, in particular in the Toccata XII. He plays it well, although I think Tobias Lindner has the better (faster) tempo (6'23" to 7'28") and is also able to create a stronger tension. The dissonants at the end of the Passacaglia don't come off very well, and that is partly due to the tuning of the organ (Werckmeister modified). The two toccatas by Gottlieb Muffat are among the best on this disc, alongside the two mass movements.

As Gottlieb Muffat is not very well-known as a composer of organ music, one has to be greatful to Jörg-Andreas Bötticher for such an enterprising recording. He has made an interesting and varied choice from Gottlieb's oeuvre, and he plays it very well. The toccatas are particularly compelling, because of the brilliant realisation of the contrasts between the various sections. But the other pieces are played just as well. In particular the toccatas contain strong dissonants, and from that perspective it is a shame that a part of the programme has been performed at the large organ of Muri minster. This organ is the oldest of the three, and contains still elements from the renaissance. But the problem is the tuning which is referred to as "well-tempered" (which, by the way, is not the same as equal temperament). As a results the dissonants in the toccatas played at this organ are hardly noticeable. In contrast the two smaller organs, the Evangeliumsorgel (Gospel organ) and the Epistelorgel (Epistle organ) which both date from the 18th century, are tuned in moderated meantone temperament. And on these organs the dissonants are much stronger, making the toccatas much spicier.

The recording engineers have done excellent jobs which deserves to be noticed as recording an organ isn't easy at all. The acoustical circumstances are satisfying. The booklets contain all the information one would like to have, but only Organum included the complete registrations of every piece in its booklet. The booklet of the PanClassics recording gives an odd translation of the term Evangeliumsorgel: 'Evangelist organ'. This term is non-existent; in the English literature it is called Gospel organ.

(*) For those interested in hearing Gottlieb Muffat's liturgical music with choral contributions, I refer to a disc with Wolfgang Baumgratz at the organ of the minster St. Mang in Füssen, with the Schola St. Mang (Ambiente ACD 2003).

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Wolfgang Kogert
Tobias Lindner

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