musica Dei donum

CD reviews

German keyboard music of the 17th century

[I] Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN, Samuel SCHEIDT: "Cantilena Anglica Fortunae - Selected Harpsichord Works"
Yoann Moulin, harpsichord
rec: April 2018, Centeilles (F), Église Notre-Dame
Ricercar - RIC 394 (© 2018) (55'35")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (c1595-1663): Fugue in d minor (WV 42); Gagliarda in d minor (WV 107); Pavana lachrymae in d minor (WV 106); Praeambulum in d minor (WV 34a); Praeambulum in e minor (WV 37); Praeambulum in g minor (WV 41); Praeludium in d minor (WV 36); Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654): Allemande Also geht's, also steht's (SSWV 137); Cantilena Anglica Fortunae (SSWV 134); Courante; Fantasia super Io son ferito lasso (SSWV 103); In dich hab ich gehoffet (SSWV 495); O Gott, wir danken deiner Güt

[II] Matthias WECKMANN, Franz TUNDER, Johann Jacob FROBERGER, Christian RITTER: "Stylus luxurians - Selected Harpsichord Works"
Yoann Moulin, harpsichord
rec: May 2020, Centeilles (F), Église Notre-Dame
Ricercar - RIC 433 (© 2021) (56'20")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Johann Jacob FROBERGER (1616-1667): Ricercar XI in d minor (FbWV 411); Christian RITTER (1645?-1725?): Sonatina in d minor; Suite in c minor; Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (c1595-1663): Benedicam Domino (after Hieronymus Praetorius) (WV 48); Franz TUNDER (1614-1667): Praeludium in g minor; Matthias WECKMANN (1616-1674): Canzon in c minor; Canzon in d minor; Partita in b minor; Toccata in d minor; Toccata vel praeludium in d minor; Toccata in e minor

A few years ago Yoann Moulin was invited by Ricercar's Jérôme Lejeune to make a series of recordings covering the development of Germanic keyboard music from the early 17th to the early 18th century. The term 'keyboard music' needs to be specified. It was often not indicated for which keyboard a particular piece was intended. It is true, as Lejeune states in his liner-notes, that "pieces based on dance music [or] based on secular songs were intended for harpsichord, virginal or clavichord, and that pieces with religious themes were intended for church use and were therefore intended for organ". He rightly adds that the latter could also be played on the harpsichord, unless it required a pedalboard. Whether secular pieces could also be played on the organ, is a different matter. Obviously, there was no place for such pieces in the liturgy. Organ recitals as we know them from later times, did not exist. Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, the organist of the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, was probably in a unique position in that he had to play the organ on weekdays, as in the Reformed Church the organ was not allowed to participate in Sunday services. Whether he ever played one of his variations on secular songs is impossible to establish.

Sweelinck is the key figure in the first volume of this project, even though not a single note from his pen is played. He was one of the most sought-after organ teachers of his time, and some of the main representatives of what has become known as the North German organ school were among his pupils. The entire disc is devoted to two of them: Samuel Scheidt and Heinrich Scheidemann.

Scheidt was from Halle, to which town he was connected for most of his life. 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 in vogue in Europe in the first half of the 17th century, such as toccatas, fantasias, chorale variations, variations on popular songs and dances.

In Scheidt's oeuvre variations take a key role. It is here that the influence of Sweelinck is most clearly notable. The variations also document the influence of the English virginalists, which Sweelinck handed over to his German pupils. The Allemande Also geht's, also steht's is a brilliant example of variations on a secular tune. At the same time, influences from Italy were not far away. These came to North Germany directly, through printed editions, but also through Sweelinck's lessons, as he was very well aware of what was going on elsewhere in Europe. Scheidt's Fantasia super Io son ferito lasso is an excellent specimen of the art of diminution; this madrigal by Palestrina was one of the most popular pieces among composers of diminutions.

Another popular subject was John Dowland's Lachrymae pavan, which was arranged by Sweelinck, and also by Heinrich Scheidemann. He is considered the founder of the North German organ school. He was born in Wöhrden in Holstein, where his father David was organist. Around 1604 the family moved to Hamburg, where David was appointed organist of St Katharinen. From 1611 to 1614 Heinrich studied with Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck in Amsterdam. The latter dedicated a canon to his pupil, when Scheidemann returned home. He took over his father's position in 1629 at the latest; from that it is assumed that 1629 was also the year his father died. Heinrich held this position until 1663, when he died of the plague.

Scheidemann's oeuvre comprises almost exclusively music for keyboard. He did not compose any instrumental music and in the department of vocal music he confined himself to melodies for sacred songs. Whereas most of Scheidt's keyboard works are based on vocal models - either secular or sacred - Scheidemann also wrote many free pieces, such as preludes, toccatas and fugues as well as dances. The programme includes specimens of several of these genres. O Gott, wir danken deiner Güt is an example of a sacred work played on the harpsichord. The Praeambulum in d minor is one of Scheidemann's best-known pieces and is almost exclusively played on the organ. Moulin's performance is the first I have heard on the harpsichord, and on this instrument it works very well.

There are a few technical issues. First, Scheidemann's praeambula in d minor and in e minor are notated as being in the major in the track-list. Worse is that Scheidt's O Gott, wir danken deiner Güt begins at the second half of track 10 (Praeamubulum in d minor); halfway the piece track 11 starts. This piece does not appear in the work-list in New Grove. It is disappointing that the track-list omits the numbers in the work catalogue of the respective composers; as a result I don't know the identity of Scheidt's Courante.

As far as the repertoire is concerned, this disc is especially interesting as there is no lack of organ recordings of music from early 17th-century North Germany, but far fewer recordings on a strung keyboard instrument. That is different in the case of the music which is the subject of the second volume.

Its title refers to a term that was coined by the German composer Christoph Bernhard, pupil of Heinrich Schütz. Basically it is not any different from what was called the seconda pratica in Italy. In keyboard music, one of its features was the inclusion of dissonances. The music selected by Yoann Moulin documents the coexistence of the Italian and French styles in German 17th-century keyboard music. Whereas the first disc included various examples of the genre of variations, the second disc focuses on several Italian forms, such as the toccata, the ricercar and the canzona, and adds the French genre of the suite.

The core of the programme is the oeuvre of Matthias Weckmann, another representative of the North German organ school. He was born in 1615 or 1616 in Niederdorla, near Mühlhausen. His musical talent came to the surface at an early age and his father brought him to Dresden where he entered the electoral court chapel as a choirboy. Heinrich Schütz, the Kapellmeister, took charge of his musical education. He also received lessons in organ playing and singing from members of the chapel. When his voice changed he entered the ranks of the organists. In 1633 Schütz took him to Hamburg where he became a pupil of Jacob Praetorius and Heinrich Scheidemann. In the late 1630s he was in Dresden again and from 1642-46 he served the Danish court in Copenhagen. After his return to Dresden he became friends with the above-mentioned Christoph Bernhard and the internationally renowned keyboard player Johann Jacob Froberger. In 1655 Weckmann was appointed organist of the Jacobikirche in Hamburg. Soon he became a leading figure in the musical life in the city, where in 1660 he founded a Collegium Musicum, which performed the newest music from Germany, Austria and Italy.

The programme opens with the Toccata in e minor by Weckmann, which is an example of the influence of the Italian style. The third work is the Partita in b minor; the word partita - often in the plural: partite - was originally used in Italy for a series of variations, for instance by Frescobaldi. It was probably his pupil Froberger who used it for the first time for 'pieces', which have no thematic connection. It is used by Weckmann in the same way: we have here a suite which opens with a prelude, followed by four dances: allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue. This was the form that was introduced by Froberger in Germany, and which was the effect of his connections to French colleagues, in particular Louis Couperin. It was Froberger who made German composers acquainted with what was written in France.

Froberger's influence is also noticeable in the oeuvre of Christian Ritter. Little is known about him; he may well have been close to Schütz and Bernhard, and is described in an autograph as chamber organist at Halle. He worked in Dresden and also for two periods in Sweden. The latter fact explains why the Suite in c minor opens with a tombeau or lamentation, to the memory of King Charles VI of Sweden. This piece is very similar to the kind of pieces Froberger composed at the occasion of the death of Ferdinand III and Ferdinand IV. This tombeau has the form of an allemande, and the other three dances are the same as in Weckmann's partita. Ritter's acquaintance with the North German organ school manifests itself in his Sonatina in d minor, which is a curious title for a piece that is not fundamentally different from the toccata: two sections in free style embrace a fugal episode.

As I already wrote before, German organ music of the 17th century is often performed and recorded, but the harpsichord repertoire is less well-known. Again, we should take into account that there was no watershed between the organ and strung keyboard instruments. The second disc in this project includes a link to the previous one, with a piece by Scheidemann. His transcription of Hieronymus Praetorius's motet Benedicam Domino is an example of a piece that was clearly intended for liturgical use and therefore for a performance at the organ, but can be played on the harpsichord as well, as is the case here. Transcriptions like this one were very common in North Germany.

In both recordings Yoann Moulin plays a copy of a Ruckers harpsichord (one manual, two registers: 8' and 4'), which has just the right power to do justice to the character of the repertoire. Moulin is an excellent interpreter, who knows exactly how to explore the typical features of the pieces he has selected. The improvisatory traces come off to the full. Thanks to his excellent sense of rhythm, the dances are also perfectly realised. These two discs are interesting and very enjoyable recitals which every lover of the harpsichord should add to his or her collection.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

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Yoann Moulin

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