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"Virtuose deutsche Violinmusik des 17. Jahrhunderts" (Virtuoso German violin music of the 17th century)

Musica antiqua Köln

rec: March 7 - 10, 1977, Aachen, St. Aposteln
Virgin Classics - 6025082 (R) (© 2012) (42'50")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Clamor Heinrich ABEL (1634-1696): Bataille for two violins and bc in D; Johann Caspar KERLL (1627-1693): Sonata for two violins and bc in F; Johann Michael NICOLAI (1629-1685): Sonata for violin, two viole da gamba and bc in B flat; David POHLE (1624-1695): Sonata for two violins and bc in A 'Nun danket alle Gott'; Johann ROSENMÜLLER (c1619-1684): Sinfonia for two violins and bc in D; Carl ROSIER (1640-1725): Sonata (Suite) for two violins and bc in e minor; Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER (c1620/23-1680): Lamento sopra la morte Ferdinandi III for two violins, viola da gamba and bc; Polnische Sackpfeiffen for 2 violins and bc

Reinhard Goebel, Hajo Bäß, violin; Eva Bartos, viola da gamba; Jonathan Cable, viola da gamba, violone; Henk Bouman, harpsichord

In 1973 Reinhard Goebel founded the ensemble Musica antiqua Köln. From the early days one of its main fields of interest was German music for strings from the 17th century. At that time this repertoire was largely unknown. Among the composers who are represented on the present disc only Johann Rosenmüller and Johann Heinrich Schmelzer were fairly well-known. Very few people had ever heard of the likes of Carl Rosier, David Pohle or Johann Michael Nicolai. Despite the fact that Musica antiqua Köln during the years of its existence has regularly returned to this repertoire, these composers still belong to the echelon of composers who seldom appear on concert programmes or CD.

"German violin music of the seventeenth century used to be thought of simply as a prelude to the violin works of J.S. Bach. (...) If the standard reference books on the history of violin music are to be believed, then every instance of double-stopping, every set of variations (or 'divisions') on a melody, and indeed every piece for solo violin from that time paves the way to Bach". That was 1977, when Goebel wrote the liner-notes to the original recording. I am pretty sure that very few musicologists and interpreters still hold that view. That is largely due to the many recordings with 17th-century repertoire which have been released since that time. It is now considered of musical substance in its own right. Composers like Rosenmüller, Biber, Schmelzer, Buxtehude or (Johann Jakob) Walther are rated among the great composers of music for strings.

In his liner-notes Goebel explains how German music was derived from the Italian instrumental music of the early 17th-century, but also developed features of its own. Whereas the Italians aimed at imitating the human voice, German composers liked to exhibit an astonishing level of virtuosity. Performers were required to reach up to the sixth position and violinist's bowing technique was stretched to its limits. At the same time, instrumental and vocal music were not disconnected: rhetorics which were the basis of all music played its part in both genres. Instruments were not so much expected to sing, such as in Italian music, but rather to speak. That explains the character of the pieces on this disc.

These are all from a collection which was brought together by Franz Rost, the Kantor to the Margrave of Baden-Baden. Later it came in the hands of the French composer Sébastien de Brossard, who was an avid collector of music from all regions in Europe. To him we owe a large number of compositions not found in any other source. That also goes for a large part of the German string music in the collection. It includes 160 sonatas, mostly for two violins and basso continuo. In some cases these are adaptations, for instance where two viola parts are omitted. This was common practice at the time, as one can conclude from the preface in the collection Armonico tributo by Georg Muffat (1682).

The programme includes examples of various genres of chamber music for strings. The sonatas by Rosenmüller and Kerll are in sections of contrasting character; the latter includes two sections in which each of the two violins has a solo passage. Carl Rosier was of Flemish birth, but worked mainly in Germany and died in Cologne. His Sonata in e minor has the form of a French suite, with various dances preceded by an Italian-style prelude. David Pohle, a pupil of Heinrich Schütz, composed the Sonata in A on the hymn Nun danket alle Gott, probably for performance in a Vesper service. Pohle calls for scordatura, a technique of retuning the strings of the violin which was frequently used in Germany and Austria.

Musical illustrations are also an important part of music of the 17th century. Biber composed several such pieces. So did Schmelzer (Polnische Sackpfeifen - Polish bagpipes) and Clamor Heinrich Abel (Bataille in D) who was the father of the gambist Christian Ferdinand Abel, Bach's colleague in Cöthen. The Lamento sopra la morte Ferdinandi III by Schmelzer is part of a tradition of writing music in the memory of a deceased person. The second section is a musical depiction of funeral bells. The disc ends with a piece for violin, two viole da gamba and bc, the Sonata in B flat by Johann Michael Nicolai. He was from Thuringia and worked for many years at the court in Stuttgart. Its texture ranks it among the virtuosic and expressive music for violin solo by the likes of Biber and Walther.

As I wrote before, since this recording was released many recordings with 17th-century German instrumental music have appeared. Some of them are really good, but not a few are more or less disappointing. That is not so much a matter of playing technique, although I think that the early music world has seen very few violinists as virtuosic as Reinhard Goebel. It is his approach to this repertoire which is essential to reveal its character. Among its features are a sharp articulation, marked dynamic accents and a full exploration of the contrasts within a piece. These characteristics I often sorely miss in more recent performances. This recording may date from 35 years ago, but it is just as good and as exciting as it was at that time. In large parts of the baroque repertoire - and certainly in this music - Musica antiqua Köln has set standards to which very few of today's ensembles measure up.

This is not just a great disc for every music lover, it is also excellent study material for today's performers. Listen and learn, please.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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