The vividness of the personalities of Heinrich Scheidemann and Jacob Praetorius the younger, like the strength of their contributions to the musical life of Hamburg in the first half of the seventeenth century, caused them to be remembered with devotion and pride by two loyal Hamburgians writing in the first part of the eighteenth century. Johann Kortkamp, organist and chronicler of Hamburg’s organ culture, and Johann Mattheson, who drew in part upon Kortkamp’s records for the biographical information included in his Grundlage einer Ehrenpforte (1740), both shaped the memory of these two remarkable pupils of the great “Organistenmacher” of Amsterdam, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck:
“[Jacob] Praetorius adopted Sweelinck’s manner and gesture, which were overall pleasant and respectable; he held his body without any particular movement, and gave through his playing the impression that it was no work whatsoever. In this his naturally serious, orderly, and unassuming nature helped him not a little. It was a pleasure not only to hear, but also to see him when he sat at the organ.
“Hans [David] Scheidemann, the gallant organist of Saint Catherine’s in Hamburg, during this time sent his son, Hinrich, to Holland, and thus the two young natives of Hamburg were together in study with Sweelinck, and they were mutually ambitious. They therefore studied together, vying with each other, which greatly pleased their master . . .
“These two [Praetorius and Scheidemann] were taught by one master, and they had daily contact with each other; the inclinations of their personal temperaments, however, were not at all the same. Praetorius always assumed a quite grave and somewhat odd manner; he took on the refined ways of his teacher; and he loved the highest degree of pleasantness in everything that he did, as is usual with the Dutch. Scheidemann, on the other hand, was more friendly and genial; he mixed with everyone freely and joyfully, and did not make much of himself. His playing was just that way; nimble with the hand; spirited and cheerful: well grounded in composition; but mostly only as far as [the limits of] the organ would reach. His compositions were easily playable. He set the fifth and last part of Johann Rist’s Lieder to music, which were published. Praetorius’ works were more difficult to play and showed more work, in which he had the advantage above all others. Rist referred to the young Scheidemann alone as the excellent Arion of the city of Hamburg.” (Mattheson, Grundlage einer Ehrenpforte, 328-29)
“Since the days of his youth, he [Jacob Praetorius] had devoted himself to a particular method within the church style, so that he played very solemnly and prayerfully, and could greatly move the hearts [of the congregation] to hear the sermon. Through his great knowledge and with God’s help he produced many organists, in demand throughout Germany, and promoted through his recommendation. One will moreover remember this dear man on account of his sensuous and artistic playing. Like the preacher, he could awaken and move the hearts of the congregation to prayer; for example, when he played a penitential hymn such as “Erbarm Dich mein o Herre Gott” how devoutly and prayerfully he played, how he knew how to use the registers of the organ with regard to their particular character so that one had to admire not only the playing, but also the organ. One can not describe with what joyfulness he adorned high feast days with his organ playing. My dear father, Jacob Kortkamp, may he rest in peace, also learned from H. Praetorio, as did my own blessed master, Matthias Weckmann, and all throughout my youth advised and recommended that I follow this method.” (Kortkamp, Organistenchronik)
After their return to Hamburg from Amsterdam, Jacob Praetorius became organist at the Petrikirche in Hamburg, and Heinrich Scheidemann took a similar position at the Catherinenkirche. From their respective posts they dominated the organ culture of northern Europe for nearly half a century. That is to say – before anything else – that they performed regularly in such a way as to move the hearts of many who heard them. As a result, many aspiring organists sought them out as their mentors, just as they themselves had sought out the venerable Sweelinck; among those many, Scheidemann could count Jan Adam Reincken among his disciples, and Mathias Weckmann carried on the performance tradition established by Praetorius until his death in 1674. But Weckmann also learned, through careful listening to Scheidemann’s playing, “to moderate the Praetorian seriousness with the sweetness of Scheidemann; and therefore to introduce many new elegant discoveries”. (Mattheson, Grundlage einer Ehrenpforte, 395)
Gravity and grace: perhaps the words of Mattheson and Kortkamp can move us to hear these distinctive qualities today when we listen to the music Praetorius and Scheidemann. What could be sweeter than Scheidemann’s settings of Jesu, wollst uns weisen, Vom Himmel hoch, or even the intabulation of Bassano’s motet, Dic nobis Maria, where the garlands of ornamentation traverse the entire compass of the organ keyboard? Elegance of melodic gesture seems to flow effortlessly from the nimbleness of Scheidemann’s hand. And gravitas, not the last word to come to mind when hearing the opening strains of Praetorius’s Magnificat setting, permeates most of his music, grounded as it is in dense and sometimes dazzling counterpoint. It is the virtuosic improvising contrapuntist we hear also in the Vater unser settings, especially in the first verse, where imitation includes canon, double counterpoint at the octave, and at the twelfth. Yet such characterizations as Mattheson’s should not obscure the formidable contrapuntal skill of Scheidemann, particularly evident in Christ lag in Todesbanden and in the Præambulum in G. Nor should they cause us not to notice the expressive melodic reaches that Praetorius brings to the final two verses of Was kann uns kommen an für Not, nor the fact that even Praetorius’s counterpoint has its share of melodic charm, as the Præambulum in F aptly demonstrates.
In this program of music serious and sweet we hear a choice of stops on the organ at the Örgryte church that was designed to illuminate the distinctive personal styles of these two composers. The works of Scheidemann that appear not to have been conceived for a plenum – or “full organ” registration – are those given a slight preference for the use of combinations of the elegant flute stops, including flutes simultaneously at unison and superoctave pitch (eight-foot and two-foot pitches combined). These latter we hear in the Canzon, the final two verses of Vom Himmel hoch, and in the first half of Dic nobis Maria. By contrast, similar works by Praetorius favor combinations using reed stops, especially the solo registration using the Zincke, which is documented by Kortkamp as having been a favorite registration of Praetorius on the organ of the Petrikirche in Hamburg. The Zincke registration is heard in the third verse of Was kann uns kommen an für Not, the sixth verse of Vater unser im Himmelreich, and in the second verse of the Magnificat primi toni, although the accompanimental registrations are different in each case.
For those interested in becoming better acquainted with the particular qualities of individual stops in this remarkable organ, a twenty-minute tour of the instrument is provided, stop by stop, in the improvised examples at the end of the first CD. One hears first the principal stops, open pipes of medium scale (including façade pipes) in dialogue with each other, followed by the flutes at unison, octave, and superoctave pitches, and finally a tour of the reed stops, first individually and then combined in ensemble at the end.