RECORDED AT THE REFORMED CHURCH OF OOSTHUIZEN, THE NETHERLANDS:
Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr—Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621)
Paduana Lachrymae—Heinrich Scheidemann (nach J. Dowland) (1595-1663)
Onder een linde groen—Sweelinck
Fantasia (Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la)—Sweelinck
RECORDED AT ANDREASKERK, HATTEM, THE NETHERLANDS:
Mein junges Leben hat ein End’—Sweelinck
Galliarda ex D—Scheidemann
The Woods so Wilde—William Byrd (1535/1543?–1623)
From the Susanne van Soldt Notebook (1599)—anon.
Almande Brun Smeedelyn
Reprynse Brun Smeedelyn
TOTAL TIME: 60:05
RECORDED IN THE ÖRGRYTE NYA KYRKA, GÖTEBORG, SWEDEN:
All works by Sweelinck:
Erbarme dich mein, o Herre Gott
Ballo del granduca
Psalm 36: Des boosdoenders wille seer quaet
Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr
Psalm 23: Mijn Godt voedt mij als mijn Herder ghepresen
Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gemein
Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562–1621) was, without doubt, the greatest keyboard player of his day, the first known organ recitalist, the most famous and ingenious improviser of his lifetime, the greatest single influence on the succeeding generation of northern European composers and performers, and one of the earliest musical entrepreneurs. In an era when organs were banned from worship services in Calvinist Holland, Sweelinck became an employee of the state instead of the church, playing daily organ concerts (lunch time) at the magnificent organ in the Oude Kerk for the workers in the area. These concerts would have been entirely improvised, probably featuring sets of variations on popular secular melodies and religious melodies (Dutch Psalter tunes). It was this music that he would write out later and turn into the printed compositions that we have today.
Sweelinck spent his entire life in Amsterdam, becoming organist at the Oude Kerk at age 15, and holding the post until his death 44 years later. Among his many students are all the leaders of the early Baroque in northern Germany, including Scheidemann (also on this recording), J. Praetorius, Schildt, Siefert, and Scheidt. Sweelinck’s music can be characterized by two words: stasis and kinesis. Long stretches of slow-moving notes, always gravitating towards a central tonality, start many of his keyboard works. Often during these opening sections, only brief spurts of technical prowess provide a foreshadowing of physical demands that the player will encounter a few pages further in. Time and again, the listener will note a sense of calm and ease at the beginning of a piece, only to find the work concluding with a lengthy display of brilliance, fast scales, thick texture, and what we might describe today as an exhibition of pyrotechnics.
When played on a mean-tone organ this music has a freshness and clarity that the world would not hear again until the writing of young Mozart. The nature of mean-tone temperament means that certain chords have an agreeable sweetness to their sounds, others a disagreeable character. Sweelinck uses this “sweet and sour” tonality to great advantage. This should be very evident on this recording. All organs, and probably all harpsichords, were tuned in mean-tone temperament during Sweelinck’s day. The modern Western ear, accustomed to equal temperament tuning, once thought that unequal temperaments sounded out of tune. But with the advent of globalization, and the ability to hear music of different cultures and exotic instruments, our ears are now more accepting of different tuning systems.
Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr is a set of four variations on the “Gloria” of the German Lutheran mass.
Many composers chose English Renaissance composer John Dowland’s remarkable tune, Paduana Lachrymae, to create a set of variations. This set is most likely written by Heinrich Scheidemann (1595-1663), Sweelinck’s pupil.
The variations on Onder een linde groen (also known by its German title, “Unter der Linden grüne”) are most likely based on an English tune “All in a garden green.”
Fantasia (Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la) is a free-composed fantasia based on the first six notes of the major scale.
Mein junges Leben hat ein End’ is Sweelinck’s most popular set of variations, performed as often by harpsichordists as organists. This popular tune in Sweelinck’s day was about the end of one’s youth. Each of Sweelinck’s six variations lends a different character to the tune, yet all with a slight sense of melancholy and nostalgia. It would seem that the fond remembrance of, and longing for, one’s youth is not an invention of our modern world!
Fantasia Chromatica exercises the richness of mean-tone tuning with its changing character, modulating from major to minor and back to major.
Because his music lends itself so beautifully to the organ in Oosthuizen (and to mean-tone temperament), I decided to include Scheidemann’s Galliarda ex D and Variation with the Sweelinck music. Upon first listening, it is clear that this is dance music, quite possibly intended for performance by an organ or harpsichord in a royal court. Although not as metrically complex as what William Byrd was doing at the same time across the English Channel, this music nonetheless has an undeniable exuberance.
The Woods so Wilde, by William Byrd (1535/1543?–1623), is taken from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book and uses a very simple tune for its basis, which is then followed by 13 variations. Byrd was a contemporary of Sweelinck, and, like Sweelinck’s, Byrd’s keyboard music is best heard on mean-tone instruments.
Three works from the Susanne van Soldt manuscript of 1599 complete the first disc and are contemporary.
Erbarme dich mein, o Herre Gott is a set of six variations on the tune that was used for singing Psalm 51. This is a penitential psalm that is plea for God’s mercy. The first variation is in two parts, the second in three parts, the third in four parts. When the psalm tune is “hidden” in the interior parts (tenor or bass), I have elected to play it on the pedals.
Ballo del granduca is a dance tune, far lighter in character than the psalm that precedes it. I’ve elected to use registration that could have been heard in a royal court ballroom, to emphasize the playful nature of the music.
The tune Des boosdoenders wille seer quaet for Psalm 36 is, by far, the longest chosen for this recording. Although consisting of only three variations, it is longer than nine minutes. This beautiful tune was shortened and used in England and America as Psalm 113 (now called Old 113th in many hymnals).
A “Pavane of tears,” Pavana Lachrimae is Sweelinck’s beautiful rendition of the popular tune by John Dowland. For this piece, I alternate between four different soft sounds of the Örgryte organ, each on a different keyboard.
Today we take it for granted that nearly all organs have two or more manuals (keyboards), but such was not always the case. Rare was the village organ with more than one keyboard and a few pedal notes that could be “pulled down” from the manual (as opposed to independent stops). The major cities, especially Amsterdam where Sweelinck spent his life, would have had organs with more than one manual, however. To show off what these instruments could do, Sweelinck wrote numerous “echo” fantasias. The Echo Fantasia recorded here demonstrates the clear delight that the composer (and original performer) must have had in showing the capability of his instrument.
Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr also uses a familiar German Lutheran chorale for its theme. This recording contains the first three of the four published variations. The fourth is considered spurious.
This setting of Psalm 23 has only recently been discovered (early twenty-first century) and certainly seems to convey many of Sweelinck’s techniques. I question whether the second and third variations are authentic, and have therefore only recorded the first variation with its somber sweetness.
Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gemein is a straight-forward and delightful setting of the German Christmas chorale.