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Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck: Master of the Dutch Renaissance/Dimmock (2 CDs!)
Sweelinck - Jonathan Dimmock

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Program and Notes Reviews Organ Registrations
Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck: Master of the Dutch Renaissance
North German Baroque organ, Göteborg, Sweden
Oosthuizen, The Netherlands
Hattem, The Netherlands
Jonathan Dimmock, organist
Known as the “Orpheus of Amsterdam,” Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck was the greatest single influence on the succeeding generation of north European organists and composers, including H. Scheidemann, J. Praetorius II, M. Schildt, and both Samuel and Gottfried Scheidt. Jonathan Dimmock brings these influential works to life on three landmark mean-tone organs in Holland and Sweden.

"This two-disc set is devoted primarily to music of Sweelinck, but also contains works of Heinrich Scheidemann, William Byrd, and an anonymous composer of works found in the Susanne van Soldt Notebook of 1599. Jonathan’s performances are exemplary, combining scholarly performance practice and solid technique with vital aural communication.

The program mixes sacred and secular works. The choice between harpsichord and organ for Sweelinck’s folksong variations was quite flexible at this period, and Jonathan makes a convincing case for the possibility—not the necessity—of playing works like Onder een linde groen and Mein junges Leben hat ein End’ on a brightly-voiced organ. The three Fantasias included here do profit from the sustained pipe sound, as do the two Psalm settings. ...The chorale variations, as with those Pachelbel, may have been conceived for home devotional use, hence for harpsichord or spinet, but their charm is evident in these organ performances. We may think of dance pieces as harpsichord or clavichord works, but the three anonymous selections here represent some of what Sweelinck may well have included in his civic concerts, which is where organ music (banned in Dutch Calvinist worship) was widely heard. And they do dance along on the vibrant one-manual organ of the Andreaskerk in Hattem, the Netherlands."
—The Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians

Program Notes
Disc One:


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


Mein junges Leben hat ein End’—Sweelinck

Fantasia Chromatica—Sweelinck

Galliarda ex D—Scheidemann

The Woods so Wilde—William Byrd (1535/1543?–1623)

From the Susanne van Soldt Notebook (1599)—


La reprysse

Almande Brun Smeedelyn

Reprynse Brun Smeedelyn

Pavane Prymera


Disc Two:

All works by Sweelinck:
Erbarme dich mein, o Herre Gott

Ballo del granduca

Psalm 36: Des boosdoenders wille seer quaet

Pavana Lachrimae

Echo Fantasia

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.

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