Johann Adam Reincken (1643—1722): Fugue in G minor
A key figure in Dutch and North German organ music, Johann Adam Reincken may have exercised considerable influence on J.S. Bach, who later arranged several of the chamber works in Reincken’s Hortus musicus for organ. Reincken’s early musical training was in his home town of Deventer, in the Netherlands, but as a teenager he studied in Hamburg with Heinrich Scheidemann, a student of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck and organist at St. Catharine Church, the post to which Reincken would succeed from 1663 and occupy until his death in 1722. Authorship of the Fugue in G minor on this recording is not known but is widely attributed to Reincken. With its highly profiled subject combining arpeggios and driving, repeated notes, alternating with episodes of highly figural sequential composition, this fugue shows how much the form had evolved since the time of Sweelinck.
Melchior Schildt (1592 or 1593—1667): Paduana Lachrymae
The son and grandson of organists in his native Hanover, Melchior Schildt moved to Amsterdam in 1609, where he studied with Sweelinck for three years. Lost for nearly three centuries, Schildt’s music was rediscovered in manuscript in 1955, and exemplifies the North German organ school of the first half of the seventeenth century that proceeded from the compositional techniques of his teacher. His Paduana Lachrymae is a set of five variations based on the first of seven pavanes in the collection Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares, for lute and consort of viols, published in 1604 by the English composer John Dowland. Schildt’s variations are filled with quasi-improvisatory scalar passagework characteristic of the lute origins of this pavane, yet take full advantage of the resources offered by the keyboard to present variations that exhibit steadily increasing contrapuntal and rhythmic complexity.
Nicolaus Bruhns (1665—1697): Preludium in E minor
Descended from a family of musicians active in Schleswig-Holstein, Nicolaus Bruhns, a student of Buxtehude, was a leading figure of the North German organ school of the later seventeenth century. A violinist and gambist in addition to being an organist, Bruhns was famous for accompanying his own elaborate violin performances while seated at the organ playing the pedals. Buxtehude recommended Bruhns for a position in Copenhagen, where Bruhns worked for a few years before becoming organist in the North Frisian town of Husum, close to the modern border of Denmark, where he remained until his early death at age 31. Bruhns’s surviving output for organ is small: four praeludia (one probably not his) and a large chorale fantasia on Nun komm der Heiden Heiland. The prelude presented here, the larger of two in E minor. Its five sharply contrasted sections masterfully display the principal compositional techniques of the organ music of its time: an opening, improvisational toccata; a fugue in the ricercare style whose slow, descending chromatic subject and pulsating, repeated-note countersubject masterfully culminate in affecting, plangent dissonance; a second, lengthy toccata of greatly varying textures; a second, lighter fugue with a gigue-like character; and a concluding toccata finishing off the work with a quick, intense climax.
Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562—1621): Variations on Mein junges Leben hat ein End
The Dutch organist, composer, and teacher Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck – the “Orpheus of Amsterdam” – occupied a towering position as progenitor of the North German organ school. Born (like Reincken) in Deventer, but resident in Amsterdam nearly his entire life, Sweelinck was organist of his city’s Oude Kerk for more than 40 years, During his lifetime his fame and influence as a composer and performer extended throughout Europe. Sweelinck left a large body of vocal, organ, and harpsichord music, notable for its virtuosity, motivic development, and contrapuntal sophistication; in the latter domain, Sweelinck is especially notable for his fugal writing, which foreshadowed the innovative and highly learned fugal compositions characteristic of the North German school in the seventeenth century and later. Sweelinck’s set of six Variations on the secular tune Mein junges Leben hat ein End display his mastery of variation techniques. (Like his student Schildt, Sweelinck also composed variations on Dowland’s Paduana Lachrymae). The work is comprised of six variations. In the first three variations the melody is presented unadorned over an increasingly lively accompaniment that includes motivic imitation and increasingly rapid keyboard figuration. The fourth and fifth variations apply figuration to the theme itself, while the accompanying parts, in contrast, start out simply but then become ever more active rhythmically and contrapuntally. The closing variation recalls the texture and mood of the opening; the contrapuntal intricacies of the accompanying parts are again contrasted with the unadorned theme as the variations come to their close.
Pablo Bruna (1611—1679): Tiento de 1º tono de mano derecha
Even though Pablo Bruna was blind (due to smallpox contracted at the age of five), he became organist and later choirmaster of the church of St. Maria in his native city of Daroca in Aragon, Spain. Bruna composed twenty tientos, works in a free, often imitative and virtuosic style comparable to the fantasia or toccatas current in other countries of seventeenth-century Europe As with the Italian appellation toccata, the Spanish tiento derives from the verb “to touch”, suggesting a sophisticated work for keyboard. Bruna’s Tiento de 1º tono de mano derecha is in three broad sections and, as the title suggests, accords a prominent role to the right hand. The first section starts in a solemn, imitative style but quickly introduces a bouncing cadential figure that is then repeated sequentially many times. A formal break announces a second section, in triple time, filled with syncopated rhythms yet retaining an essential connection to the ascending melodic figure that opened the work. A third section is joined almost seamlessly to the second, similar in tone to the imitative texture of the opening, yet increasingly dominated by elaborate figuration.
Gottfried August Homilius (1714—1785): Trio in G
Homilius was a composer of a large number of vocal and instrumental works who has enjoyed an increasing reputation as advocate of the empfindsamer Stil, especially in sacred music of the early classical period. While a law student in Leipzig in the 1730s and 1740s, Homilius, who had a much stronger interest in music, studied composition and organ with J. S. Bach. In the Trio in G one can observe, in the studied imitation, the interplay of figuration in the two manuals, the sequential writing, and the fluent support provided by the pedals, key characteristics of Bach’s trio writing; yet in the Homilius the tone is lighter, simpler, and perhaps deliberately “edifying” in the manner of this newly emerging style of the mid-eighteenth century.
John Stanley (1712—1786): Voluntary in A Minor, op. 6, no. 2
Nearly blind from the age of two, the London organist, violinist, and composer John Stanley began musical studies at seven. By eleven he was appointed organist at the Church of All Hallows, Bread Street, and at seventeen was reportedly the youngest recipient of a B. Mus. degree from Oxford. Stanley had a remarkable ability to assimilate new works, and his great versatility and skill made him a leading light in London musical life in the age of Handel and later. Stanley conducted many performances of Handel’s oratorios and was, as Handel had earlier been, a governor of the Foundling Hospital (famous for its annual charitable performances of Messiah). In 1779 he became Master of the King’s Music, a post he held until his death. The work on this recording, Stanley’s Voluntary in A minor from 1752, consists of two contrasting movements. The stately opening Andante weaves a tight web of short motives in a texture characteristic of the by-then-receding high Baroque. In contrast, the two-voice texture of the Allegro that follows is bright and cheerful despite its overall minor key, punctuated by rapid passagework and sequences along with frequent digressions into major keys. The Allegro’s clear sectional form, with its many restatements of its opening material, contrasts strongly with the through-composed structure of the Adagio.
George Frideric Handel (1685—1759): Partita in A Major, HWV 454
The Partita in A major is one of several keyboard works that Handel composed around 1705-06, likely in Hamburg. It follows the traditional plan, also employed in the sonata da camera, of allemande, courante, sarabande (here in the style of a chaconne), and gigue. The keyboard writing of this partita is completely idiomatic, with a rhythmic drive and contrapuntal disposition rooted in Handel’s renowned improvisational technique. And while Handel’s keyboard suites do not display the rigor and polish of the partitas and suites of J.S. Bach to which they inevitably are compared, they in many instances surprise the listener with sudden and quite unexpected turns in harmony and texture.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685—1750): Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, BWV 543
Bach’s “Great” Prelude and Fugue in a minor, BWV 543, is a fitting conclusion to a recording containing several compositions of the North German school. Many of the elements of the North German quasi-improvisational style are present in abundance in the prelude here: broken-chord figuration of contrapuntally conceived harmonic progressions over chromatically descending bass lines; virtuosic cadenza-like passages, and pedal tones over which the harmonic progressions build up steadily increasing tension. The fugue that follows, in contrast, displays Bach’s preeminent rigor in contrapuntal technique. There, the 6/8 meter theme reveals, in its unaccompanied statement at the outset, a multi-voice polyphonic design fully contained within itself. The theme in turn supports, and is supported by, diverse appearances of countersubjects, with numerous interspersed episodes built up from thematic material derived, to a greater or lesser extent, from the motivic elements of the theme and countersubjects. The fugue concludes with a virtuosic, cadenza-like section in which first the pedals, then the manuals are shown to great effect.