SCHENCK: Nymphs of the Rhine, Vol. 2 (Les Voix Humaines/ Rejean Poirier) (Naxos: 8.554415)
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Johannes Schenck(1660-after 1712)
Le Nymphe di Rheno,Op. 8, Vol. 2
Details of the life of Johannes Schenck are relatively sparse and thesubject of varied speculation. He was born in Amsterdam, where he was baptizedon 3rd June 1660 into the Reformed Church. Nothing is known of his teachers,but he established himself as a distinguished virtuoso on the viola da gamba.
In this he followed the tradition established by performers from England suchas Daniel Norcombe, who was earlier employed at the court of Archduke Albert inBrussels. Henry Butler, musician and viol teacher to Philip IV of Spain, andWilliam Young, who served at the court of Archduke Carl Ferdinand in Innsbruck.
An undated engraving in Amsterdam by Peter Schenck, once thought to have been ayounger brother of the composer but apparently unrelated, shows the formallydressed and bewigged virtuoso standing to play, with his six-string bass violresting on a footstool, in the performance style of the time. As a composer hiswork represents an early synthesis of French, German and Italian styles.
It would seem that Schenck spent the earlier pan of his career inAmsterdam, where his compositions included music for a Dutch Singspiel,Bacchus Ceres en Venus, from which songs were published in 1687, as well asworks for his own instrument. Enjoying a wide reputation as a performer, inabout 1696 he moved to D??sseldorf to the court of the Elector Palatine JohannWilhelm, known as Jan Wellem, who ruled there from 1679 until his death in1716, establishing a court that aimed to rival the artistic magnificence ofVersailles. Here Schenck served with a group of musicians drawn from variouscountries. The court opera, which had been seen in Amsterdam, flourished with,among other operas, Kapellmeister Sebastiano Moratelli's Il fabbro pittore, basedon the life of the Netherlands painter Quentin Matsys, which had been staged inthe Elector's an gallery in 1695. His successor Johann von Wilderer's Lamonarchia stabilita was mounted with singular splendour for the visit toD??sseldorf of Carlos III of Spain in 1703. It was to the Elector that Corellidedicated his Concerti grossi and from D??sseldorf that Handel, whovisited the court in 1710 and 1711, was able to recruit the famous castratoBaldassari. Other musicians of distinction connected with the D??sseldorf courtincluded briefly the great lutenist Sylvius Weiss, together with his father andbrother, while, in 1715, the violinist-composer Veracini performed there.
Schenck is presumed to have continued in the service of the Electoruntil the latter's death in 1716. Thereafter the electoral court moved toMannheim, followed by a number of the D??sseldorf musicians, who formed thenucleus of a musical establishment that was to win its own unchallengedreputation, as the century went on.
Doubts as to the date of Schenck's death, presumably in D??sseldorf, comefrom the lack of any mention of his death in Protestant church records in thecity. From this it has been supposed that he may well have become a Catholic, followingthe religion of his employer, and there are no Catholic records for theprobable period of his death. He is mentioned in a document by the courtcabinet secretary Rapparini in 1709, but by 1717 his name had disappeared fromthe list of court opera musicians then compiled. As Karl Heinz Pauls points outin his edition of the present work (Das Erbe deutscher Musik, Band 44, 1956),and in his article in Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, theprincipal source of the information here included, no reference to Schenck hasyet been found in the deaths recorded in parish and cemetery records inAmsterdam, in the absence of any general register until 1750.
Le Nymphe di Rheno per due Viole da Gamba sole, Opus 8, ('The Nymphsof the Rhine for two solo violas da gamba') was published in Amsterdam withoutdate but may be presumed to have been written between 1697, the date ofpublication of Schenck's Zangswyse uitbreiding over't Hooglied van Salomon,Opus 5, and 1706, before which his work for solo viola da gamba, L'Echo duDanube, Opus 9, had appeared. His Opus 8 is a set of twelve sonatasor suites for two violas da gamba. The general title, although Italian,suggests French style and the sonatas include works in sonata da camera (chambersonata) dance suite style and some that follow rather the pattern of the sonatada chiesa (church sonata).
Sonata No. 7 in B minor is in a modified version of church style, opening witha slow movement in which the instruments at first enter in imitation one of theother. This is followed by a fugal Allegro. The following Adagio conaffetto is an aria for the first viola da gamba, while the succeeding Allegropromises a contrapuntal texture and the sonata ends unconventionally withan Aria amoroso.
The opening Adagio of Sonata No. 8 in C minor has arapider section containing an interchange of rhythmic figures and a finalpassage of triplets, before a solemn triple meter conclusion. This is followedby a series of dance movements, an Allemanda and Corrente, dulyfollowed by a slow Sarabanda, and a Giga in which the instrumentsenter in imitation. All does not end here, since a Rondeau follows, witha clear-cut Gavotta and a final Menuet.
The shorter Sonata No9 in E minor starts with an Adagio, leadingto an Aria, marked Allegro Here and in the following Tempo diSarabanda there are elements of contrapuntal imitation. The Giga thatfollows does not end the sonata, which has two further movements, a Bourree oftransparent texture and a final Menuet.
There are elements of the dance suite also in Sonata No. 10 in G major,with an opening Adagio that finds a place for some chordal writing,as do the following Allemanda and Corrente. The Sarabanda exploresthe wide range of the viol and its contrasting registers and this is followedby a Giga, with dotted rhythms, a Gavotta and a final Menuet.
Sonata No. 11 in G major opens with an Allegro in which melodic interestcentres on the first instrument, while the following Allegro, with itsdotted rhythmic figuration, shares thematic material between the two. Aseven-bar Adagio then leads to a Ciacona (Chaconne), the oldBaroque variation form. The ground on which it is based is heard first from thesecond viol, before passing to the first, to continue through 36 variations.
Le Nymphe di Rheno ends with Sonata No. 12 in D minor. There is ashort Allegro opening passage in which the two viols play largely inthirds before the interruption of a five-bar Adagio, after which thereis the briefest section of Allegro before a final Adagio, now inquadruple meter. The second movement is a lively Aria in dotted rhythmand the metre of a gigue. There follows a Corrente, again marked bydotted rhythms, and a concluding fugal Allegro leading to a Presto largelybased on descending and ascending scale patterns.