German Organ Music, Vol. 2
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GERMAN ORGAN MUSIC VOLUME 2
Much of the development of early German organ music is closely related topolyphonic vocal forms, either as direct transcriptions, cantus firmus settingsof sacred and secular melodies, or preludes. These were not originally keyboardpieces despite the alterations usually involving ornamentation that werefrequently made. Not until the fifteenth century do we find a type of idiomatickeyboard music conceived without reference to pre-existent forms and in terms ofthe keyboard medium. They exist in fragmentary sources from Sagan, Breslau,Erlangen and Hamburg, predating the profusion of "method books" ofworking organists. They were all written in a system of notation calledtablature: fingering scripts utilizing numerals, alphabet letters, andcombinations of letters. These forms began to appear in Germany around 1430. Oneof these is particularly remarkable for having the earliest bar-lines, whichbecame common only in the seventeenth century. The tablature systems were usedexclusively until about 1620. Organ music flourished greatly during thefifteenth and sixteenth centuries, not only because of the sheer abundance oftablature sources that had survived but also for the superb quality of the musicitself. Tremendous strides were made in the techniques of notation andexecution. Pieces were composed in six, seven, and even ten voices, oftenemploying double pedals.
The tablature collection of hymns and songs by the blind organist andtheorist, Arnolt Schlick of Heidelberg, published at Mainz in 1512, contains thestunningly beautiful Maria zart, a devotional hymn with a soprano melodysupported with subtly embellished ornamentation. In its manner of canonic andanticipatory imitation as a preparation to the full statement of the melody, itis an important precursor of the Lutheran organ chorale.
The politico-religious instability of the Reformation may be to blame for thedecline of German keyboard music from the beginning of the sixteenth centuryuntil the published collections of Elias Nicolaus Ammerbach, organist at theThomaskirche in Leipzig. In his printed tablatures of 1571, 1575 and 1583 (theearliest in Germany), he initiated the particular form of notation whichremained dominant until the eighteenth century. (Occasionally, J. S. Bachavailed himself of its facility - in his Orgelb??chlein, for instance -for reasons of space). A lighter form of the dignified pavan, the passamezzo(literally, a step and a half) was the most popular dance of the sixteenthcentury. Ammerbach's present example employs a standard melody of Spanishprovenance.
Not unlike the first part of the previous century, the musical scene inseventeenth-century Germany presents a somewhat chaotic picture. Much of it,again, was indirectly brought on by the Reformation, but most of it was causedby the destruction and havoc of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) when French andSwedish armies ransacked the country. Needless to say, musical activity wasseverely diminished. As German manuscripts were dispersed throughout Europe, notsurprisingly, a great deal of German music found its way into Scandinavianlibraries. A most important keyboard source is the Petri Manuscript preserved inthe cathedral chapter at Visby, Sweden. Though the ascription is anonymous,there has been no doubt that the composer was Hieronymus Praetorius, a member ofa notable family of Hamburg musicians and organist at the Jacobikirche (notrelated, however, to the later Michael Praetorius, author of the famous Syntagmamusicum, whose family origins stem from Silesia). Composed around 1611, theKyrie Martyrum is a particularly compelling example of his output for organ,which, along with a considerable yield of motets and masses, earned him areputation as the foremost North German composer of the early seventeenthcentury.
The continuance of a major tradition of German organ culture in Hamburg isdirectly attributable to the influence of Jan Pieterzoon Sweelinck, the Dutchcomposer, whose pupils included Heinrich Scheidemann. Succeeding his father asorganist of the Catharinenkirche, Scheidemann presided over a magnificentinstrument of four manuals and 56 stops. He was also esteemed as an organexpert. Extending the keyboard style of Sweelinck into an idiomatic display ofthe resources of the North German organ, the current work by Scheidemannexemplifies the art of chorale improvisation.
The appearance of discernible trends in German keyboard music marks thebeginning of the seventeenth century. In addition to the traditional separationbetween sacred and secular forms there was another: Catholic or Protestant. Eachreligion had its characteristic liturgy and musical forms, although some werecommon to both, and indigenous to geographic boundaries. While the Northembraced the Protestant faith, the South remained steadfastly Catholic.
The Catholic liturgy, which had almost entirely abandoned congregationalsinging, limited organists to versets, preludes and interludes that were basedon a Gregorian cantus firmus, though some characteristic musical forms did comeinto existence through the inspiration of the new currents of national schools,particularly Italian and French types. The Italian form of the keyboard score,using the standard forms of mensural notation, made its appearance in Austriaand Bavaria where the Italian influence was strongest. Here, organists who werealso court musicians and harpsichordists, enthusiastically embraced the music ofFrescobaldi and Lully. But the organ was used mainly in connection with theMass, the Magnificat, and a few devotional hymns usually associated withVespers. These were cantus firmus compositions based on the plainsong propersand preserved, presumably, the alternatim practice of juxtaposing organ versetsagainst vocal plainchant. We also find universal forms such as the toccata usedin the Mass, since compositions intended expressly for Catholic use were notprevalent at the time. This paucity of Catholic organ music is quite surprising,given the importance of composers such as Georg Muffat, Johann GeorgAlbrechtsberger and Franz Xaver Murschhauser who were active in Catholic citiessuch as Munich and Vienna. Instead, imitative contrapuntal forms and seculargenres constitute the more impressive portion of their output for the keyboard.
Paradoxically, a significant amount of Catholic organ repertory was not writtenby Catholic composers at all but by their Protestant colleagues, since manyLutheran cathedrals still used Masses, Magnificats, and certainoffice hymns with their Latin texts. Noteworthy, are no less than ninety-fourfugues on the Magnificat by Johann Pachelbel!
By comparison, there is an extraordinary amount of music based on Lutheranchorale melodies by Protestant organist-composers. This was an outgrowth ofMartin Luther's third reform (Luther's Werke, L,368-74) which thoroughlyendorsed congregational singing. Indeed, it encouraged "sensitivity to thebeauty of artistically refined music." Luther, himself, loved thecontrapuntal compositions of Josquin, Isaac, and Senfl. He wrote a most eloquentand romantic eulogy to polyphonic art, though he abhorred the deliriouslywandering melismata in which words evaporated like incense. He wanted to restorethe intelligibility of the text.
The chorale themes form the musical basis of the Reformation liturgy,initially consisted of plainchant melodies, popular tunes, and songs of German,Italian, French, and Dutch origin. The early reformers themselves enriched theProtestant hymnal; Luther contributed over forty original, adapted, and borrowedthemes. As in Roman practice, where plainsong is proper to particular seasons