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Anthoni van Noordt (c1619-1675)
Complete Organ Music
Manual Tomadin (organ)
rec. 2020, Jacobikirche, Lbeck, Germany

Anthoni van Noordt was a member of a musical dynasty, albeit of much more modesty than the large dynasties of the Bach's or the Couperin's. As far as we know only three members of this family left any music, and just one of them has become more or less well-known. However, the output of Anthoni van Noordt comprises exclusively one collection of keyboard music, including ten arrangements of Psalms and six fantasias. As the former are based on melodies of the Genevan Psalter, they are not often played outside those countries, where these melodies are known, especially the Netherlands, where the Van Noordt's lived and worked.

The first-known musical member of the family is Sybrandus, who was organist and schoolteacher in Schagen in the north of the Province Holland. He moved to Amsterdam in 1630, where he worked again as a schoolteacher. In 1642 he was appointed carillonneur at one of the towers. Jacob was his eldest son, who was first organist in Arnhem and returned to Amsterdam in 1637 to take the position of organist at the Nieuwezijdskapel. In 1652 he succeeded Dirk Janszoon Sweelink, son of Jan Pieterszoon, as organist of the Oude Kerk. In the Nieuwezijdskapel he was succeeded by his younger brother Anthoni, who in 1664 was given the same post at the Nieuwe Kerk. When Jacob died, his position at the Oude Kerk was taken by his son Sybrandt.

Anthoni van Noordt's arrangements of Psalms from the Huguenot Psalter were not intended to be used during worship. For most of the 17th century the congregation in the Reformed Churches sang without any accompaniment. As a result the quality of singing was abominable, as the poet and playwright Constantijn Huygens eloquently expressed. Gradually the ecclesiastical authorities allowed the use of the organ during Sunday services. However, in Amsterdam this happened only after Van Noordt's death. As an organist he was not in the service of the church, but of the city council. It was part of his duties to play the organ during weekdays, especially on market days. Like Sweelinck he certainly improvised on Psalm melodies, which had also a pedagogical function: this way the listeners became acquainted with the melodies of the Psalter. When Van Noordt published his Tabulatuur-boeck, he dedicated it to the town's magistrates.

The Psalm variations and fantasias are notated in a tablature of a special kind, known as Anglo-Dutch notation, and comparable with the tablature used for a six-choir lute: the notes to be played by the hands are distributed over two six-line staves; with two exceptions the pedal notes are printed under the lower staff in German organ tablature. Van Noordt selected ten Psalms, which he seems to have ordered according to a specific plan. The book opens with Psalm 15: "Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?" The last Psalm is 24, whose verses 3 and 4 say: "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? and who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath cleane hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lift up his soule unto vanitie, nor sworne deceitfully." In this recording the original order has been neglected.

Psalm 15 is the shortest, and comprises just one verse. The others consist of several verses, from three (for instance Psalm 2) to eight (Psalm 119). The number of voices varies from two to four. Every variation is based on a cantus firmus, which is either in the soprano or the bass; only in four verses the melody is in the tenor. It is probably not too far-fetched to see here the pedagogical aspect of these works: the melody is most easily recognizable if it is in either the upper or the lowest part. There is no indication that there is a specific connection between a variation and a particular stanza of a Psalm.

The Tabulatuur-boeck also includes six fantasias, and their inclusion in this collection of organ works explains why they are mostly played at the organ. That is certainly legitimate. Remember that Van Noordt played mainly on weekdays, and he may have played such works, alongside his Psalm arrangements. However, domestic music making was very popular in the Netherlands. It is documented that Sweelinck often improvised variations on popular tunes in the homes of the upper class, and performed his polyphonic Psalm settings (on French texts) with skilled amateur singers among these social circles. From that perspective a performance on the harpsichord would be an interesting alternative. Single fantasias are performed that way in anthologies, and Gerard de Wit played all of them on the harpsichord in a production of the complete works of the Van Noordt family (Dutch Baroque Records, 2017).

Manuel Tomadin is a specialist in early music and has made quite a number of recordings, mostly on Brilliant Classics. He always opts for interesting instruments which suit the music. That is the case here as well. The organ in St Jacob's in Lbeck has its origin in the 15th century, and was later enlarged by Friedrich Stellwagen in 1636/37. The pitch is known as Chorton (about a whole tone higher than today's standard pitch) and the temperament is 'Werckmeister I'. One could argue that a meantone temperament would be more appropriate. However, it does not compromise the results of these performances, which are of the highest order. Tomadin is organist of the Lutheran Church or Triest. This undoubtedly indicates that he has a good sense of what is needed to do justice to pieces based on chorales. The melody is here always clearly recognizable. I am quite happy with the way he uses the stops of the organ. There is just one exception: in the opening variations of Sweelinck's Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott, the cantus firmus is so dominant that the counterpoint is not clearly audible.

It was a nice idea to open with Sweelinck, who undoubtedly strongly influenced Van Noordt, and to close with Heinrich Scheidemann, one of Sweelinck's pupils who worked in the same tradition as his lesser-known Dutch contemporary.

This set of discs is a nice tribute to a composer whose music is not that well-known outside the Netherlands as it should be. Tomadin's performances are pretty much ideal, with the help of a magnificent instrument.

Johan van Veen

CD 1
Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621)
Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott (SwWV 303)
Anthoni van Noordt
Psalm 116
Fantasia No. 2 4 in D minor
Psalm 6
Psalm 22
Fantasia No. 3 4 in E minor
Psalm 138
Fantasia No. 4 4 in E minor
Psalm 24

CD 2
Psalm 6
Fantasia No. 5 4 in C
Psalm 15
Fantasia No. 6 4 in G
Psalm 7
Psalm 119
Fantasia No. 1 4 in D minor
Psalm 50
Heinrich Scheidemann (c1595-1663)
Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott (WV 87)

Published: November 25, 2022

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