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Thomas BALTZAR (c.1630-1663)
Complete works for unaccompanied violin

Prelude in G major [3:53]
Allemande and Variation in G minor [3:26]
Courante in G minor [1:55]
Sarabande in G minor [1:53]
Prelude in C minor [1:51]
Allemande in C minor [3:54]
Allemande in B-flat major [2:00]
Sarabande in B-flat major [2:52]
Allemande in C major [2:15]
Sarabande in C major [1:38]
Prelude in G major (2) [2:21]
John JENKINS (1592-1678) / Thomas BALTZAR (c.1630-1663)
Allemande in B minor (by Jenkins, with Variation by Baltzar) [2:46]
Thomas BALTZAR (c.1630-1663)
A Set of Tunings (scordatura):
I. Allemande in A major [0:53]
II. Allemande in A major (2) [1:08]
III. Courante in A major [0:47]
IV. Sarabande in A major [0:24]
Patrick Wood (violin)
rec. September 2006, Princeton, New Jersey.
MSR CLASSICS MS1224 [33:56]

 

Experience Classicsonline


Thomas Baltzar was one of the many expatriate musicians in seventeenth-century London, a figure of considerable importance in English musical life for a period in the middle years of the century, either side of the Restoration. Born in Lübeck in 1630 or 1631 into a well-established family of musicians, by 1653 Baltzar was working at the court of that extraordinary monarch Queen Christina of Sweden. It’s worth noting in passing that Veronica Buckley’s marvellous Christina, Queen of Sweden, 2004, provides a fascinating account of her life and of the environment in which Baltzar must have worked. Christina abdicated in 1654 and by March of 1656 Baltzar was working in London. Given his background, some referred him as ‘The Swede’ and others as ‘The Lübecker’, where they didn’t use his actual name. Under whatever name, he dazzled most of his London hearers. John Evelyn, diarist, connoisseur – and much else – left an account of hearing him soon after his arrival in London. The diary entry is dated March 4th 1656, and deserves quotation in full (I have modernised slightly):

“This night I was invited by Mr. Rog. L’Estrange to hear the incomparable Lubicer [Lübecker] on the Violin, his variety upon a few notes [& plain ground] with that wonderful  dexterity, as was admirable, & though a very young man, yet so perfect & skilful as there was nothing so cross and perplext, which being by our Artists brought to him, which he did not at first sight, with ravishing sweetness, & improvements, play off, to the astonishment of our best Masters: In Sum, he plaid on that single Instrument a full Consort, so as the rest, flung down their Instruments, as acknowledging a victory. As to my own particular, I stand to this hour amazed that God should give so great a perfection to so young a person. There were at that time as excellent in that profession as any were thought in Europe: Paul Wheeler, Mr. Mell and others, ’til this prodigie appeared & then they vanished, nor can I any longer question, the effects we read of in Davids harp, to charm malign spirits, & what is said of some particular notes produced in the Passions of Alexander & that King of Denmark.”.

Others wrote with equal enthusiasm of his playing and he became an established figure on the musical landscape of his newly adopted country. We know that he played in the production (in 1658 or 1659) of Sir William Davenant’s The Siege of Rhodes; that around the same time he made a considerable impact when he played at some of the musical evenings in Oxford organised by William Ellis, formerly organist of St. John’s College. There he seems to have outclassed the available competition – including the English violinist Davis Mell. Anthony Wood recorded his “astonishment” at hearing Baltzar play in Oxford; John Wilson, Professor of Music in Oxford is said to have knelt – in jest - to study Baltzar’s feet to see whether or not he was man or devil, “because he acted beyond the parts of man”.

Certainly Baltzar’s surviving compositions for solo violin – all gathered here – suggest a player well able to move around the instrument with considerable ease and rapidity. More strikingly they illustrate what Evelyn surely meant when he wrote that Baltzar “plaid on that single Instrument a full Consort”. Here is music which creates the effect of several voices, of polyphonic writing for the solo instrument. We are used to that, of course, in the music of Bach, handled with a sophistication and beauty way beyond Baltzar; baroque specialists are familiar with something similar in the work of earlier figures such as Walther and Biber. But Baltzar’s music predates any of these, and must have created a real sensation when first heard by English listeners; no wonder that, as Evelyn puts it “the rest, flung down their Instruments, as acknowledging a victory”. His use of scordatura, to be heard in the four brief pieces which close the CD, is amongst the earliest instances known beyond Italy and must have been equally startling to his English hearers.

The compositions of a practising violinist famed as a virtuoso quite often come as something of a disappointment. And, to tell the truth, the works gathered here might not excite away from their biographical and historical contexts. No doubt much that was most exciting in Baltzar’s playing was improvised. Patrick Wood plays with precision and appropriate gravity, elucidating the polyphonic textures of Baltzar’s music with admirable clarity and he benefits from a good recorded sound. His performances have an air of conviction and certainty that put the case for Baltzar very effectively. The resulting CD is rather short in playing time, but it would, I think, have been unfortunate to fill it up merely for the sake of extending that playing time. Baltzar’s surviving works for solo violin deserve to be in the spotlight without having to share it. All with an interest in the history of the violin repertoire, or in the ‘English’ music of the seventeenth century should hear this CD.

After the restoration of Charles II in 1660, Baltzar was given appointments first in the King’s Musick and then in the elite group of the King’s Private Musick (at a handsome salary of £110 per year). He died in July 1663, his death (according to Anthony Wood) being brought on by his “drinking more than ordinary”.

Glyn Pursglove


 


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