Schütz, Schein and
Scheidt were the three great Germans of the late renaissance.
Of the three it is Scheidt who is the least well known and his
music is the least performed.
I once arrived a
little late for an organ recital and an interminably long set
of variations was in progress. I whispered to the man next to
me “Is this Scheidt?” to which he responded “It most certainly
is”! Unfortunately it is that kind of puerile impression that
has often lingered long in the listener’s imagination.
Well this delightful
and superbly performed CD should dispel any rancid views you
may have about Samuel Scheidt. These pieces have given me, in
just the few weeks I have been acquainted with them, considerable
pleasure. So they should as that was exactly their purpose.
In total there were thirty-two pieces so why oh why did they
only record seventeen?. The series was eventually published
in four volumes in Hamburg. They were written for Scheidt’s
promotion to the position of court Kapellmeister to the Archbishop
of Magdeburg of Halle where Scheidt had been born. These pieces
were his calling-card in the world of bourgeois light entertainment,
music to eat by, to dance to, to court to, even to talk over.
And as if eager to ingratiate, each piece is dedicated to a
well-known member of the Halle court or to one of the Royal
The booklet, which
slips into the cardboard case of this beautifully presented
disc, has an essay by Jean-Pierre Canihac who also plays cornet.
This booklet is full of the most delicious illustrations and
much care has been lavished upon it. Photos of the performers
and the recording session appear alongside early 17th
Century portraits of sackbut players. There are also pictures
of the instruments in their various shapes and sizes including
a beautiful one of a pair of lutes which are also members of
this predominantly wind ensemble. The booklet is most delightful
both to read through and to look at.
The pieces are placed
in the order decided by the whim of the performers. This means
that we are treated to an interesting contrast of speeds, textures
and instrumental combinations. I can’t highlight each piece
but here are a few that especially struck me.
The disc opens with
an impressive and slightly sombre ‘Canzon’ with the curious
title ‘Super ‘O nachbar Roland’. This song, made popular in
Germany after 1603, came from England where it was known as
‘My Lord Willoughby’s Welcome home’ and was set by William Byrd
to name but one. The ‘Galliard Battaglia’ which ends the disc,
not surprisingly, uses percussion and is in a rather jolly triple
time. In addition it’s also quite a show-piece for the top cornet;
listen also to the guitar strumming away. The ‘Paduan’ by the
way is a Pavan and the two examples here are noble and ceremonial.
‘La Canzon Cornetto’
[tr.13] is of Italian inspiration and was dedicated to the court
cornettist Zacharias Hartel. It is for two fine players and
gives us a good idea of the brilliant standard of performers
Scheidt found at court. It was from Italy, or more especially
Venice, probably via Schütz, that such cornetto playing spread
across Europe. Scheidt does not always specify the brass, indeed
he seems to prefer the viols according to the score. The use
of continuo appears to indicate that an indoor setting for the
music was expected but there is no doubt that Cornetti and Sackbuts
work perfectly in all pieces. That said, it is interesting that
for track 3 the ‘Courant XVII’ Les Sacqueboutiers opt for the
strings to play a more significant role. This works beautifully.
The Canzonas were
at first often longish pieces in several sections; to a certain
extent that is the case here. The one subtitled super ‘Intradam
Aethiopicam’ is a happy little imitative piece and like all
of the Canzonas, is based on a popular song. In Scheidt’s case
these sections generally do not change time and tempi all that
often and tend to be more continuous. This one briefly falls
into triple time before reverting to its opening.
So, an enjoyable
disc, wonderfully played by experienced and virtuoso performers,
beautifully presented and recorded. Well worth searching out.