Johann Pachelbel played an important role in the history of keyboard
music in Germany in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. As
teacher of Johann Sebastian Bach's eldest brother Johann Christoph
he substantially contributed to the development of the younger
Bach as a composer of keyboard music. His chorale arrangements
and partitas are regularly played by organists, but we still
await a good complete recording of his keyboard music. The 'Vol.
1' aspect this disc raised my hopes that it would happen at last.
But alas, it is only the first of two discs which intend to offer
a portrait of Pachelbel as a keyboard composer. Having said that
this presents a good overview of the various genres of Pachelbel’s
keyboard music. The pieces also reveal some patterns in Pachelbel's
style of composing.
Pachelbel was born and died in Nuremberg in Bavaria. At the age
of 16 he entered the university of Altdorf, but was forced to
leave it within a year as his father couldn't afford to support
him. Because of his exceptional academic qualifications he was
accepted as a scholarship student at the Gymnasium Poeticum in
Regensburg. Here he also studied music under Kaspar Prentz, a
protégé of Johann Caspar Kerll. Pachelbel was clearly
influenced by Kerll, and through him by the Italian style. He
worked for some time as deputy organist of the St Stephansdom
in Vienna. After this he went to Eisenach and then to Erfurt
to act as organist. Between 1690 and 1695 he worked in the same
capacity in Stuttgart and Gotha. In 1695 he was invited to become
organist of St Sebaldus in Nuremberg, an offer he gladly accepted.
It is a token of his high reputation that no examination took
place nor were the organists of other churches in Nuremberg invited
to apply for the position. Also the fact that he had many pupils
attests to his importance as organist and composer of organ music.
It was in Nuremberg that Pachelbel also composed many vocal works
which are hardly known today.
The chorale-based compositions are the direct result of his activities
as organist in various churches. Franz Raml plays five chorale
arrangements which differ from each other, for instance in the
way the cantus firmus
is treated. This can be at various
pitches, from soprano to bass, and can be either ornamented or
unornamented. The two arrangements of 'Nun lob mein Seel' den
Herren' show how one and the same chorale can be treated differently.
In the highly expressive 'O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig' Pachelbel
uses a technique he applied pretty often: the so-called Vorimitation
imitation'). This means that a part of the cantus firmus
in this case a line from the chorale - is anticipated by an imitative
section based on material from that part. The chorale partita
'Alle Menschen müssen sterben' contains a chromatic variation,
a phenomenon which appears in many of his partitas.
Pachelbel seems to have had a special interest in the variation.
Not only did he compose eight partitas on chorales, but also
six arias with variations which were published under the title
'Hexachordum Apollinis', three arias and one arietta as well
as three chaconnes. Two of the latter are performed here, very
different in character and played on organ and harpsichord respectively.
Here and in all other works for manuals without pedal there is
no certainty for which instrument they were written. Franz Raml
has decided on basis of his own assessment of the character of
the various pieces which instrument serves them best. The exception
is the Suite in e minor which obviously is written for the harpsichord.
It has the common four movements: allemande, courante, sarabande
and gigue. The addition of a double
to the sarabande reveals
the influence of the French style.
The Toccatas which open this disc are written for manuals and
pedal and therefore intended for the organ. The two Toccatas
in C are, together with the Fugue in the same key, performed
as a unity, in the style of a North-German toccata. This may
seem a little strange considering that Pachelbel has mainly worked
in Central and Southern Germany. But he was certainly acquainted
with the North-German organ school: Buxtehude was one of the
dedicatees of his 'Hexachordum Apollinis'. From this angle the
decision to play these three pieces this way is defensible, even
though the Fugue is somewhat out of step with the Toccatas in
that it is written for manuals only. Fortunately the producer
has allocated each of these three pieces its own track, giving
the listener the opportunity to play them independently if he
Next follows the Toccata in F to which Franz Raml has given the
nickname 'Pastorale' because of its character. In the track-list
I have left it out in order not to confuse the reader in case
he wants to search for this piece in Pachelbel's work-list or
for other recordings of the same work. The Fantasia in c minor
is another piece for manuals without pedal. It centres around
a lively dotted figure.
Raml delivers a very good and convincing interpretation of these
works. He has taken some liberties - which he accounts for in
the programme notes - which are partly due to the obscurities
in the manuscripts none of which are in Pachelbel's own handwriting.
For his recording he has been in close contact with Michael Belotti
who is editing Pachelbel's keyboard music. For the organ works
Raml has chosen the Silbermann organ of 1714 in the Petrikirche
in Freiberg. This is a very beautiful organ the colourful disposition
of which is well suited to Pachelbel's chorale-based works. The
temperament is Neidhardt 2, which dates from 1732. I wonder whether
a meantone temperament wouldn’t have been more suitable
for Pachelbel's music. It would have made the wry dissonances
in, for instance, 'Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund' even more incisive.
In general the character of the various chorales is done justice
to, though. I assume Franz Raml knows the texts of the chorales,
even though, in his programme notes, he refers to 'Warum betrübst
du dich, mein Herz' with a partly wrong text ('meine Seele' instead
of 'mein Herz').
The harpsichord pieces fare equally well. Here Raml plays an
instrument built by Bernhard von Tucher after an original harpsichord
by Giovanni Battista Giusti. The Fantasia in E flat is considered
a 'notated improvisation', and that is how Raml plays it. He
manages to create a considerable amount of tension here.
In short, this is a very fine disc which it is hoped will be
followed by an equally fine second volume. We must still hope
that one day some keyboard player will record Pachelbel's keyboard
music complete. He certainly deserves it.
Johan van Veen