Johann Jacob Froberger is one of the most popular composers among harpsichordists. His oeuvre is of a consistently high quality, and historically speaking he is a key figure in the development of keyboard music in the baroque era.
Froberger was born in 1616 in Stuttgart and received his first music lessons from his father, Basilius, who was a tenor in the ducal chapel and later became Kapellmeister
in 1621. One of the features of Froberger's keyboard music is the incorporation of the different styles of his time in his oeuvre. From an early age he became acquainted with the influences from various national styles, since musicians from Italy, France and England worked in the court chapel alongside Germans. Froberger's father seems to have had a personal preference for Italian music. That could well explain why his son moved to Vienna in order to seek employment in the imperial chapel which was dominated by Italian musicians. In 1637 he worked a short while as organist and then was granted leave to go to Rome to study with Girolamo Frescobaldi. He stayed there for three years, and this had a lasting influence on his own style of composing.
He returned to Vienna in 1641, where he acted as organist and chamber musician. In 1645 he went to Rome again, where he studied with the theorist Athanasius Kircher; Frescobaldi had died two years earlier. In 1649 he returned and remained in Vienna until 1657; he ended his service shortly after the death of his employer, Ferdinand III. In his honour he composed a Lamentation
. During his time in office he made several journeys as a performer, and visited Dresden, Paris and London. In Dresden he met Matthias Weckmann, with whom he became close friends. Through his contacts with the Dutch poet, playwright and diplomat Constantijn Huygens - who was also a great music-lover - he had already come into contact with French music, by the likes of Chambonnières and the Gaultiers, a harpsichordist and dynasty of lutenists respectively. In Paris he met Louis Couperin which was another important event in music history. It was through Froberger that Couperin became acquainted with the music of Frescobaldi. The prélude non mesurée
for which Louis Couperin has become famous was inspired by the improvisatory-style toccatas by the Roman master. In his turn Froberger took up several elements of the French style. Among them are the tombeaus
; one of the most famous of them is the Tombeau sur la mort de monsieur Blancheroche
which opens this disc. The latter was a lutenist whom Froberger had befriended while in Paris. He died in 1652 after falling down the stairs. This is vividly illustrated with a fast descending scale at the end of the piece. This piece is an example of Froberger expressing his personal feelings in his music as he did some years later in his laments on the death of Ferdinand III (1657) and his son Ferdinand IV (1654).
In his music Froberger blends elements of the German, Italian and French styles. In particular the toccatas show Frescobaldi's influence, and that should also affect the performance. He used to begin the toccatas in a slow tempo which was then followed by a fast section only to slow down again towards the end. It is here that we meet the stylus phantasticus
which was to have such a strong influence on European - and in particular German - music. The contrasts in Alina Rotaru's performance of the toccatas are quite strong, making them dramatic and compelling. It wasn't only music for instrumental ensemble or vocal music that was theatrical in character; that goes for keyboard repertoire as well. In Froberger's oeuvre we also find some pieces which are written in the stile antico
, dominated by counterpoint. Among them are the ricercari and the capriccios. One example is included in the present programme, the Ricercar VII
. Such pieces are often played at the organ, but Ms Rotaru shows that they come off equally well at the harpsichord.
The largest part of the programme comprises suites which connect Froberger's oeuvre to the French style. This is referred to as the style luthé
, the French style of composing for the lute - featuring measured arpeggios - which was adapted to the harpsichord. In the first autographs Froberger didn't organise the various dances into suites. Later he usually grouped allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue together. Interestingly he mostly put the gigue in second place, following the allemande. This seems to have been his personal preference, according to his friend Matthias Weckmann. With his suites Froberger was one of the pioneers of this form in Germany. The four dances have contrasting tempi which Ms Rotaru puts across convincingly. In the fast dances she usually takes a quite swift tempo.
These performances are generally characterised by fully exploration of the many contrasts in character and tempo in Froberger's oeuvre, either between different pieces or within compositions. Ms Rotaru opts for a quite theatrical style, as she immediately demonstrates in the opening Tombeau
: Blancheroche's falling down the stairs is depicted graphically, and even if you know the piece it comes as a surprise. She uses a beautiful historical instrument, built by Johannes Ruckers the Younger. It is dated 1632 and 1745, the latter being the year a reconstruction (ravalement
) was performed.
I have greatly enjoyed this disc. It has to be ranked among the best recordings of Froberger's music.
Johan van Veen