My precious manuscript - Fantastic
sonatas from England to Germany
see end of review for track listing
La Sainte Folie Fantastique (Jerôme Van Waerbeke (violin), Lucile
Boulanger (viola da gamba), Thomas Dunford (archlute), Arnaud De Pasquale
rec. 24 - 27 September 2012, Saint-Pardoux, Pindray, France. DDD
ALPHA 191 [67:01]
The title of this disc refers to a manuscript which is precious indeed.
It is known as MS mus D2 and is preserved in the library of Durham
Cathedral, in the north-east of England. It has an interesting history
which sheds light on musical connections across Europe in the 17th century.
Its first owner was Frederic William Steffkins, the eldest son of Dietrich
Steffkins - also known as Stoeffken - who was a celebrated viola da gamba
player from Germany. He settled in 1628 in England where he entered the
service of the royal family. Shortly before the Civil War he returned
to the Continent where he played in several cities, such as The Hague
and Hamburg. He returned to England after the Restoration and remained
here until his death.
The second owner was Sir John St Barbe, who - as so many aristocrats of
his time - was an avid player of the viola da gamba. He was a student
of Christopher Simpson, one of England's greatest gamba virtuosos.
The third owner was Philip Falle, prebendary of Durham Cathedral, who
in 1722 left it to the cathedral library.
The fact that the first owner was a son of a German viol player explains
that the collection includes music by German composers. Whether it was
put together in its present form right from the start is hard to say.
There are strong indications that the partbooks were copied between 1675
and 1680. The collection also includes music by English composers. John
Jenkins is especially well represented, which can be explained from the
personal friendship between Steffkins and Jenkins.
There are three partbooks, each with pieces in a different scoring. The
first 13 compositions are for two violins and bc. Entries 32 to 44 are
for two viols and bc. In between come 16 pieces for violin, viola da gamba
and bc. This section is the core of the present programme which is extended
with pieces from other sources. These not only further document the musical
connections between England and (northern) Germany, but also offer the
various members of the ensemble the opportunity to play solos.
The first item is certainly of German origin, although the composer is
not known. The form of a sonata followed by a suite was especially practised
by Dietrich Becker, whose Sonata in D closes the programme. One
wonders whether he could also be the author of this work. It has been
preserved in the library of Uppsala which includes large numbers of German
17th-century music. The sonata by Becker is a typical exponent of the
stylus phantasticus which is a feature of the North-German style
in instrumental and keyboard music. It includes six sections of a contrasting
nature, with solo passages for both the violin and the viol. Another Anonymousymous
piece is the Sonata in A which includes brilliant passages for
the violin and ends with a chaconne.
William Young and William Brade are two composers who went to the continent
to look for employment. Young was a virtuoso of the viola da gamba and
widely admired. He probably left England for religious reasons and entered
the service of Archduke Ferdinand Karl in Innsbruck in 1652 at the latest.
His music is a unique combination of English, German/Austrian and Italian
influences. William Brade left England around 1590 and settled in Hamburg.
He worked at several places in Germany and at the court in Copenhagen.
It is likely that Steffkin was a member of the viol consort which was
led by Brade when they both worked at the court in Copenhagen in 1622.
Surprisingly Brade is represented here by a piece for solo violin, according
to Louis Delpech in his liner-notes, "the first English piece ever written
for solo violin". The title suggests that it is a series of variations
on a chorale. I have not been able to identify the melody, and the liner-notes
give no information about it either. Brade makes use here of the alla
bastarda technique in which the violin frequently moves up and down
through its tessitura.
Henry Butler is another English composer who went abroad, this time to
Spain. He enjoyed a great reputation and was mentioned by colleagues in
England, France and Italy. We know only 20 pieces which can be attributed
to him with any certainty. Among them are three sonatas for violin, viola
da gamba and bc. In another manuscript from Durham the Sonata in g
minor is attributed to Giuseppe Zamponi (1600/10-1662), an Italian
composer who for a number of years worked in Brussels. In contrast to
other music by Butler this piece omits any double-stopping. That is different
in the Sonata in G which has passages with double- and triple-
stopping. The Aria in e minor is added to this sonata, but played
Obviously this programme could not be without some music by Steffkins
himself. The Preludium and Allemande are written for viola
da gamba solo played the lyra viol way, as it was called. This
was certainly not an exclusively English practice, but it was more widespread
there than anywhere else. It is probably an example of a German composer
embracing the English style. The keyboard pieces show that the English
virginalists had a strong influence on the continent, especially thanks
to Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. Daphne - three variations on the
English song When Daphne from fair Phoebus did fly - is the most
This highly captivating programme is performed with great dedication.
The musicians deliver strongly rhetorical and gestural interpretations
which lend these pieces a pronounced theatrical character. The tempi are
well chosen, and allow the contrasts within the various pieces to come
off to maximum effect. In the solo pieces the various members of the ensemble
show their considerable technical skills. The liner-notes are informative,
but the English translation is pretty bad.
Johan van Veen
Sonata and suite in a minor [9:19]
Henry BUTLER (?-1652) (attr)
Sonata in g minor (Durham MS mus D2, No. 28) [4:38]
Sonata in A (Durham MS mus D2, No. 24) [3:10]
Daphne (harpsichord) [3:17]
William YOUNG (c1610-1662)
Sonata in d minor (Durham MS mus D2, No. 21) [3:07]
Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (1595-1663)
Mascarada e variatio (harpsichord) [1:12]
Aria in e minor (Durham MS mus D2, No. 20) [2:06]
John JENKINS (1592-1678)
Aria in A [2:24]
Courante in a minor (Durham MS mus D2, No. 17) [2:06]
Anonymous (Manchester lyra viol book)
What if a day (lute) [1:54]
Fortune (lute) [2:35]
Sonata in G (Durham MS mus D2, No. 20) [3:50]
Coral, violino solo e basso [5:04]
Courant e variatio contrapunct (harpsichord) [1:52]
Sonata in d minor (Durham MS mus D2, No. 27) [7:38]
Dietrich STEFFKINS (?-1673)
Preludio (viola da gamba) [1:57]
Allemanda (viola da gamba) [2:49]
Dietrich BECKER (1623-1679)
Sonata in D (Durham MS mus D2, No. 25) [7:59]