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Venice to Hamburg
Giovanni VALENTINI (1582-1649)
Sonata à 4 in g minor [5:08]
Canzon in d minor [3:08]
Johann Jakob FROBERGER (1616-1667)
Toccata No. 2 in d minor (FbWV 102) [4:29]
Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER (c1620-1680)
Sonata La Cariolatta à 4 in G [6:27]
Sonata for violin and bc No. 3 in g minor [9:51]
Matthias WECKMANN (c1620-1674)
Sonata No. 3 à 4 in C [4:50]
Philipp Heinrich BÖDDECKER (1607-1683)
Sonata sopra La Monica in g minor [6:19]
Biagio MARINI (1594-1663)
Canzona La Rizza à 4 in d minor [5:09]
Toccata in e minor [3:26]
Sonata No. 9 à 4 in d minor [6:28]
The Bach Players (Nicolette Moonen (violin), Gawain Glenton (cornett), Emily White (sackbut), Krzystof Lewandowski (dulcian), Lynda Sayce (theorbo), Silas Wollston (harpsichord, organ))
rec. 27-29 August 2014, St Michael's Church, Highgate, London UK DDD

When the seconda prattica or stile moderno - terms attributed to Monteverdi and used to differentiate between his less restrained style of composition and that of earlier figures such as Palestrina - was born in Italy around 1600 it didn't take long before it spread across the continent. In particular in Austria and in Germany it was enthusiastically embraced, although in both countries the older contrapuntal tradition stayed alive. Indeed one of the hallmarks of European music for most of the 17th century was the coexistence and sometimes mingling of elements of the earlier prima prattica of the 16th and this new concertante style of the 17th century.

The title of the present disc refers to the two outer ends of the development which is documented in the programme. Venice was one of the main musical centres in Italy. It was famous under the Gabrielis who attracted pupils from across Europe, such as Heinrich Schütz from Germany. Composers from Venice also played a crucial role in the stylistic change which took place in the early decades of the 17th century. That was especially the case in regard to instrumental music. As Venice was also a centre of music printing, a number of collections including instrumental music were published here. The two volumes of Sonate concertate by Dario Castello are among the best-known examples. Another collection was printed in 1618 under the title of Madrigali e symfonie; it was the second edition of works by Biagio Marini, who was from Brescia and was appointed as violinist at San Marco in 1615. It is a mixture of vocal and instrumental pieces; one of the latter is the Canzona La Rizza. The canzona was the traditional form of instrumental music of the stile antico; it is derived from vocal models and the various parts are treated on equal footing. However, it also includes short solo episodes for the different instruments. During the 17th century the differences between genres like the canzona, the symfonia and the sonata gradually disappeared.

The imperial court in Vienna was under the spell of Italian music from early in the 17th century. The majority of the musicians playing in the court chapel were from Italy. In 1626 Giovanni Valentini, born in Venice, was the first Italian to take the post of Kapellmeister at the Viennese court. He was a modern composer who introduced Italian virtuosic violin writing north of the Alps. From his oeuvre we hear two pieces, a canzona and a sonata. These show that the differences between the two genres were not fundamental, even though in the canzona the ensemble is in the centre whereas in the sonata more weight is given to the solo episodes for the various instruments. Both bear witness to the instrumental virtuosity which was one of the hallmarks of the stile nuovo. That includes instruments which in previous decades were almost exclusively used to support voices in sacred music: the cornett and the sackbut.

One of the few non-Italians who played a major role in the imperial chapel was Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. He was born in Lower Austria and moved to Vienna where he may have been a pupil of Antonio Bertali who was a member of the chapel from at least 1631 and Kapellmeister from 1649 until his death in 1669. There is documentary evidence that Schmelzer entered the service of the court in 1635-36. In 1649 he was appointed a violinist in the court orchestra, in 1671 he became vice-Kapellmeister and in 1679 Kapellmeister, one year before he died of the plague. He can be considered one of the founding fathers of the German-Austrian violin school which produced such great masters as Biber, Walther, von Westhoff and Pisendel. The Sonata No. 3 in g minor shows some of the features of that school such as a strongly rhetorical texture, the use of Affekte in analogy of vocal music, double stopping and the use of a wide tessitura. Although violin music dominates in Schmelzer's oeuvre he also composed music for a mixture of instruments. The Sonata La Cariolatta is an example of a piece which mixes the contrapuntal tradition with the new concertante style.

Philipp Friedrich Böddecker is quite an interesting figure. For many years he worked at the court in Stuttgart and here he caused a stir as he criticised the treatment of polyphony in some of the music of the Kapellmeister, Samuel Capricornus. This was basically a conflict between tradition and modernity: Capricornus stated that it was allowed to derive from the traditional rules of counterpoint in the interest of expression. This conflict could suggest that Böddecker was an old-fashioned composer but the Sonata sopra La Monica proves otherwise. It contains a virtuoso part for the dulcian, which is hardly different in character from a violin part. Its many short notes and brilliant passages are extremely demanding, reflecting the skills on the instrument of the composer who was a professional bassoonist. The violin mostly takes a back seat by just playing the melody, whereas the dulcian plays diminutions. La Monica was a famous tune which was used by many composers, for instance Girolamo Frescobaldi.

With Matthias Weckmann we have arrived in Hamburg. He was educated as an organist and can be considered one of the most brilliant exponents of the north German organ school. The organ music in north Germany was partly rooted in the stylus phantasticus which had emerged in Italy in the early 17th century. The organists translated its features to the keyboard. Especially in the free forms, like the toccata and the prelude, we find sequences of contrasting episodes which is one of the characteristics of the stylus phantasticus. Weckmann was educated at the court chapel in Dresden, under the guidance of Heinrich Schütz. After his voice changed, around 1632, he acted as an organist in the court chapel. He was sent to Hamburg to study with the organist Jacob Praetorius, and there he also underwent the influence of Heinrich Scheidemann. From 1639 to 1642 he was a member of the chapel of the Dresden elector's son, Johann Georg. After that he spent four years in the royal chapel in Denmark. He then returned to Dresden and in 1655 he was appointed organist of the Jacobikirche in Hamburg. Soon he became a leading figure in the musical life in the city, where in 1660 he founded a Collegium Musicum, which performed the newest music from Germany, Austria and Italy.

It is for this ensemble that Weckmann composed his sonatas. Ten of such pieces have come down to us; two are in three parts, eight in four, among them the two played here. These are written in the modern Italian style which is also a feature of his vocal music. Like in Schmelzer's ensemble sonata previously mentioned we find here a blending of traditional counterpoint and modern solo writing for the individual instruments. Weckmann often experiments with harmony; here that comes especially to the fore in the Sonata No. 3 which includes some striking dissonants. One may assume that the performances of the Collegium Musicum gave him more freedom in the realm of harmony than the music he composed for the church. It is probably telling that the chorale variations on O lux beata Trinitas also include some extraordinary harmonic progressions and that this work is considered as not being intended for liturgical use either.

When Weckmann returned from his duties in Denmark he met Johann Jakob Froberger in Dresden. As they were both renowned keyboard virtuosos it was only natural that they became involved in a kind of competition. However, this resulted in a lifelong friendship. Their respective skills can be admired in the two toccatas which show once again the features of the stylus phantasticus. Toccatas always have a strongly improvisatory character. As a church organist Weckmann was well versed in the art of improvisation. One may also assume that many of Froberger's keyboard works have their origin in improvisation. It is documented that Froberger, when he performed his own works, never repeated himself and every time changed some of what he had previously written down.

This programme is a most interesting and revealing documentation of the changes in instrumental composing during the 17th century. The booklet includes an informative essay by Gawain Glenton with an overview of the developments in musical style and some specifics about the composers and the pieces chosen for this recording. These offer the instrumentalists plenty opportunities to show their skills, and these are impressive. Technically the playing is flawless, and there are some outstanding solos of everyone of them. Add to that an impeccable ensemble and one understands that this disc deserves a place in any collection of 17th-century music. Silas Wollston delivers fine interpretations of the two keyboard pieces.

In the track-list the key of Weckmann's Sonata No. 3 is given as C major. In the recording by La Fenice (Ricercar) this same sonata has the key of G major. I have not been able to find out which of the two is correct.

One word about the pitch. It is a'=465 Hz in the instrumental pieces and 415 in the keyboard works. This is a most complex issue as we don't always know which pitch was used. The high pitch of 465 was used in church, and that makes me wonder whether it was also used in, for instance, the performances of the Collegium Musicum in Hamburg outside the church. And what about Vienna where the pieces by Valentini and Schmelzer may have been performed at the court? I don't know the answers but it is an interesting aspect of performances of 17th-century music.

Johan van Veen



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