The Harmonious Thuringian- Music
from the early years of Bach and Handel
Terence Charlston (harpsichord)
rec. 28-29 August 2013, Royal College of Music Studios, London, UK. DDD DIVINE ART DDA25122 [70:26]
Works from a composer's formative years generally
receive far less attention than those from his 'maturity'.
The reason may be that the latter are considered better than the former.
Such a view is basically unhistorical: it is impossible to compare music
from different periods in music history, by composers of different generations
or even from different stages in a composer's career. Obviously
the likes of Bach and Handel were born with talents, but these had to
develop. They had to hone their skills, just like every other human
being. In the baroque period they did so by studying and playing the
music which was circulating in their early years, or music from earlier
stages in history which were collected in printed editions or - mostly
- handwritten copies.
Some of the composers who were among the major sources of inspiration
of Johann Sebastian Bach are well-known, such as Georg Böhm and Dieterich
Buxtehude. In comparison Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow, the only formal teacher
of George Frideric Handel, is hardly known at all and is badly represented
on disc. He is part of the programme which Terence Charlston has put
together in which he investigates music that was played and/or studied
in the early years of both Bach and Handel. We know several sources
which can be connected to Bach. Among them the Möller Manuscript
and the Andreas Bach Book are especially well-known. Pieces
from these collections have found their way onto various discs. They
were put together by Johann Christoph, Johann Sebastian's elder
brother with whom he lived after the death of his parents.
He is not the composer of the Prelude and fugue in E flat (BWV
Anh 177), but as the title refers to Eisenach it is likely that this
is from the Johann Christoph who for most of his life worked in that
town as organist and who has left a considerable number of motets and
sacred concertos as well as organ works. The subject of the fugue includes
Charlston also turned to some lesser-known sources. The Royal Conservatoire
in Brussels owns a source of English origin, known as the Wagener
manuscript, which includes the Passacaglia in d minor
by Johann Philipp Krieger. The anonymous Fugue in C, which
has been attributed to Pachelbel on stylistic grounds, is from the so-called
Mylau Tablature Book which includes pieces by composers from
across Germany. In his liner-notes Charlston mentions several other
important sources from central Germany which he has not used but give
much information about the kind of repertoire circulating among keyboard
players and composers.
The nice thing about this disc is that Charlston has mostly included
pieces which don't figure amoing the generality of collections
of music from the early stages of Bach's career. It makes sense
that the programme opens with one of the toccatas by Bach which date
from that time and which reflect the influence of the North German organ
school. Louis Marchand's Prélude in d minor refers to
the French influence in Bach's keyboard oeuvre. Merula represents
the Italian style, and considering the year of his death it is notable
that the Capriccio cromatico was found in the Mylau Tablature
Book. The copy in that source is incomplete; a complete version
has been found in another German source of the same period.
Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer is another composer who is little-known
but who clearly inspired Bach. The latter composed his Wohltemperirtes
Clavier under the influence of Fischer's Ariadne Musica,
a collection of preludes and fugues in all the keys. Fischer was one
of those composers who wrote orchestral music in the French style. The
Suite VIII in G is from the Musicalisches Blumen-Büschlein
of 1696 and was included in the Andreas Bach Book. It comprises
two movements: the prelude includes a number of chords up to seven notes,
which are required to be arpeggiated. This piece is reminiscent of the
prélude non mesuré of the French harpsichord school but ends
with a fugal section which refers to the North German organ school.
The second movement is a chaconne which - according to the Dutch organist
Piet Kee - is based on number symbolism. Charlston includes a useful
summary of Kee's views in his liner-notes. Fischer's harpsichord
works reflect his attempts to mix German and French elements. Inspiration
of French music also comes to the fore in the Allemande in descessum
Caroli xi Regis Sveciae by Christian Ritter. It is a tombeau
for King Charles XI of Sweden who died in 1697. From 1688 to 1699 Ritter
worked at the court in Stockholm.
The Kriegers were highly respected figures in German music life. Johann
Philipp Krieger has become mainly known for his sacred music; his chamber
music is also sometimes played. Unfortunately only a handful of keyboard
works has survived; one of them is the monumental Passacaglia in
d minor (here taking 11 minutes) whose bass pattern - a sequence
of six descending notes - appears 43 times. There are some similarities
with Handel in that Krieger also went to Italy to expand his horizon.
There is an explicit connection between Handel and Krieger's
younger brother Johann. He published two collections of keyboard music
and when Handel went to London a copy of the Anmuthige Clavier-Übung
of 1698 was in his baggage. On several occasions he made use of musical
material from Krieger's works in his own compositions.
Handel himself is represented by his best-known harpsichord suite which
closes with the so-called 'Harmonious Blacksmith' variations
which clearly inspired the title of this disc. It was part of a collection
of eight suites published in 1720, but exists in earlier versions which
may date from Handel's time in Halle. It is a little disappointing
that Charlston plays the version of 1720 rather than one of the earlier
ones, especially as these are hardly known. Such a version would also
better fit the character of the present programme.
It is nice that one piece by Zachow is included. I would have liked
more, especially one of the free works as his chorale arrangements are
the better-known part of his oeuvre. A more thorough investigation of
his output is long overdue.
There is one particular aspect which makes this disc even more interesting.
Charlston plays the copy of an anonymous Thuringian harpsichord from
around 1715, made by David Evans. The original is preserved in the Bachhaus
in Eisenach and was restored in 1975. It is strung in iron and brass
and has one manual. "Such an instrument would have been played
at home and in church and it is very likely that Bach and Handel's
first experience of plucked keyboards was on an instrument of this type
rather than the later, more sophisticated instruments they came to know
in their subsequent careers", Charlston states in his liner-notes.
The sound is more penetrating than that of later instruments and is
quite close to that of 17th-century Italian instruments.
This is a very interesting recording which combines a compelling programme
with a rather unusual sound from an intriguing instrument and an inspired
and incisive interpretation. Everyone interested in Bach and/or Handel
and their world should investigate this disc. The harpsichord used here
should give food for thought as far as the choice of keyboard instruments
Johan van Veen www.musica-dei-donum.org twitter.com/johanvanveen
Disc contents Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Toccata in e minor (BWV 914) [7:21] Johann Caspar Ferdinand FISCHER (1656-1746) Suite VIII in G [6:12] Louis MARCHAND (1669-1732) Prélude in d minor [2:56] Johann Philipp KRIEGER (1649-1725) Passacaglia in d minor [11:01] Johann Sebastian BACH Fantasia in g minor (BWV 917) [2:22] Johann KRIEGER (1651-1735) In dich hab ich gehoffet Herr [3:30] Christian RITTER (1645/50-1717) Allemande in descessum Caroli vi Regis Sveciae [4:50] Johann Christoph BACH (1642-1703) (attr) Prelude and fugue in E flat (BWV Anh 177) [5:00] anon Fugue in C (attr. Johann Pachelbel, 1653-1706) [1:57] Tarquinio MERULA (1594/95-1665) Capriccio cromatico overo Capriccio ... per le semi tuoni [4:02] Johann Sebastian BACH Prelude in A (BWV 896,1) [0:50] Friedrich Wilhelm ZACHOW (1663-1712) Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland [2:55] Johann KUHNAU (1660-1722) Prelude [1:26] George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Suite V in E (HWV 430) [15:13]