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Johann Caspar Ferdinand FISCHER (1656-1746)
Musikalischer Parnassus (1738) [49:11]
Pieces de Clavessin (1696) [30:02]
Tony Millán (harpsichord)
rec. September 2015, San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Madrid, Spain

Fischer was an early advocate of bringing French musical styles to Germany, at a period when the cultural prestige of Versailles inspired emulation across Europe. Little of his music has survived, and he is probably best known today for the two collections of harpsichord pieces from which this excellent recording is drawn. His life is as obscure as his music. Fischer was born in Bohemia, and spent sixty of his nearly ninety years as Kapellmeister at the court of Saxony-Lauenburg. He is not the J. C. Fischer upon whose minuet Mozart based his K. 179 piano variations. That is the oboist Johann Christian Fischer, son-in-law of painter Thomas Gainsborough.

Spanish harpsichordist Tony Millán has recorded seven suites, three from the 1796 Pieces de Clavessin, and four from the Musikalischer Parnassus, published in 1738, when Fischer was eighty-two years old.

Fischer’s music is courtly and mellifluous, with squarer rhythms than his French contemporaries. J. S. Bach admired Fischer’s music, although Fischer’s work is less complex. For example, the individual pieces are very short. Of the thirty-five movements Millán plays from the Musikalischer Parnassus, only four are longer than two minutes. Fischer’s work is neither so grand or so well developed as Bach’s, but consists instead of tiny, highly polished jewel-like movements. Nonetheless, it is clear that Fischer and Bach breathed the same musical air.

The 1796 collection provides three very differently organized suites (which are identified by their opening “praeludium” movements). Praeludium VI is a conventional French suite, with allemande, courante, sarabande, and several faster dance movements. The sarabande unexpectedly resembles “God Save the King.” Praeludium V is a set of attractively decorated variations on a stately, but rather dull theme. Praeludium VIII is effectively concise with only two movements, a prelude and chaconne.

In the Musikalischer Parnassus of 1738, each suite celebrates one of the nine muses. Millán plays four: Uranie (muse of astronomy), Euterpe (lyric poetry), Melpomine (tragedy), and Clio (history). It is not immediately apparent how the characteristics of the muses are linked to musical features. Fischer’s style did not change much over nearly forty years. The Parnassus pieces remain emphatic. They are sturdy and vigorous, which is not to suggest that they are in anyway cloddish. Like the 1796 set, these are sophisticated gems, which show their more introspective side in plaintive sarabandes. The wonderful chaconnes, amidst their virtuoso display, also convey a dreamy side to Fischer’s music.

Tony Millán pushes this music rather aggressively, at least in contrast to an older recording by William Christie. The results are more exciting, as well as better recorded. The sound is clear, and the instrument (a modern Italian copy of a German harpsichord from 1738) is pleasing. Millán provides notes for this disc, which are as clear and thoughtful as his playing.

Richard Kraus



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