In 1752 Johann Joachim Quantz commented on how German instrumental music had changed over the previous century. He criticized the 17th-century repertory as looking ‘very confusing and hazardous on paper’, owing to its florid passagework and use of scordatura strings. Writing from an aesthetic viewpoint that valued melodic simplicity, he complained: ‘They thought more highly of difficult pieces than of easy ones, and sought to excite admiration rather than to please’. He also satirized the attempts by earlier generations at musical representation, such as pieces that imitated bird-song or the sounds of the trumpet or hurdy-gurdy. Quantz’s preference was for instrumental music written after 1700, exhibiting Italian or French styles, or combining these two traditions in a mixed style that he regarded as distinctively German. His favoured repertory was the product of what Bruce Haynes dubbed the ‘instrument revolution’, namely the introduction of French-style violins and woodwind in the late 17th century, with associated changes in pitch standards. The recordings reviewed here explore German chamber music before and after the instrument revolution. Contrary to Quantz’s opinion, the mid-17th-century repertory shows an invention and rhapsody that appeal strongly to present-day ears. The chamber music from the early 18th century shows a greater homogeneity of style, but also raises questions about instrumentation and pitch standards. Many of the discs contain world premiere recordings, indicating the musical riches still awaiting discovery. The Bach Players, a collective of instrumentalists based in and around London, have gained a reputation for the enterprisingly themed programmes of their recordings. Their disc Venice to Hamburg: Schmelzer, Froberger, Weckmann, Böddecker, Valentini, Marini (Hyphen Press Music 009, issued 2016, 55′) traces a line of 17th-century composers active in German-speaking lands who were directly or indirectly influenced by Venetian repertory. The programme centres on sonatas by Giovanni Valentini and Johann Heinrich Schmelzer using a mixed consort of cornett, sackbut, dulcian, violin and continuo. The resonant acoustic of St Michael’s Church, Highgate, contributes a Gabrielian sense of space to these dialogues between violin and woodwind; yet lightness and transparency are ensured by the supple articulation and use of high pitch (a′ = 465). The consort sonatas are complemented by keyboard pieces by Johann Jacob Froberger and Matthias Weckmann that are indebted primarily to Roman traditions (via Girolamo Frescobaldi) rather than Venetian. A slightly later repertory appears on the disc Fantasticus: Extravagant and virtuosic music of the German 17th century (Acis apl94710, rec 2013, 80′), performed by the US ensemble Quicksilver. Their programme explores Athanasius Kircher’s notion of the stylus phantasticus (‘the most free and unrestrained method of composing … bound to nothing, neither to words nor to a melodic subject’) as manifested in ensemble music of the period. It encompasses Viennese repertory by Antonio Bertali and Schmelzer, north German sonatas by Weckmann and Dieterich Buxtehude, plus lesser-known pieces preserved in the Ludwig Partiturbuch (a rich source of ensemble music associated with central German courts, and now held in the Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel). Quicksilver’s mix of wind and stringed instruments allows colourful scorings, characterizing individual lines in the texture of each piece, and creating variety between tracks on the recording. The players linger on individual gestures (as in the soloistic lines in Johann Caspar Kerll’s Sonata a2, or Bertali’s Sonata a4 in D minor), yet maintain momentum across each piece. They also bring out the sweet melancholy of some of the south German pieces, such as the pervasive descending lines in the ostinato section of Bertali’s Sonata a4 in D minor. Also to be enjoyed here is a little-known ciacona from the Ludwig Partiturbuch on the same bass as Monteverdi’s Zefiro torna, and a gutsy performance of Schmelzer’s evocation of peasant bagpipers in his Polnische Sackpfeiffen (one of those representational pieces disliked by Quantz). Giovanni Valentini’s instrumental output is the focus of Oddities & trifles: The very peculiar instrumental music of Giovanni Valentini (Olde Focus Recordings fcr904, issued 2015, 69′). The twelve-person string band ACRONYM is ideally constituted to realize these large-scale sonatas, using violins on the upper lines, gambas on the lower parts, and plucked, bowed and keyboard continuo. The ensemble brings to life the idiosyncratic world of Valentini’s sonatas, giving shape to his vocabulary of sudden modulations, insidious chromatic lines, echo effects and short snatches of dance rhythms. ACRONYM has a strong sense of the overall architecture of these pieces, projecting longer phrases that lend continuity, while also revelling in the rich string sonority of their ensemble. In a more recent recording ACRONYM explores the stylus phantasticus consort repertory via the theme of Wunderkammer (Olde Focus Recordings fcr906, rec 2016, 67′). This title refers to the cabinets of curiosities assembled by aristocrats and connoisseurs, containing man-made marvels and natural rarities; a similar combination of the artificial and bizarre can be found in the stylus phantasticus repertory. Compared to Quicksilver’s recording, ACRONYM explores pieces for larger ensembles, focusing on central German composers who were inspired by Italian and Viennese models, and again featuring music from the Ludwig Partiturbuch. The disc includes music by Adam Drese and Daniel Eberlin, who worked in the same environment as early members of the Bach family; their pieces, by turns quirky and inventive, help contextualize the similar fantasy found in some of the music of Johann Christoph and Johann Michael Bach. Compared to the Valentini sonatas, the repertory on this recording shows a strong stratification between the violin parts (often moving like the upper parts in a trio sonata) and a rich gamba foundation. Again the ensemble relishes the distinctive timbres permitted by these textures. Like the Valentini recording, the CD sleeve and booklet are adorned with striking 17th-century images (in this case, the natural oddities that might be found in a cabinet of curiosities), and the booklet gives copious information about the manuscript sources. The stylus phantasticus also inspired solo sonatas for stringed instruments, as showcased on Phantasia musica: Violin music of the 17th century (Globe glo5265, issued 2016, 65′). The disc includes solo violin pieces by Johann Jakob Walther and the Dutch musician Johannes Schenck, plus pieces copied in Ms.726 in the Minoritenkonvent, Vienna. Soloist Antoinette Lohmann vividly characterizes these works, contrasting cantabile bow-strokes on soaring long notes with vigorously articulated passagework. The major work on this recording is the sonata that the Celle town musician Johann Ulrich Voigt offered in 1691 to the town council, in gratitude for his appointment. Voigt spent much of his time in Celle clashing with the unlicensed string players—the so-called ‘beer fiddlers’ whom he regarded as his artistic inferiors. His sonata shows an unorthodox harmonic language, without Walther’s or Schenck’s strong sense of tonal goals; the bass line is often static, giving the impression of a violinist who preferred unaccompanied improvisation; and the closing variations on an ‘aria’ sound like a written-out extemporization. Voigt’s sonata highlights the crossovers between elite and vernacular music of the period, and these performances also draw on elements of folk traditions. Lohmann’s soulful ornamentation is sometimes redolent of Eastern European fiddlers, and her continuo team sustains bass notes for their full length as if evoking a hurdy-gurdy or bagpipe drone. Following the instrument revolution of the late 17th century, the rhapsodical waywardness of the stylus phantasticus was supplanted by the disciplined playing of French violin bands. The suave charm of the French style is represented in the world premiere recording of Johann Abraham Schmierer: Zodiaci musici—Orchestral suites (Accent acc 24294, rec 2013, 72′). In the printed source of 1698, the composer of Zodiaci musici is named as ‘J. A. S.’; the Augsburg administrator Schmierer appears the most likely candidate, although this attribution is not totally secure. Despite the eye-catching title, the music makes no overt references to the signs of the zodiac; instead these suites are in the Lullian style, with short dance movements. The scoring of the suites sheds light on how Lully’s orchestral practices were adapted in German lands. Whereas Lully favoured five-part string writing, the source of Zodiaci musici specifies four stringed instruments (Geigen) and harpsichord ad libitum. The optional nature of the continuo provides German corroboration for Graham Sadler’s discovery that keyboard continuo instruments were usually omitted from Lully’s movements for string ensemble (see Early Music, viii (1980), pp.148–57). In these performances by Ensemble Tourbillon directed by Petr Wagner, the four string parts are realized by two violins, viola and cello (or viola da gamba); the term violetta on the second string part, however, suggests that a viola might be more appropriate than a violin. The 1698 preface encouraged players to double the strings on the outer parts, or to double just the top part. Ensemble Tourbillon take a more liberal approach, sometimes doubling the first and second violins with oboes, sometimes replacing the first violin with a transverse flute. They use a plucked string continuo throughout, with harpsichord reserved for selected movements. Although it would have been interesting to hear performances that enacted Schmierer’s suggested scorings, these are nonetheless colourful renditions, played with verve and rhythmic panache. Apart from the Lullian violin band, the instrument revolution also promoted woodwind instruments in the new French style. Oboe bands were a feature of German armies in the late 17th century, and by 1700 French-style oboes and bassoons increasingly appeared in chamber music at German courts. Another disc of premiere recordings, Johann David Heinichen: Unpublished Dresden sonatas (Stradivarius str15001, rec 2013, 60′), demonstrates the composer’s determination to explore the colours of such woodwind instruments. The sources for the trio and solo sonatas presented here specify oboes and/or bassoon (as opposed to those trio sonatas with more generic scorings). Sometimes, as in the Trio Sonata in G major (SeiH 252), the second oboe part goes below the lower end of the instrument’s range, a problem solved here with octave transposition, but perhaps also suggesting use of an oboe d’amore or transposition for an oboe da caccia. The performances by Ensemble Sans Souci directed by Giuseppe Nalin show plenty of rhythmic flexibility although there are a few moments of piquant intonation. Listening to the whole disc in one sitting may be too much except for woodwind aficionados, but this is undoubtedly music in a style of which Quantz would have approved. The repertory associated with the Dresden court in the 1730s and 1740s is the focus for Something choice and excellent (La Tour lt4-15cd, rec 2015, 77′) played by La Tour Baroque Duo. The disc’s title is adapted from J. S. Bach’s admiring comment on how the Dresden musicians achieved a high standard of playing by specializing on a single instrument each. Nonetheless the duo here revives older traditions of players versatile on several instruments each, with Tim Blackmore playing recorder or harpsichord, and Michel Cardin accompanying and playing solos on theorbo or lute. The disc contains suites and sonatas by Silvius Leopold Weiss, Johann Adolph Hasse, Christian Pezold and Johann Gottlieb Graun, in addition to sonatas by J. S. and W. F. Bach. The combination of recorder and theorbo is an attractive one, although most of the composers on this disc envisaged a transverse flute for their woodwind sonatas. The performances are recorded in the ample acoustic of a concert hall at the Université de Moncton, and the relatively distant recording tends to highlight the long arcs of phrases, rather than details of articulation or placing. Nonetheless, this is an enthusiastic exploration of a galant repertory often overlooked by performers who focus primarily on J. S. Bach. Finally Harmonische Freude: Works for Baroque oboe, trumpet and chamber organ (Chandos 0809, rec 2014, 64′) documents a turning point in the Lutheran organ repertory: when organists abandoned the full-voiced contrapuntal idiom, instead imitating the style of melody instruments like the oboe, or combining with such instruments in settings of chorales. These ensemble combinations raise questions about the exact nature of the instruments used and their pitch standards. Most church organs were still tuned to high pitch (a′ = 465), and thus it was necessary to transpose the organ or oboe part, a practice described by Georg Friedrich Kauffmann in the preface to his Harmonische Seelenlust (1733). (Similar transposition practices are documented in the original performing parts for Bach’s cantatas.) This recording sidesteps such challenges by using instruments all tuned to a′ = 415. It includes works by Bach and by composers in his circle such as Kauffmann and Gottfried August Homilius: some were originally scored for organ, oboe and/or trumpet, while some (such as Bach’s Sonata in D minor, bwv527) are keyboard works here arranged for organ and oboe. In the booklet, trumpeter Simon Desbruslais explains with commendable transparency his choice of hybrid and modern instruments (including a slide trumpet and vented natural trumpet) to tackle the technical challenges of these pieces. Peter Hagen uses a modern chamber organ, rather than the grander sound of the full-size instruments envisaged by the composers; this precludes, for instance, the 16′ sonorities that Bach and Kauffmann often requested for left-hand parts. While it would have been interesting for the performers to grapple with the constraints and opportunities posed by historic organs, these are nonetheless attractive performances, played with poise and decorum. Throughout this review my comments on the choice of instruments and performing pitch are not intended to idealize the original conditions of performance. Musicians of the time, like those today, recognized the importance of adapting pieces for different ensembles and circumstances. Yet many features of the repertory were shaped by the capabilities of available instruments and the clashes between different pitch standards; the instrument revolution of the late 17th century was one of the main reasons for the far-reaching changes in style and taste that Quantz described. Although present-day performers may find it undesirable or impossible to re-create every aspect of original instrumentation, knowledge of these historical conditions can enhance not only their interpretations, but also audiences’ understandings of German chamber music of the era. Websites Accentwww.accent-records.com Acisacisproductions.com Chandoswww.chandos.net Globewww.globerecords.nl Hyphen Press Musicwww.hyphenpress.co.uk/music La Tour Baroque Duowww.latourduo.com Olde Focus Recordingswww.newfocusrecordings.com Stradivariuswww.stradivarius.it © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model)
Early Music – Oxford University Press
Published: May 16, 2018
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