John Collins - Organist, Harpsichordist Iberian Musicologist, Translator

Peeter Cornet Complete Keyboard Works.

Title:Peeter Cornet Complete Keyboard Works.

Editor:Pieter Dirksen & Jean Ferrard

Publisher: Koninklijke Vereniging Voor Nederlandse Muziekgeschiedenis VNM XVII 2001

Reviewed by John Collins

Originally published in 1910 in the series Archives des Maîtres de l’orgue edited by Alexandre Guilmant, and subsequently in 1969 as Vol 26 in the American Institute of Musicology series Corpus of Early Keyboard Music edited by Willi Apel containing 11 items, Peeter Cornet’s keyboard works have recently been increased by several new works which have been added to the canon, including a Fantasia on the 8th Tone which with its concertante bass full of roulades and leaps in the manner of an extended Basse de Trompette was almost certainly intended for performance on an organ with divided registers, and liturgical works including 4 verses of the Regina Coeli and fragments of a Te Deum (verses 7-10 only) – possibly intended for the performances in Brussels where Cornet was organist to the court. His music was not widely disseminated, being known from only four sources, and no piece is found in more than one source. In this new edition Dirksen and Ferrard have also included a setting of the Aria del Granduca that occurs in the middle of a series of Cornet’s pieces in the Berlin MS 40316 that is used as the primary source, a Fantasia that is untitled in the source, Christ Church Oxford CH89, but is clearly related to Cornet’s Fantasia on the 2nd Tone, and a Fantasia on the 6th Tone that is ascribed to John Bull in its unique source (London MS 23623 Messaus); this now brings the number of pieces known to be by or putatively attributed to Cornet to 17.

The two early editions, although being extremely valuable in bringing Cornet’s output to performers, contained many errors, and this new edition at last makes the works available in the standard expected from modern musicology. Whilst the liturgical works (in addition to the new discoveries, these comprise 5 verses on the Salve Regina and a single setting of the Tantum Ergo) and Fantasia may have been performed on the clavichord in its role as home practice instrument, the remaining works are sufficiently substantial to merit careful study by players of stringed keyboard instruments in addition to organists.

This edition opens with a Toccata on the 9th Tone which, after opening slowly like an Intonazione by the Gabrielis, will test the performer’s skills with its virtuoso passagework and runs in thirds in either hand. This is followed by a group of six Fantasias (including the one appropriate to divided registers), those on the 1st, 2nd and 9th Tones being very long at 244, 245 and 254 bars respectively (Numbers 2,3 and 8 in this edition). These multithematic pieces are indeed worthy companions to Sweelinck’s magisterial essays in the genre, and combine the austerity of the Italian ricercar with the English virginalists’ figuration (it is probable that Cornet knew Peter Philips who lived in Brussels at the same time) that gives them a certain lightness and sense of forward movement. The difficulties include passages in thirds in semiquavers in each hand as well as generally demanding figuration. They utilise traditional techniques of augmentation and diminution although not with Sweelinck’s exactitude. The subject of no. 8 on the 9th Tone, being taken from Palestrina’s Madrigals Io son ferito and the section Cosi le chieme of Vestiva I colli is also used by Sweelinck,Scheidt, Erbach and Hassler. Fantasia no. 4 in this edition is a working of the Hexachord but unfortunately the MS breaks off after only 102 bars, a note in the MS telling us that two-thirds of the piece are missing. In bar 129 of Fantasia no. 2 the two lower parts have the notes beamed in a grouping of 3+2+3, found frequently in the contemporary Spanish composer Aguilera de Heredia; in bar 212 of Fantasia no. 3 the alto is grouped as 4 semiquavers + 3 quavers + 3 quavers and in bar 213 there occurs a further variant of 6 semiquavers + 3 quavers + 1 crotchet. Fantasias 5 and 6 are both on the 8th Tone and at 86 and 56 bars are very much shorter; both are based on the same subject, also used by Byrd and Philips, the treatment in no. 6 is rhythmically similar to a canzona with its minim followed by two crotchets. Both finish with long scalar passages over or under held chords. The Fantasia on the 8th Tone, no. 7 in this edition, is, as mentioned above, almost certainly intended for divided registers or a halfstop, (or, for the great majority of players, on two manuals) with two or three parts in the RH over a lively bass with scale passages and octave leaps (the fourth note in the bass should probably be an F, not D as printed). In all of the pieces in the tonal centre of G the final cadence includes the leading note to the dominant (ie C♯).

Number 9 in this edition is the four-verse setting of Regina Coeli, (one for each section of the antiphon), the first verse moving sedately until a flurry of semiquavers over a subdominant pedal, the second and fourth verses having semiquaver runs in each hand, the third, after a short imitative opening having a florid RH over minim chords. This verse is well suited to being played on divided registers or two manuals. The five-verse setting of the Salve Regina that follows is given a more contrapuntal treatment at the start of each verse, but in the second to fifth verses there are several passages of semiquaver and even demisemiquaver runs, requiring great care from the performer. The single-verse setting of the Tantum Ergo similarly combines contrapuntal motivic treatment with figuration similar to the virginalist fantasias. The Te Deum fragment (verses 7-10 only) is included in appendix C; again motivic imitation soon yields to rapid passagework, the 8th and 10th verses being suitable for divided registers; the LH from bar 6 of the 1st verse could be played on a solo stop, but since it ascends to treble D, historically two manuals would have been required. Without a composer’s name in the MS, the editors’attribution to Cornet on stylistic grounds is quite sound.

There are two courantes, that in A minor having three variations following (the “theme”, in the typical contemporary manner is headed 1st Variation). Variation 2 contains RH quaver runs in thirds and plenty of semiquaver figuration, variation 3 has triadic arpeggios for the RH covering an octave and a half and variation 4 has runs in sixths as well as plenty of semiquaver figuration for each hand, making this a demanding and substantial piece. The much shorter Courante in G has written out varied repeats. Appendix A contains the Fantasia from the Christ Church Oxford MS, but at 162 bars of movement in minims and crotchets only, this is far removed from the Fantasia on the 2nd Tone discussed earlier. It is, however, a useful model for the student to use to practise adding ornaments and diminutions as appropriate. The attribution of the Fantasia on the 6th Tone to Cornet by the editors is discussed fully in the introduction, suffice it here to say that their arguments are compelling and that this 222 bar Fantasia, full of virtuoso writing far exceeding that in the other Fantasias by Cornet, is a most attractive piece, its subject bring similar to that used by Cornet in nos. 5 and 6 of this edition. Number 17 in this new edition is the Aria del Granduca, a popular tune set also by Sweelinck (or Scheidt) and found in Spanish and Portuguese MSS of c1700. At 56 bars the tune is treated twice only, and the bass in bar 15 seems suspect, however the piece will provide good material for practising runs.

The edition is very well printed on good quality paper, with a well-stitched binding to enable it to lie flat on the stand. The introduction provides a comprehensive discussion of Cornet’s life, the sources, comments on the music itself, his relation with the organ, and some specifications of contemporary Belgian instruments to help the performer choose how he will register these pieces today, and on the choice of instruments for interpretation. Cornet’s fame as organ expert and organ builder is also documented here.

There are several pages of facsimiles and a reproduction of an engraving by van de Velde of the Brabant Court in Brussels, 1649. A second appendix gives versions with added editorial ties of the pieces from Ch89 and a third appendix gives a possible use of the pedals for the plainchant in the O Clemens of the Salve. A thorough critical commentary and bibliography complete this edition. Some pieces make use of the short octave, which will require transposition. One feature of this edition which will require close attention is the preservation of the original beaming, without editorial intervention marking groups into, for example, triplets or sextuplets. Many requiring considerable study by the performer, Cornet’s pieces, though few in quantity when compared to the preserved output of his Northern Netherlands counterpart Sweelinck, deserve to be far better known as masterpieces in their own right, and hopefully this excellent, albeit expensive, edition will go a long way to making this happen.

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© John Collins 2014