John Collins - Organist, Harpsichordist Iberian Musicologist, Translator

Hans Leo Hassler, Sämtliche Werke Band XIII Orgelwerke Teil I/II.

Title:Sämtliche Werke Band XIII Orgelwerke Teil I/II.

Editor:Ulrich Wethmüller and Wolfgang Thein

Publisher:Breitkopf & Härtel

Price:€140 and €136

Reviewed by John Collins

Far better known today for his numerous publications of vocal music both sacred and secular, Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612) was a south German contemporary of the north European composers John Bull, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, Pieter Cornet and Jean Titelouze. He studied with Andrea Gabrieli in Venice, where he met Andreaís nephew Giovanni with whom he maintained a cordial friendship throughout his life. Employed as organist in Augsburg, Nuremberg, Ulm and Dresden, his reputation as a virtuoso is attested to by many of his numerous compositions, which, according to Willi Apel, include about 16 Toccatas, seven Introits, 24 Ricercars, two Fugues, 30 Canzonas, 14 Magnificat settings in six verses, an organ mass and several individual versets/chorale settings as well as two large-scale sets of variations Ė although a somewhat smaller output than that of his Augsburg contemporary Christian Erbach the sheer scale of his compositions far outweighs Erbachís works. No autographs have survived and the great majority of Hasslerís keyboard output is to be found in four MSS now in Berlin, Padua, Munich and Turin; in addition there are many intabulations of his vocal works in contemporary prints and MSS. Problems of attribution are frequent, with some pieces ascribed to Hassler in one source being attributed to Erbach or even Sweelinck or Merulo in others; it is also quite possible from the style that some of the anonymous pieces in the sources may also be by Hassler.

There are very few modern editions of his works; since the Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Bayern volume of over a hundred years ago (which printed only 16 pieces) there have been editions of the organ mass from Bärenreiter, the variation set on ich ging einmal spazieren (Schott), some of the Toccatas (American Institute of Musicology), the Magnificats (il levante Libreria, Italy) and a small but valuable selection published by Schott which included examples from the main genres and is still the best introduction to Hasslerís eclectic style. A small selection of 25 keyboard intabulations is also available from Breitkopf, but these pieces, although fascinating as basic examples of an art in its own right, almost certainly do not derive from Hassler himself and cannot be compared with the sublime technical kills shown in his original keyboard works.

The complete keyboard works will comprise two volumes in the complete works series now published by Breitkopf & Härtel , of which the first volume, subdivided into two parts, has been available for a while. This volume is devoted entirely to those works which appear only in the 16 volume collection of MSS compiled ca 1637-40 for the Fugger family in Augsburg and which are now in Turin. The first part (186pp of music) includes an Introit, six Toccatas, 12 Ricercars, two Fugues, 13 Canzonas and 17 versets which form the organ Mass. The Introit and majority of Toccatas consist of stately chordal openings leading to passages of rapid figuration passing over sustained chords from hand to hand followed by a central fugal section (lacking in nos. 4 and 6) before a return to the rapid figuration. They clearly show their indebtedness to Andrea Gabrieliís Toccatas but some of Hasslerís pieces surpass them in technical demands and length; the Toccatas on the sixth, seventh and ninth tones run to 220, 233 and 311 bars respectively. Some of the fugal sections also include sequential passages in which short rhythmic or melodic motifs are developed. The recording method used by the compiler of the Turin MSS saw the fugal sections entered into a separate volume devoted to imitative works, but with indications of which free-form pieces in the volume devoted to such form they belong to. The Ricercars are written predominantly in the flowing vocal style but enlivened from time to time with semiquaver passages, especially at cadences Ė again a feature of some of Andrea Gabrieliís own contributions to this genre. Without suffering from the occasional Venetian excess in incorporating diminutions into contrapuntal pieces. No. 2 on the 1st Tone and no. 6 on the 4th Tone are more reflective, slower moving pieces. The subject of No. 5 on the 3rd Tone ascends with the sharpened F and G, and descends with them flattened, and makes much of this interplay, including a section which modulates through remote keys of B and C♯ major and F♯ minor. No. 9 is based on the hexachord, which is heard in ascending followed by descending form; curiously this piece lacks a triple time section although one does appear in nos. 5, 10 and 11 (There is also an extended appearance of the hexachord in the Toccata on the Sixth Tone). Many pieces exceed 300 bars, with the Ricercar on the 7th tone reaching the monumental length of 668 bars. In the style of the Venetians, these pieces are plurithematic, in some pieces the second subject appears as a continuation of the first before being developed in its own right. The two Fugues, also lengthy works, show little distinction from the Ricercars, the subject of the second was used by de Macque and Frescobaldi amongst others and this piece also contains a triple-time section. A compendium of all the learned devices of counterpoint, including stretto and double augmentation, these pieces are amongst the finest examples of the genre in the literature. The majority of the Canzonas are also contrapuntally conceived, the openings being in the usual dactylic rhythm with occasionally the opening note repeated to give four crotchets instead of a minim and two crotchets; the compass of the subjects is quite varied. Lively passagework occurs in nos. 19 and 23 and there are many instances of running quavers against sustained chords. The second part of no. 27 contains some vigorous strettos and echo effects. Much lighter in style than the Ricercars, these delightful pieces are more readily approachable and less technically demanding. There is relatively little part-crossing in these pieces, the German tablature being more a method of recording the score than concerning itself too much with the niceties of accurate voice-leading. A frequently occurring rhythm in the Toccatas and Canzonas is the short-short-long, usually as eighth-eighth-quarter note.

The Versets include the sections of the alternatim organ mass de Apostoli as used in the Protestant liturgy (including the Introit Mihi autem nimis, Domine probasti, 2 Kyries, a Christe, a further Kyrie, Et in terra Pax, Agnus Dei, Cum Sancto Spiritu, Sanctus, Pleni sunt Coeli, Benedictus, Agnus, Responsorio and Calicem Domini) with fine settings of Ach Gott von Himmel sieh darein and the Credo in unum Deum. Almost all of the versets, most of which are quite lengthy at over 70 bars, contain rapid passagework in a manner similar to Claudio Merulo and Andre Gabrieliís organ masses, the Agnus Dei being akin to a small-scale Toccata. Comparison with the surviving contemporary and slightly later Italian organ masses will prove time well spent.

The second part (266 pp of music) contains the 14 Magnificat settings, the two sets of variations and a handful of attributed pieces. The Magnificat settings (one of which is found in the appendix) cover over 165 pages; each tone is represented by at least one setting, the fourth tone by four, one of which is comparatively slight with the average number of bars being only ca. 40. These group of settings, probably the most comprehensive from one composer, must rank as the longest as well and each set contains great textural and stylistic variety. Each tone opens with either a toccata in its own right (2nd, both 4th 6th and 8th Tones) or with a toccata-like setting of the first verse, the verses following being composed in a wide range of styles with toccata, bicinia, full chordal passages and contrapuntal writing being represented; the subjects of the latter , which sometimes includes toccata elements at cadences and as a coda, are usually in longer note values but some contain written-out ornaments in the style of Andrea Gabrieli and Merulo. The chant appears in various forms and in different voices. The toccata which opens the set on the 3rd Tone contains modulations in a chordal passage through Bm, F♯m, C♯m, Bb major and Cm. This section is completed by six verses on In exitu Egypt (the Tonus peregrinus) and sixteen individual verses, again exploiting varied textures and styles. The latter follow the order of the tones up to no. 12, and nos. 13 and 16 on the 3rd and 14 and 15 on the 4th. Most verses contain ca 40-45 bars, but no. 14 weighs in at 103, and no. 15, at 169 bars, combines elements of the toccata, chromatic ricercar and full chordal writing and may have served as an alternative opening toccata, and no. 16 written almost entirely in a chordal style covers 173 bars. No. 10 opens in triple time and nos 11 and 13 include a short triple time section, but all the others are in cut C time.

The three sets of variations that follow include the enormous set of 31 on Ich ging einmal spatzieren, the melody is well known through being sung to the text of Von Gott will ich nicht lassen; each variation runs to ca 48 bars. The song Susanne un jour by Lassus, a great favourite with Renaissance composers for instrumental settings, is subjected to 29 variations, of which the first three average 28 bars and the fourth extends to some 52 bars but the succeeding 25 average just nine bars each. These two sets cover a wide range of compositional techniques and again reach the pinnacle of variation form for the time. A short Galliard concludes this section.

In the appendix we find a Ricercar primi toni. Two Canzonas, a set of verses on the Magnificat 1st tone transposed up a fourth, and a further set on In exitu Israel. All are found anonymously in the source but have been tentatively assigned to Hassler through their position in the MS. The Ricercar is gentler than many of the ascribed examples with animated passagework at cadences. The two Canzonas are quite lengthy examples, the second one having a triple time section before the final section, more rhythmically vigorous.

The two volumes are in large portrait format on high quality paper with six or seven systems to each page, the printing is clear with the notes sensibly spaced. Many of the pieces demand a first rate technique and make taxing demands in some places. The player will have to consider applying accidentals in several places, and decide where to apply the pedals Ė sometimes the big stretches in the Lh may require other imaginative solutions on todayís instruments. The introduction and extensive critical commentary are in German only and there are no helpful comments on performance practice or specifications of contemporary organs ( fortunately this information is available in several other publications both contemporary and modern) to assist in a historically informed performance today. Although the very high price will undoubtedly deter the great majority of players (why do these monument editions have to be priced so far beyond the individual player?), I do encourage those interested in at least looking at and playing through these splendid pieces to order a copy via the inter-Library loan system. They will not be disappointed at the time spent with this south German master. It is very much to be hoped that the final volume containing works found in other sources will appear before too long.

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© John Collins 2013