John Collins - Organist, Harpsichordist Iberian Musicologist, Translator

Keyboard music transmitted in manuscript form by Samuel Scheidt.

Title:Keyboard music transmitted in manuscript form.

Editor:Pieter Dirksen

Publisher:Breitkopf & Härtel EB8831


Reviewed by John Collins

Samuel Scheidt was one of several German students of Sweelinck in Amsterdam in the early 17th century, and in 1624 he published the Tabulatura Nova in three parts, which was by far the most comprehensive collection of pieces of all genres, both sacred and secular, in the 17th century. Following on from the new edition by Harald Vogel of this seminal print, we now have pieces preserved in various MSS sources presented in a new edition by the eminent and highly respected Sweelinck scholar, Pieter Dirksen.

This carefully prepared edition contains 12 pieces ascribed specifically to Scheidt in the sources, a further 11 that are transmitted as anonymous in the sources, and a further three versions of pieces included in the Tabulatura Nova. The collection includes pieces in all of the most popular genres of the period. Some 15 MSS sources have been consulted, of which MS XIV/714 in Vienna contains the greatest number of pieces with seven.

Five of the ascribed pieces (all quite short) fall into the Praeludium/Toccata category, of which the toccata in C has been “completed” by the editor. Two others have been putatively considered as ”joint“ compositions with Sweelinck in which the student has slightly, but effectively, altered an existing work by the master. The remaining ascribed pieces comprise two chorale preludes; a short homophonic setting of Allein Gott in der Höh that is one of a group of 20 on this melody by different composers, including his brother Gottfried, in the Lynar MS, and a substantial work with seven variations on the Epiphany hymn Wie schön leucht uns der Morgenstern. Of the five dances, there is a splendid setting of the popular piece known as Bruynsmedelijn (called Bassa Fiamenga by Frescobaldi in his libro di capricci and Fasolo in his Annuale), here called Alamanda with ten variations (not eight as stated in the introduction). These two works, found in the Turin MSS, are of the technical level of the variation sets in the Tabulatura Nova, and Dirksen suggests that they were probably composed after 1624. Two galliards with 10 and nine variations respectively include a setting of an original by Dowland. The two other pieces include some 22 exuberant variations on the four-bar Bergamasca theme with repeated semiquavers in no. 19 and an instruction to use the Cimbahl in the discant in the final variation, and four variations on the popular Spanish Pavan, that clearly indicate the Sweelinkian influence in their textural variety.

Of the anonymously transmitted pieces, four are chorale based; a two-verse setting on Nun freut euch is in two voices, the unornamented melody appearing in the treble in the first and the bass in the second, a three-verse setting of Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, again in just two voices for the first two verses and three in the third, has the melody in the treble in the first two verses and in the tenor in the third. Two four-verse settings of Vater unser im Himmelreich offer greater variety. Comparison of the two versions of a ”Französich Liedlein“ , the first with four variations, the second with seven, will offer several places for careful consideration ie in variation two where the triplets in no. 17 are replaces with quaver-semiquaver-semiquaver figures in 17a. The final variation of 17a makes extensive use of repeated semiquavers against crotchets in both rh and lh. The eight variations on the charming folk tune Die flichtige Nimphae are taken from yet another source that seemingly conflates settings by both Scheidt and Sweelinck. This section concludes with four galliards, with eight, six, three and three variations. The second and third are entitled Englese, but no original model is known, the fourth one being a version of the Spagnoletta based on ich fuhr mich über Rheine, well-known from being set by Sweelinck.

Three alternative versions of works occurring in the Tabulatura nova complete the volume, a much shorter and simpler version of the toccata on In te Domine speravi, here entitled Fantasia, a transposed version of the Fantasia a 3 voc with specific indications for the pedals, and three variations on Von der Fortuna werd ich getrieben, taken from a MS which yet again conflates variations by Scheidt and Sweelinck.

A thorough preface includes a detailed description and evaluation of the sources (the editor believes that four pieces, two chorale settings and two variations on dances, in the Bártfa tablature, Budapest, ascribed to Sweelinck are probably by Scheidt, including the popular Balletto del Granduca but these four are not included here since they are readily available in other editions), keyboard compass (several pieces were clearly conceived for a short octave in the bass, judging from the use of a low F where one would expect an F♯. and by widely spaced chords with the interval of a tenth between top and lowest notes which are easily manageable on a short-octave instrument. Other pieces which include an F♯ were probably written for a broken octave in which the F♯ and G♯ were divided into two, the back part sounding the sharp, the forward part sounding a D or an E respectively. The only piece that seems to call specifically for a pedal part is the setting of Wie schön leucht uns der Morgernstern, with variations 3 and 4 being included in the appendix with a pedal part. The comprehensive critical commentary and notes on the notation and layout used in the edition are unfortunately in German only, and the comments on performance practice of this repertoire refer the reader to the extensive commentary in other publications (admittedly readily obtainable) from the editor and Harald Vogel – surely it would have been possible to have provided at the very least a summary of these for the player who is concerned enough to want to know more about such matters. My other quibble is the omission of the four pieces mentioned above that, although ascribed to Sweelinck in the source, are considered by Dirksen stylistically more likely to be compositions by Scheidt; whilst the Passamezzo and Balleto variations are readily available in the new Sweelinck edition from Breitkopf, the two quite extensive chorale settings were excluded from that edition and are available only in the Dutch Sweelinck edition by Annegarn or the Dover reprint of Seiffert’s 1943 edition. As a church organist, I for one would have been happy to have paid more to have at least these two interesting and liturgically useful pieces included in the edition under review, adding no more than twenty pages maximum.

These quibbles notwithstanding, this clearly printed edition should be of the greatest interest to organist, harpsichordists and clavichordists seeking new repertoire for both liturgical and concert use; several of the pieces will test even an established technique but will be well worth the time spent in learning them. It is very much to be hoped that in the not too distant future new editions of further MSS collections of pieces from 17th century Germany will be made available to the same standard as this exemplary edition.

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© John Collins 2013