John Collins - Organist, Harpsichordist Iberian Musicologist, Translator

Editions of the keyboard works of Matthias Weckmann: (1616-74) – an overview.

Matthias Weckmann: Choralbearbeitungen
Editor: Werner Beig
Published by: Bärenreiter BA6211

Matthias Weckmann: Complete Free Organ and Keyboard Works
Editor: Siegbert Rampe
Published by: Bärenreiter BA8189

This year we commemorate the 400th anniversary of the birth of Matthias Weckmann, one of the generation of North German organists (although he was not born there but in Thuringia) linking the pupils of Sweelinck to Buxtehude. He was a pupil of the notable Sweelinck students Jacob Praetorius and Heinrich Scheidemann, in Hamburg, moved to Dresden and then in 1655 successfully auditioned for the post of organist at the Jacobikirche where he remained until his death 19 years later. His extant compositions for organ comprise nine sets of Chorale variations and a number of non-chorale based pieces, most of which are for manuals only, permitting performance on harpsichord and clavichord. The influence of Frescobaldi and Froberger is evident in the pieces discussed in Rampe’s edition, Weckmann having met Froberger and been presented with the latter’s compositions. Since they are still little played despite the modern editions having been published some years ago, now would seem to be a good time to remind players of these pieces.

The nine chorale settings have been edited by Werner Breig. All apart from Ach wir armen Sünder are preserved in the extensive Lynar tablatures and written in German organ tablature. Ach wir armen Sünder is preserved in a MS compiled by Johann Gottfried Walther compiled in staff notation, and its authenticity has been questioned, with a suggestion that it was written by a composer of a later generation. It has three verses, in the first in four voices with mainly chordal writing in crotchets with quaver passing notes, the chorale in crotchets in the Tenor being assigned to the pedals by the editor, the source giving no indication of playing, but this is the most plausible mode of performance. The second verse is for two manuals and pedal, the decorated chorale in the treble, sometimes dipping below the accompaniment, is marked R (Rückpositiv), this requiring a stronger registration than the O or Organo which plays the two voices in the left hand, with the pedal providing a varied bass line. The final verse is in three voices for manuals only, with the decorated melodic line in the left hand marked R beneath writing varying between quaver thirds and minims.

The second set of variations is on Es ist das Heil uns kommen her, and consist of seven verses. The first verse is in five voices with the melody in the pedals against majestic writing for manuals. The second verse is in three voices for one manual, the melody in long notes in the treble against a left hand in canon. This is followed by a setting for two manuals and pedals, which present the theme in the tenor, above which the two voices in the right hand marked O and the left hand marked R which contain some more textural variety. The source gives the following registration: "Positive: Principal 8ft, pedal: Trompet 8ft and Gedackt 8ft or Trompet 8ft + 4ft. In the Organ Trompet 16ft". The fourth verse in three voices has the choral in long notes in the pedal, over which the two voices in the manual are in canon, including semiquaver sextuplets. The fifth verse follows a similar pattern with the two upper voices in canon over the chorale in the pedal; a third upper voice appears in bar 52 for the closing four bars. The sixth verse for two manuals is an extended chorale fantasia of almost 240 bars and has four upper voices over the pedals, the decorated melody appearing in the right hand and played on the Rückpositiv after an introduction with both hands on the Organo, which continues in three voices. As the movement progresses the hands switch between the manuals requiring some dexterity, and writing for the R assuming a second voice from bar 183, with both hands playing on the O from 186, and closing with writing for double pedals from bar 225. The source gives this registration: "Upper poisitive: full. Weaker parts in the left hand. Pedals with Cornet bass". The final verse is for six voices, including double pedal (not indicated in the source but the only way to bring out the chorale melody clearly), moving primarily in crotchets with occasional passing quavers, and with the chorale in the tenor.

The first of two settings of Gelobet seist du Jesu Christ is in four verses, the first being for four voices, the chorale in the tenor against sequential writing in the upper voices and pedals. It is possible that the left hand should play bars 21-23 instead of their being assigned to the pedal, the semiquaver patterns being unusual for the latter at this time. The lengthy second verse is for two manuals and pedals, the decorated chorale melody in the right hand marked R against and frequently lower than the two voices on the O and a lively pedal part which rests between bars 38-60. There are several echo effects and from bar 11 occasional appearances of an extra voice. The third verse is for two manuals and pedals, the decorated chorale in the left hand against a clower pedal part and two voices in the right hand on the Organo. The final verse is in three voices with the chorale in the pedals beneath upper voices in semiquavers including passages in thirds and sixths. The second setting of Gelobet seist du is much shorter and has three verses, the first verse in four voices has the melody in the tenor in the pedals, the writing for the three voices in the manuals being rhythmically varied. The second verse is for two manuals and pedals, with the decorated melody in the right hand weaving in and out of the accompaniment – no manuals are indicated. The final verse is in three voices with the melody in the pedals beneath semiquaver figures, frequently in canon.

The variations on Gott sei gelobet are incomplete, the third verse in the MS being preserved as only a fragment. The first verse is in four voices, the chorale in the pedals beneath figuration in the manuals, at bar 32 there are eight bars in 6/4. The second verse in four voices is for two manuals and pedals, the decorated melody in the right hand passing to the left hand in bar 21, and returning in bar 35, with some brief interpolations of echo effects.

There are three verses of Komm, heliger Geist, herre Gott, the opening variation being in four voices for manals and pedals, the second variation for two manuals and pedals presents the decorated melody in the right hand with a central section entirely on the Organo, with increasingly virtuosic writing for the right hand as the movement closes. The third verse is in three voices, with the chorale in the pedals beneath writing with neat rhythmic variety including quaver triplets.

The Magnificat on the second Tone is in four verses, the first verse marked a 5, the chant melody being in the lowest manual voice (a possibility would be to play this as the upper voice of a two-part pedal), and the second verse is for two manuals and pedals with the decorated melody in the right hand, a second voice being added over the held closing note from bar 32, the third verse again headed a 5 with the melody in the pedals above the two lowest manual voices. The final verse has the decorated melody in the treble above four manual and a single pedal voice; the piece moves into 6/4 from bar 12 until two bars from the end.

The penultimate set of variations is on Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein and has three verses, the opening verse having the melody in the pedals beneath mainly crotchet and quaver figures in the three upper voices on the manuals, the second verse is for two manuals and pedals, the melody in the right hand played on the Rückpositiv, the opening being presented in long notes before highly decorated writing appears. In the final verse the melody is in long notes in the pedals beneath two upper voices which include mainly semiquaver writing and a passage in triplets before a lengthy sequence of chromatic writing passed between the hands closes the piece.

The closing set of variations on O lux beata trinitas has six verses, the opening verse marked a 5, the melody appearing in manuals and in the pedals, for which the editor has provided suggestions for taking the lowest manual voice into the pedals (this being elucidated in the introduction). The source suggests three methods of registering this verse, which are discussed and evaluated for performance on a modern instrument in the introduction. The second verse is in four voices, the melody in the treble also being playable on the pedals at 4ft pitch; this is shown in the score by using small print for the melody in the treble. The third verse has the melody in the tenor for the pedals, the two upper voices being played by the right hand on the Organo, the lowest manual voice which contains more figurework only in the closing bars is marked R. Registration given is "The descant and alto with a quiet 8ft stop, the chorale melody in the pedals, possibly Trompet 8ft, the bass in the left hand Trompet 16ft". The fourth verse has four Variatios, each of which harks back to the methods employed by Scheidt, the first two are for manuals only and are Bicinia, ie in only two voices with the melody in semibreves in the right hand in the first transferring to the left hand for the second, while in the third the melody in the treble in semibreves in the right hand has interweaving writing in canon in the two lower voices, the opening of which would have been easy on a short or broken octave instrument but which will require large hands otherwise. A suggestion is to ply the melody at 4ft pitch on the pedals. The final variation of this verse has the melody in the pedals beneath two upper voices in canon. The extended fifth verse is for two manuals and pedals, with the decorated melody in the right hand moving to the left hand in bar 30, returning to the right hand in bar 57 and remaining there until the close, when the exuberant covers the whole compass of the keyboard. The final verse is marked a 5 and brings this set of variations to a majestic close.

These beautifully crafted pieces display a thorough command and control of the great variety of variation forms used by Sweelinck and passed down through his pupil Jacob Praetorius and published by Scheidt in his Tabulatura Nova of 1624, which Weckmann must have known. It is probable that more sets have been lost, and also possible that several of the anonymous sets in 17th century MSS may well be by Weckmann. The introduction contains essential reading about the organ Weckmann had available in Hamburg, and also interesting details of how he registered a chorale setting he played for his audition for the post. There are helpful notes for most pieces, and suggestions for performance. Ten facsimile pages from the MSS are worth perusing. Stretches of a tenth in the left hand which would pose no problems on a short or broken-octave instrument will need to be considered carefully for presentation on instruments not so equipped – which would include the great majority of church organs today. Certainly several of these pieces pose a severe technical examination and demand a most accomplished performer to present them convincingly. The melodies preceding each opening verse have been taken from contemporary collections.

The free-form pieces edited by Siegbert Rampe comprise a Praeambulum, Fantasia, Fuga, six Toccatas, five Canzonas, six Partitas, ie dance suites, and what is known as the Hintze MS, a set of 28 pieces, mainly dances, compiled by Weckmann, some of which are by named composers, but the great majority are anonymous. Since the Partitas and the Hintze MS are primarily destined for stringed keyboard instruments I shall confine my comments to those pieces which sound well on the organ. The first three pieces require the pedals. The Praeambulum Primi Toni a 5 resembles a Toccata by Weckmann’s one-time rival and great friend Froberger, with a slow introduction followed by virtuoso scalar passagework for each hand together over held pedal notes, followed by a fugal section in C time which after a full cadence continues in triple time before a brief coda in C time which stresses the dactylic rhythm of quaver followed by two semiquavers. The next piece, a Fantasia in D minor, opens fugally in C time with a subject based on repeated notes, with, most unusually in Weckmann, semiquavers specifically notated as short-long in bars 33-34. The subject is reworked in triple time concluding with a section with rhetorical rests before a toccata-like coda in C time including triplets over held pedal notes (G and D) bring the piece to a conclusion. This piece, closer in style to the next generation, has provoked doubts about its being by Weckmann; its demonstration of the stylus phantasticus is certainly closer to Buxtehude than Froberger . The Fuga ed D. ped is similarly constructed with a lengthy central section presenting the subject in triple time. After a cadence on the dominant a final section in C time with much sue of semiquavers also concludes with a toccata-like coda, this piece also having similarities with Buxtehude’s Praeambulae.

The remaining pieces are all for manuals only, although there are many places where the pedals could be used to advantage. The first Toccata in D minor closely resembles Froberger’s with its chordal opening followed by improvisatory passages of scalar runs over chords before a passage in single notes leads abruptly into a section with repeated quaver chords against semiquaver passagework which ends with slow arpeggios and a first inversion tonic seventh before a brief chordal passage closing on the dominant leads into a short coda in semiquavers. The following Toccata vel praeludium 1 Toni opens similarly before a loosely imitative passage marked allegro is resumed in triple time , closing with a sequence of semiquaver sequences against held chords. The first Toccata in E minor opens with a chord followed immediately by chords against passagework, a second section with arpeggios against chords opening in the submediant and closing in the tonic major. This is followed by a fugal section, the subject making much use of repeated notes and long written out trills, opening in C time and concluding with a shorter section in triple time, which dissolves into single-note figures over a held note in the bass, a rest preparing the return to a final cadence. The second Toccata in E minor opens with a bold series of E minor chords with increasingly ascending top notes (up to treble B) over held 1-5-8 chords in bass before arpeggio triplets sweep down the keyboard and after more arpeggiated chords some dramatic writing of arpeggiated semiquavers over held notes, punctuated by augmented chords leads to a section with a dotted rhythm in the left hand against crotchets or quaver chords in the right hand. A brief reversal of this idea merges into a coda with arpeggiated flourishes over a dominant pedal before the concluding chord. The Toccata in A minor is another dramatic piece which, after an opening arpeggiated chord, includes single-note passages, chordal passages with and without inner rhythmic activity, semiquaver passages in each hand together in contrary motion and arpeggiated figures against held chords which lead abruptly to an augmented chord followed by a chordal passage which soon yields to a passage which bristles with sequential figures. The final section returns to the improvisatory feel of the opening with passages against held chords, sometimes built up slowly before a slow chordal conclusion. This highly dramatic piece still surprises today with its bold rhetorical gestures and dissonances. Broadly similar is the final Toccata dal 12 Tuono (ie C), which contains rather more sequential passages in semiquavers, sometimes in two voices, sometimes in three. Noteworthy is the long written-out alto trill against a dotted left hand passage filling the whole of bar 56 and the shorter written out mordent in the treble covering the second half of bar 59. The conclusion is relatively sudden in comparison with the preceding pieces.

The Canzonas offer a combination of contrapuntal writing with toccata-like episodes clearly derived from Frescobaldi’s examples in his second book of Toccatas via Froberger. The first Canzona, in C (headed "Dall istesso Tuono – in the same key ie as the preceding Toccata may imply a pairing in performance) opens with a figure covering a fifth, with repeated notes and sequences covering a triad, building to four voices before passagework in just tow voices leads to a section in triple time with a subject in semiquavers loosely derived from the opening subject, frequently presented against two or three-voice crotchet chords before more two-voice passagework concludes with ascending then descending scales in contrary motion leading to a chordal coda. The second Canzona, in C minor with two flats in key signature, is a far more intense piece with repeated notes in the quaver subject and in the central 12/8 section that also uses the same subject. After this closes in the dominant the final section in C time commences with the opening subject and includes more semiquaver passages against the quavers. A short flourish brings this quite subdued piece to a close. The Canzona in D minor is a far more lively piece with a longer subject in semiquavers covering three bars combining repeated notes and sequences repeated a tone lower in a style which was much copied in the later 17th century; it is also in three sections with a central triple time closing in the tonic before recommencing with quaver passagework which leads into the predominantly two-voice final section. The fourth Canzona, in C, opens with a figure ascending a fourth in a dotted rhythm, this scheme being taken up in the triple time section which leads via a toccata-like passage to the dotted figure in inversion descends a fifth. After sequential writing the piece concludes with a short coda including arpeggios against held chords. The subject of the final Canzona, in G, moves by thirds and fifths until the concluding written-out slide of a third drops to the leading note in a diminished fifth. A secondary subject of a descending fourth appears and the two combine with before a coda of held right hand chords against vigorous left hand demisemiquaver figures. The triple time section has passages in crotchet thirds in the right hand before a close in the dominant. The final section has a short variant of the opening subject as its theme, before two-voice toccata-like writing beings the piece to a close. The editor suggests that the MS in which the majority of these pieces occur may well have been written by Weckmann using Froberger’s autographs of 1649 and 1656 as a model, with pieces in the different genres grouped in sixes, in which case some pieces must be assumed lost.

The introduction provides a specification of the four-manual organ in the Jacobikirche, biographical notes, a detailed discussion of the sources and the possible identity of the scribes including the composer himself, and the authenticity of the works in the volume. There is also an overview of instruments at the time of the composer, and very useful comments on performance practice including ornamentation. The critical commentary includes the few corrections deemed necessary by the editor. With up to six systems to the landscape page, at times the printing is on the small side. Several ornaments are marked in the Toccatas, and, given that Froberger is known to have sent Weckmann a MS of his pieces with ornaments marked, there is scope for at least further trills and mordents to be added to the free-form pieces. Some facsimiles are included. The editor has provided an interpretation of the signs used in the free-form pieces, as well as a table relevant to the dance movements in the Partitas and Hintze MS. Considered as an equal of Buxtehude by no less an authority than Johann Mattheson, it is very much to be wished that Weckmann’s keyboard pieces take their place in concerts as well as in church services of all traditions; not easy to bring off successfully, with some of the free-form pieces also placing at times quite extensive technical demands on the player, the generally high quality of his compositions will make learning them a worthwhile task.

TitleKeySourceVerse 1Verse 2Verse 3Verse 4Verse 5Verse 6Verse 7
Ach wir armen SünderD majorBerlin, deutscheStaatsbibliothek P802. Choral in tenor (pedal) 29 bars2 Clav e Ped 38 bars2 Clav 42 bars
Es das Heil uns kommen herC majorLüneburg KN209 no. 25à 5 Voc. Im Vollen Werck(chorale in pedal) 57 barsManualiter Canon in hyperdiapente post minimum 43 or 46 bars2 Clavir - Chorale in pedal 70 barsà 3, pedaliter. Canon in subdiapason post semiminimum. 43 bars. à 3, pedaliter. Canon in disdiapente post semiminimum. 55 bars. 2 Clavier & Ped 238 bars Double Pedal from bars 225 to end.Im Vollen Werck, Coral im Tenor. Double pedal 72 bars
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ - IG majorLüneburg KN207/21à 4 25 barsAuf 2 Clavir & Ped 123 barsAuf 2 Clavir a 4 28 barsà 3 (chorale in pedal) 23 bars.
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ - IIG majorLüneburg KN207/21à 4 (chorale in pedal) 22 barsAuf 2 Clavir & Ped 18 barsà 3 voc. (Chorale in pedal) 13 bars
Gott sei gelobet und gebenedeietG majorLüneburg KN209 no. 55à 4 (chorale in pedal) 46 barsAuf 2 Clavir & Ped 71 barsà 3 (chorale in pedal) Incomplete - only 10 bars
Komm heiliger Geist, Herr GottG majorLüneburg KN207/20(à 4) 49 barsAuf 2 Clavir & Ped 67 barsà 3 (Chorale in pedal) 67 bars
Magnificat II Toni2nd ToneLüneburg KN207/19à 5 26 barsAuf 2 Clavir & Ped 40 barsà 5. 43 barsà 6 (5 man, 1 ped). 23 bars
Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmeinG majorLüneburg KN209 no. 36(à 4) 46 barsAuf 2 Clavir & Ped 45 bars(à 3, chorale in pedals) 47 bars.
O lux beata trinitasG majorLüneburg KN209 no. 24à 5 im vollen Werck (double or single pedal possible) 60 barsà 4 Choral in Cantu (manualiter vel pedaliter si placet) 59 barsà 4 Voc, Chorale in tenor in pedal. 51 bars4 Variatios. 1 and 2 bicinia manualiter, 3 and 4 both à 3 voc Canon in Hypodiapason Auf 2 Clavir & Pedals. 89 barsà 5 im vollen Werck (Chorale in pedals) 48 bars.

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© John Collins 2016