John Collins - Organist, Harpsichordist Iberian Musicologist, Translator


Title: H.O.C.Zinck.

Publisher: Edition HH, HH 240SOL.


Reviewed by John Collins

Appointed as singing master at the royal theatre of Copenhagen in 1787, Harnack, Otto Conrad Zinck studied harmony and various instruments in Hamburg, perhaps even with C.P.E.Bach himself, but according to the lengthy preface to this set of six sonatas published in Hamburg in 1783, it was not until he had grasped the principles of how to express feelings through music that he felt that he had learned how to compose. The subscription gives 294 names and includes many well-known composers for clavichord (Rust, Hässler, Wolf, Marpurg Fasch Rolle and Eckhard amongst others).

Each sonata is in three movements, F-S-F. No. 1 opens with an allegro with predominantly two-part eighth and quarter note writing and closes with a rollicking 12/8 presto in eighth-notes, the first part being very much shorter than the second; broken chords, not all of which lie comfortably beneath small hands, sweeping arpeggios, and rests announce the set. The opening allegro to no. 2 is an almost non-stop exercise in eighth-notes triplets for the RH over LH quarter notes, the final passage being repeated over 4 octaves. The concluding Rondo un poco andante is a beautiful creation, its eight-bar theme worthy of the Hamburg Bach himself, its cascades of RH 32nd notes (many being carefully fingered by the composer) warning against too fast a tempo. The theme modulates as far afield as Gb and after the final statement a veritable explosion of 32nd notes finishing with triplet 32nds of arpeggiated close-position triads and a downward sweep bring this piece to an end. No. 3 is an allegro in mainly two-part writing that leads into the slow movement, the final scherzando e presto, a rondo-like structure with a rhythmic and melodic subject combining conjunct and disjunct motion, again being mainly in two part with some 17 bars of single notes phrased across the beat. In no. 5 the opening allegro con brio is again toccata-like in its insistent 16th notes, frequently against whole notes, the parts being widely spaced. The closing Rondo vivace is a lively 6/8.

Nos. 4 and 6 are in the minor (C and D respectively) and, not unexpectedly, it is these which provide the most highly charged drama in the set, the opening moderato e ligato to no. 4 having long lines of quaver movement with written out appoggiaturas, much of it being in one voice, but there are moments of syncopated quaver chords with enharmonic changes to heighten the tension. The final movement is a Minuetto con espressione e allegro, the first section being predominantly chordal, the second section, marked piano e ligato) consisting of quaver tripets in the RH over crotchets to dotted minims in the LH. The genesis of no. 6 and the similarity of its opening phrases to the composer’s song about Cain’s fratricide was described fully in the composer’s introduction, the opening allegro con brio contrasts insistent eighth-note triplets with eighth noets phrased across the beat, the final presto e furioso in cut C opens with stabbed eighth notes between the hands followed by passages of 16th-notes over whole or half notes. The sonata may be concluded by the song Kain am Ufer which inspired the work.

The slow movements include a lyrical grazioso mainly in long phrases in no. 1, a cantabile e sostenuto in no. 2 which includes repeated chords, ideal for applying the Bebung, and an explosive cadenza that sweeps through three octaves and requires the most careful touch to finish ppp. In no. 3 the andante piu tosto allegro in 6/8 contrasts cantabile passages with nervous 16th note writing, no. 4 is a short lyrical andantino e grazioso, no. 5 is an expansive un poco adagio with some expressively melodic writing over an Alberti bass, and the final slow movement, no.6, adagio con espressione, although short, is a compendium of Sturm und Drang, with passages in octaves in dotted rhythms, sudden thick chords, enharmonic modulations and widely-spaced writing.

This new edition faithfully carries across the fingering, phrasing and highly detailed dynamic (ranging from ppp to ff) and articulation markings, and the “improvements” that Zinck appended to the original have been incorporated into the text here and described in the critical report. Also included is the song “Kain am Ufer” for those who wish to conclude the final sonata with it as Zinck suggested. His invaluable preface is translated in full from the German, and C.F.Cramer’s enlightening approbation from 1783 is also included. The print is clear, with either five or six systems to the page. However, I do think that a table of ornaments with their interpretation for those players who are less conversant with this area would have been a most useful addition.

Cramer’s critical condemnation against easy pieces suitable for the “lame fingers of unpractised hacks or little women” may not pass the PC brigade today, but these sonatas certainly were not included in this splenetic outburst! They pose considerable challenges to the player, and some passages will require much practice as will the clean integration of the many ornaments (indeed, the very first note on no. 1 is marked with a turn) and the application of the carefully marked dynamics, particularly in successive notes and sometimes even in different registers, but the rewards will be immense. Richly varied, and, although showing clearly the influence of C.P.E.Bach, powerfully original, it is to be hoped that these sonatas will quickly find a place in the repertoires of all serious players and will take their rightful place in concerts; I await the remaining two volumes of pieces by Zinck with great enthusiasm.

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© John Collins 2013