About this Recording
8.554218 - FISCHER: Musical Parnassus, Vol. 1

Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer (c.1670-1746)
Musical Parnassus Vol. 1: Suites 1-6


Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer's date and origin of birth is shrouded in mystery, for the mention of his name initially surfaces in connection with the birth of his first child in 1692 at Schlackenwerth, Bohemia. The first record of his professional standing appears three years later on the title page of his Opus 1, Le journal du printems, which mentions him as Hofkapellmeister to Margrave Ludwig Wilhelm of Baden, to whom the work is dedicated. Fischer then served under his successor and son, Ludwig Georg, staying on with the ruling family of Baden, whose court life was strongly permeated by French culture, until his death in 1746.

Fischer left a relatively small body of works, but their importance, particularly in the development of the German orchestral and keyboard suite, is fundamental. Along with other German composers active in the late seventeenth century, such as J.S. Kusser and Georg Muffat, he was instrumental in effectively bringing about the fusion of the French style inherited from Lully with the German 'classical' dance suite, thus giving rise to the so-called 'overture-suite' as exemplified in his set of orchestral suites, Le journal du printems (1695). Fischer was among the first to have carried over the French orchestral ballet suite to the keyboard in his Pièces de clavessin (1696, republished in 1698 as Musicalisches Blumen-Büschlein). Although these suites abandon the French overture in favour of preludes that closely espouse keyboard technique, they do retain the freer ordering and choice of dance types characteristic of the new Lullian orchestral suite, instead of adhering solely to the 'classical' core of dances, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, (Gigue), which has often been considered as one of the German composer J.J. Froberger's bequests.

It took another forty years before Fischer would issue his second and final set of keyboard suites. Published in Augsburg in 1738, his Musicalischer Parnassus comprises nine dance suites each named after one of the Muses. The collection is dedicated to Ludwig Georg's daughter, Elisabetha Augusta Francisca. The present recording offers the first six suites of the set: Clio (‘Muse of history’), in C major, Calliope (‘Muse of eloquence and epic poetry’), in G major, Melpomème (‘Muse of tragedy’), in A minor, Thalia (‘Muse of comedy and idyllic poetry’), in B flat major; Erato (‘Muse of love poetry’), in F major. Admittedly, nearly nothing in the music recalls the qualities of the Muses, if one is to except the minor mode being associated with tragedy and love poetry.

As in the older set, Parnassus mostly eschews the 'Froberger form' of core dances, except in Clio and Suite No. 9, opting rather for a rich mix of fashionable French dances, Rondeaus and Chaconnes. Once again, idiomatic keyboard preludes prevail, although Calliope opens on a fully-fledged French overture, with its stately first section followed by a quick, characteristic fugato. The first prelude for example, designated as harpeggiato, cannot but remind one of Bach’s C major Prelude to Book 1 of the ‘48’, notwithstanding its miniature scope. The typical harpsichord feature used here is the style brisé (or arpeggiated, broken-chord style) borrowed from the French lutenists. It is also notably employed to lovely effect in the Rondeau of Melpomène and the Menuet from Clio. In the latter, the use here of the lute stop further enhances the stylistic roots of the piece.

Otherwise, the pieces display an orchestral texture transferred to the keyboard, albeit quite straightforwardly, where one can imagine hearing interplay between different instrumental groups, as in the fine Chaconne which ends Euterpe. The three paired minuets in this selection (there are six in the entire set) offer slightly contrasting second minuets that act in effect as trios, with the first minuet then repeated. Instances of imitative counterpoint can be heard in the fugal entries to the Gigues of Suites 1, 2, 4 and 5, reminiscent of Froberger's keyboard Gigues, as well as in the telling E minor Prelude, whose melodic range and almost lyrical qualities betray an Italian influence that contributes to set Parnassus off from the earlier set. Thematic interrelations within a suite are not altogether absent, as can be witnessed between the Praeludium and beautiful Allemande from Suite No. 6.

Fischer was cited by C.P.E. Bach to Forkel among the handful of composers who had influenced his father as a youth. While Fischer's set of twenty preludes and fugues, Ariadne musica (1702), was certainly the most important forerunner to Bach's ‘48’, it is not improbable that Fischer's late-seventeenth-century orchestral and keyboard suites made an impression on Bach's later handling of these genres. Even though Fischer's Parnassus was published some twenty years after Bach's great keyboard suites were composed, it ought not be compared too harshly against those masterpieces, for it demonstrates in its own right a keen sense of elegance and style Furthermore, it is simply engaging music.

Jacques-André Houle

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