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8.554415 - SCHENCK: Nymphs of the Rhine, Vol. 2

Johannes Schenck (1660-after 1712)
Le Nymphe di Rheno, Op. 8, Vol. 2

Details of the life of Johannes Schenck are relatively sparse and the subject of varied speculation. He was born in Amsterdam, where he was baptized on 3rd June 1660 into the Reformed Church. Nothing is known of his teachers, but he established himself as a distinguished virtuoso on the viola da gamba. In this he followed the tradition established by performers from England such as Daniel Norcombe, who was earlier employed at the court of Archduke Albert in Brussels. Henry Butler, musician and viol teacher to Philip IV of Spain, and William Young, who served at the court of Archduke Carl Ferdinand in Innsbruck. An undated engraving in Amsterdam by Peter Schenck, once thought to have been a younger brother of the composer but apparently unrelated, shows the formally dressed and bewigged virtuoso standing to play, with his six-string bass viol resting on a footstool, in the performance style of the time. As a composer his work represents an early synthesis of French, German and Italian styles.

It would seem that Schenck spent the earlier pan of his career in Amsterdam, where his compositions included music for a Dutch Singspiel, Bacchus Ceres en Venus, from which songs were published in 1687, as well as works for his own instrument. Enjoying a wide reputation as a performer, in about 1696 he moved to Düsseldorf to the court of the Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm, known as Jan Wellem, who ruled there from 1679 until his death in 1716, establishing a court that aimed to rival the artistic magnificence of Versailles. Here Schenck served with a group of musicians drawn from various countries. The court opera, which had been seen in Amsterdam, flourished with, among other operas, Kapellmeister Sebastiano Moratelli's Il fabbro pittore, based on the life of the Netherlands painter Quentin Matsys, which had been staged in the Elector's an gallery in 1695. His successor Johann von Wilderer's La monarchia stabilita was mounted with singular splendour for the visit to Düsseldorf of Carlos III of Spain in 1703. It was to the Elector that Corelli dedicated his Concerti grossi and from Düsseldorf that Handel, who visited the court in 1710 and 1711, was able to recruit the famous castrato Baldassari. Other musicians of distinction connected with the Düsseldorf court included briefly the great lutenist Sylvius Weiss, together with his father and brother, while, in 1715, the violinist-composer Veracini performed there.

Schenck is presumed to have continued in the service of the Elector until the latter's death in 1716. Thereafter the electoral court moved to Mannheim, followed by a number of the Düsseldorf musicians, who formed the nucleus of a musical establishment that was to win its own unchallenged reputation, as the century went on.

Doubts as to the date of Schenck's death, presumably in Düsseldorf, come from the lack of any mention of his death in Protestant church records in the city. From this it has been supposed that he may well have become a Catholic, following the religion of his employer, and there are no Catholic records for the probable period of his death. He is mentioned in a document by the court cabinet secretary Rapparini in 1709, but by 1717 his name had disappeared from the list of court opera musicians then compiled. As Karl Heinz Pauls points out in his edition of the present work (Das Erbe deutscher Musik, Band 44, 1956), and in his article in Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, the principal source of the information here included, no reference to Schenck has yet been found in the deaths recorded in parish and cemetery records in Amsterdam, in the absence of any general register until 1750.

Le Nymphe di Rheno per due Viole da Gamba sole, Opus 8, (‘The Nymphs of the Rhine for two solo violas da gamba’) was published in Amsterdam without date but may be presumed to have been written between 1697, the date of publication of Schenck's Zangswyse uitbreiding over't Hooglied van Salomon, Opus 5, and 1706, before which his work for solo viola da gamba, L'Echo du Danube, Opus 9, had appeared. His Opus 8 is a set of twelve sonatas or suites for two violas da gamba. The general title, although Italian, suggests French style and the sonatas include works in sonata da camera (chamber sonata) dance suite style and some that follow rather the pattern of the sonata da chiesa (church sonata).

Sonata No. 7 in B minor is in a modified version of church style, opening with a slow movement in which the instruments at first enter in imitation one of the other. This is followed by a fugal Allegro. The following Adagio con affetto is an aria for the first viola da gamba, while the succeeding Allegro promises a contrapuntal texture and the sonata ends unconventionally with an Aria amoroso.

The opening Adagio of Sonata No. 8 in C minor has a rapider section containing an interchange of rhythmic figures and a final passage of triplets, before a solemn triple meter conclusion. This is followed by a series of dance movements, an Allemanda and Corrente, duly followed by a slow Sarabanda, and a Giga in which the instruments enter in imitation. All does not end here, since a Rondeau follows, with a clear-cut Gavotta and a final Menuet.

The shorter Sonata No9 in E minor starts with an Adagio, leading to an Aria, marked Allegro Here and in the following Tempo di Sarabanda there are elements of contrapuntal imitation. The Giga that follows does not end the sonata, which has two further movements, a Bourree of transparent texture and a final Menuet.

There are elements of the dance suite also in Sonata No. 10 in G major, with an opening Adagio that finds a place for some chordal writing, as do the following Allemanda and Corrente. The Sarabanda explores the wide range of the viol and its contrasting registers and this is followed by a Giga, with dotted rhythms, a Gavotta and a final Menuet.

Sonata No. 11 in G major opens with an Allegro in which melodic interest centres on the first instrument, while the following Allegro, with its dotted rhythmic figuration, shares thematic material between the two. A seven-bar Adagio then leads to a Ciacona (Chaconne), the old Baroque variation form. The ground on which it is based is heard first from the second viol, before passing to the first, to continue through 36 variations.

Le Nymphe di Rheno ends with Sonata No. 12 in D minor. There is a short Allegro opening passage in which the two viols play largely in thirds before the interruption of a five-bar Adagio, after which there is the briefest section of Allegro before a final Adagio, now in quadruple meter. The second movement is a lively Aria in dotted rhythm and the metre of a gigue. There follows a Corrente, again marked by dotted rhythms, and a concluding fugal Allegro leading to a Presto largely based on descending and ascending scale patterns.

Keith Anderson

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