About this Recording
8.554446 - FISCHER: Musical Parnassus, Vol. 2

Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer (c.1670-1746)
Musical Parnassus Val. 2: Suites 7-9
Musicalisches Blumen-Büschlein, Op. 2: Suites 2 and 8

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. In the two suites from Blumen-Büschlein recorded here, witness the idiomatic nature of the preludes, No. 2 being entirely chordal (closely resembling those from the later Musicalischer Parnassus's suites 4, 7 and 9), and No. 8 presenting a very rhapsodic, toccata-like outline. The variety of dances in Suite No. 2 perfectly illustrates the new French influence, whereas Suite No. 8 is rather exceptional as it consists of a single Chaconne following the prelude.

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 includes the last three suites of the set: Terpsichore (Muse of dance and choral song), in G minor; Polymnia (Muse of sacred poetry and song), in D major; and Uranie (Muse of astronomy), in D minor. Admittedly, nothing in the music recalls the qualities of the Muses; indeed, most of the music is unprogrammatic, if one is to except the inclusion in Uranie of a Marche, Combattement and Air des Triomphans, which recall the battle music of Suite No. 1 from the Journal du printems.

As in the older harpsichord set, Parnassus mostly eschews the 'Froberger form' of core dances, except in Uranie and Suite No. 1, opting rather for a rich mix of fashionable French dances, rondeaus and chaconnes; and, once again, idiomatic keyboard preludes prevail. Fischer also notably employs to lovely effect the typical harpsichord feature of style brisé (or arpeggiated, broken-chord style), borrowed from the French lutenists, in the second Menuets from each of the three last suites. In Menuet 2 from Terpsichore, the use 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 could fancy hearing interplay between different instrumental groups, as in the grand Passacaglia which ends Uranie. In addition, 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 entries to the Gigues of Suites 7 and 9, reminiscent of Froberger's keyboard gigues. The melodic range and almost lyrical qualities of certain pieces, such as the Allemande from Suite No. 9, betray an Italian influence that contributes to set Parnassus off from the earlier harpsichord set.

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 Forty-eight, 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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