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8.554548 - SCHEIDEMANN, H.: Organ Works, Vol. 3 (Brown)

Heinrich Scheidemann (c. 1595-1663)

Organ Works Vol. 3

In quantity, quality and historical significance the work of Heinrich Scheidemann occupies the dominant position in North German organ music of the first half of the seventeenth century. Scheidemann was born around 1595, the son of the organist David Scheidemann. The young Heinrich travelled to Amsterdam in 1611 to study with Sweelinck for three years. In 1625 he succeeded his father as organist at St. Catherine's Church in Hamburg where he also became the clerk, and remained there until his death in 1663. Many German organists studied with Sweelinck, in fact, the master was known in Hamburg as 'the organist maker'. Although a school of organ-playing had already flourished in Germany at the turn of the seventeenth century, the work of Sweelinck's pupils marked the beginning of the great period of North German organ music that lasted throughout the seventeenth century. As part of the Hanseatic League, an association of merchant towns begun in the mid-twelfth century, Hamburg benefited from close trading connections with more than two hundred towns, which brought with it a great cultural and economic flourish. By the mid-­seventeenth century, Hamburg had become one of the most prosperous and wealthy financial and cultural centres in Northern Europe. It was a cosmopolitan, progressive town with an established musical life. The Hamburg organs were an important symbol of the prosperity and power of the free Hanse city. Scheidemann was organist for thirty eight years at St. Catherine's, a church that housed one of the most beautiful organs in Northern Germany, with its 56 ranks over four manuals and pedal. According to Mattheson, Scheidemann's playing was 'nimble with the hand, merry and full of humour'; he was 'well grounded in the art of composition and his chorale harmonizations were easily playable'. Scheidemann assimilated Sweelinck's language, combining his master's polyphony and virtuosity with other elements, resulting in a new, independent style. Scheidemann's large and impressive surviving output contains settings of the Magnificat, free works, extended chorale fantasias, single verse chorale settings and a number of arrangements of motets by Lassus, Hassler and others.

Scheidemann's brief praeambula are written-down improvisations, composed in a relatively unsophisticated style. Some of them, with the fugal developments, foreshadow the later form of prelude and fugue. Praeambulum in D minor, WV 36, with its three sections, is an example of a "free" prelude for a fully developed North German baroque organ. Praeambulum in F major, WV 39 incorporates motivic repetitions, echo effects and suggested imitations. Praeambulum in D minor, WV 32, is very brief, with a sequential middle section with descending scales in sequential pattern. The Canzona in G major is typical of the genre with its light character and note repetitions at the start of the theme. The writing is typically North German with the ornamented soprano solo, accompanied by the left hand with the bass in the pedal.

The practice of singing the Magnificat for Saturday Vespers is described in a Hamburg order of liturgy from 1699: 'The organ plays a prelude to the Magnificat. The Magnificat is sung in German, and in this way, it is divided into four sung sections and whenever a section is over, the organ plays in between until the last verse is sung'. Scheidemann's Magnificat settings are composed on each of the Church Modes and they each consist of four verses Magnificat VII Toni begins with a four voices plenum. Noteworthy is the third verse, where the ornamented melody is beautifully woven between treble and bass with echo effects.

Intabulations are an often-neglected genre, but an important facet of the seventeenth century keyboard literature, and Scheidemann's examples rank among the finest of the entire tradition. Verbum caro factum est, based on a motet by Hassler, is a superb example of a "fantasy" style intabulation where the florid top voice alternates in sections with a florid bass-line. This piece creatively uses the resources of the North German organ, offering the opportunity to feature different solo timbres of the instrument in the treble and bass. Jesu, wollst uns weisen is an intabulation of the five-voice Tanzlied Viver lieto voglio by G. Giovanni Gastoldi. It is written in a simple, transparent style. Ego sum panis vivus (after Lassus) is set for a single manual and pedal, with the figuration focused largely on the top voice.

Scheidemann's broad spectrum of chorale settings includes extended chorale fantasias, such as Wir glauhen all an einen Gall, alternatim verses, and single-­verse chorale settings such as Herzlich lieh hab ich dich and Jesu wollst uns weisen. While these two manualiter pieces have a secular dance-like character, Gott sei gelobet und gebenedeiet is a broad pedaliter setting. Scheidemann typically begins the multi-verse chorale settings with the cantus firums in long, sustained notes, often in the pedal. This is the case in the Christmas chorale Es ist das Heil. The severe Kyrie summum is a good example of the variety of writing employed in alternatim verses. This setting begins with a full-voiced plenum which is followed by a very expressive Christe in four parts, with the chorale tune laid out as a cantus planus, occasionally lightly ornamented. The last Kyrie conceals the cantus firmus within the polyphony. Some of the multi-verse settings are continuous, with no break in between the verses, as in Jesus Christus, unser Heiland. The first three verses are written as bicinia with the cantus planus is set against an ornamented counterpoint. These gain intensity through increasingly complex rhythms and changes in registration, until the entrance of the chorale melody in the pedal. The large North German organ with fully developed pedal encouraged a new manner of writing, where the (ornamented) tune is in the right hand on a solo registration, the pedal playing a continuo-like bass and the two inner voices filling out the texture on a secondary manual. A beautiful example is the setting of Vater unser, in which the melody is presented as a delicately embellished cantus firmus in the soprano voice. Also noteworthy is the second verse of Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ.

Julia Brown

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