About this Recording
8.573118 - SCHEIDEMANN, H.: Organ Works, Vol. 6 (Brown)
English  German 

Heinrich Scheidemann (c. 1595–1663)
Organ Works, Vol 6


Scheidemann was active in Hamburg during the mid-seventeenth century, a time when the city was one of the most prosperous and wealthy financial and cultural centers in Northern Europe. 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 great cultural and economic prosperity. A Hanseatic style arose, manifest in architecture, applied art, painting, sculpture and literature. Hamburg attracted some of the finest poets, artists and musicians. A school of organ playing developed as organists composed music that best demonstrated the luxurious tonal qualities and expanded pedal divisions of Northern European organs, comparable to the manual divisions in size and diversity.

Heinrich Scheidemann, an important figure in the development of keyboard music, was a central personality in the rich musical life of Hamburg and stood on friendly terms with colleagues such as Jacob and Johannes Praetorius, Ulrich Cernitz, Thomas Selle, Johann Schop and Johann Rist. Scheidemann was born in Wohrden ca. 1595 and died in Hamburg in 1663. His father, David, was organist in Wohrden, and later at St Catherine’s Church in Hamburg, a church that housed one of the most beautiful organs in Northern Germany. Heinrich began his organ studies with his father. St Catherine’s Church subsidized his studies with the renowned Amsterdam organist Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck between 1611 and 1614. Scheidemann then returned to Hamburg and followed his father as organist of St Catherine’s Church, a position that he kept until his death in 1663, a victim of the plague. He was held in high regard during his lifetime and into the next century. His character was described by Johann Mattheson in 1740: “Scheidemann…mixed with everyone freely and joyfully, and did not make much of himself. His playing was just that way; nimble with the hand; spirited and cheerful: well grounded in composition.” Most of Scheidemann’s output was music specifically for the organ and the Lutheran liturgy. His music was never published in his lifetime but circulated widely within professional circles, notated in German keyboard tablature.

Transcriptions of vocal works into instrumental idiom were commonly improvised by the organists in Hamburg on Sundays when the choir was not present. This was an important part of the organists’ duties. Scheidemann chose to notate some of his motet intabulations. Benedicam Domino is an organ coloration of a six-voice motet by Hieronymus Praetorius whose son Jacob, together with Scheidemann, was a student of Sweelinck. In this setting Scheidemann maintains the structure of the original motet, creating an idiomatic, virtuosic piece for manuals, distributing the figuration throughout the voice parts, resulting in a tight texture of great complexity.

Another vocal transcription, Mio cor, se vera sei salamandra, is based on a madrigal by Felice Anerio published in 1600. The original is a setting in five voices, and Scheidemann’s straightforward keyboard arrangement is a decorated version of a literal transcription.

Singing the Magnificat in alternate verses with the organ occurred regularly in Hamburg. Scheidemann wrote Magnificat variation cycles in all eight tones. They each comprise four verses, and in the Magnificat VIII Toni they observe the following pattern: the first verse is relatively short, in four parts with the chant in the tenor (played in the pedals). The second verse is a large-scale fantasy with typical stylistic elements such as imitative passages, echo and elaborate figuration of the solo voice. The third verse is a four-voice ricercar. The fourth verse is for manuals, with three-voices.

The large organ with fully developed pedal typical of Hamburg encouraged the use of pedal not only as a cantus firmus voice but also as the supporting bass. Together with the use of two manuals a wholly new type of organ writing emerged, which was to be of seminal importance in the history of organ music. In this hierarchy the four voices have a clearly defined function: the (ornamented) tune in the right hand on a solo registration is the primary voice, the pedal with a continuo-like bass is the secondary voice, while the two inner voices fill out the texture on a secondary manual. This structure is used by Scheidemann as an integrated compositional device in chorale preludes, Magnificat verses and other works. Scheidemann’s many chorale settings form an important part of his output.

Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn is possibly an early work, reflecting Sweelinck’s influence, both in the chained variation format, and the figuration used. It begins with a bicinium with the cantus firmus in the soprano followed by two variations with three voices, written in a brilliant, restless style. The first of these presents the cantus firmus in the tenor range, followed by a cantus firmus in the bass. The setting ends with a four-voice variation where the melody is presented in the soprano.

The single-verse Victimae paschali laudes is written in four voices with the chant presented in the bass, with the other voices pre-imitating each line of the melody.

The setting of Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt has two verses, both written with four voices, the first presenting the cantus firmus in the bass, the second having the melody in the soprano range.

Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit and Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält, paraphrases of Psalm 124, both consist of two verses following the scheme of four-voice verse with the chorale in the tenor (pedaliter) and a three-voice verse with the chorale in the bass.

Scheidemann wrote various dance movements, which were probably played on the clavichord, harpsichord, virginal and chamber organ. None of the sources specifies an instrument, and this repertoire was commonly interchangeable. These short variations and dances cultivate a new style in which the polyphony and virtuoso figuration of the earlier harpsichord manner are replaced by free voiceleading, simplicity and unpretentious melody. These may have been created as small, easily playable teaching pieces.

The most impressive and distinctive of these pieces is the Galliarda & Variatio in D minor, which integrates figuration of the Dutch or Sweelinck style into a large tripartite design, with varied reprises, characteristic of the English virginalists. The Galliarda is based on an English model (a galliard in the same key by John Bull). Almost every varied section is based on a single figurative idea, fully exploited without becoming mechanical.

Scheidemann became acquainted with English dances through Sweelinck’s wide knowledge of the English repertoire and through English string players and composers active in Hamburg. It is possible that Scheidemann made an arrangement of a popular melody for a student, and wrote a variation on it, a piece full of figurational richness entitled Mascarata & Variatio in G. Other examples of short keyboard dances are the charming Ballett in D minor, the Allemande in D minor and Courant & Variatio in D minor, which are written in a more elegantly embellished style, involving brisé arpeggiation.

The E minor Praeambulum is typical of Scheidemann’s short, functional extemporizations. The Fantasia in C is somewhat more developed in the style of Sweelinck. Both are examples of brief pieces which made possible the development of the preambulum and other free works into a more complex form. These are written in a tripartite form: a freely polyphonic introduction establishes the mode, which is followed by a more extensive middle section which can be sequential or fugal, followed by an improvisational closing. These are beautiful examples of liturgical improvisation and are not virtuosic as they would become in later generations.

Julia Brown

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