Notes and Editorial Reviews
ORGAN WORKS OF THE NORTH GERMAN BAROQUE: VOL. 11
Friedhelm Flamme (org)
CPO 777 597-2 (2 CDs: 129:47)
D. STRUNCK, N. A. STRUNCK, C. FLOR, D. MEYER, J. DECKER, OLTER
Back in 36:6 I reviewed and recommended the previous release in this excellent series. There, I quibbled a bit that the choice of composers belied the series title, as it primarily covered figures who were active in Stockholm and Danzig (now Gda?sk) rather than what one would
generally consider Germany proper. Here the focus is squarely back in Germany, in its north and north-central regions. As with that previous entry, however, the composers surveyed here are now all quite obscure, with three of them known by only a single surviving work. Unlike the previous set, however, some of those works are of substantial length and complexity.
The exceptionally long-lived Delphian Strunck (1600/1–1694)—actually “Strungk,” according to surviving documents—was born in Braunschweig (Brunswick) in Lower Saxony, and is believed to have been the son of the organist Joachim Strungk. Aside from presumably learning his trade from his father, there is speculation on the ground of stylistic similarities in composition that he may have had direct contact with Samuel Scheidt (1587–1654), Melchior Schildt (1592/3–1667), and/or Heinrich Scheidemann (c. 1595–1663). His first appointment, in 1631, was as Schildt’s successor at the Marienkirche in Wolfenbüttel; after an interim stint in Celle from 1632 to 1637, he was then called to be organist at the Martinskirche in Braunschweig. He spent the remainder of his life there, marrying shortly after his arrival and siring two sons and a daughter, with both sons also becoming musicians. He was widowed in 1685 and retired from his position only in 1688. Unfortunately, little is known of his professional activities other than a few records of compositions and performances, plus correspondence that shows him to have been on good terms with Heinrich Schütz. His surviving organ works consist of three chorales, a toccata, and four intabulations; of the last-named, three are based on motets of Orlandus Lassus and one on a motet by Hans Leo Hassler.
Nicolaus Adam Strunck [Strungk] (1640–1700), the oldest of Delphian’s three children, far outstripped his father in fame; indeed, his celebrated reputation during his own lifetime makes his subsequent obscurity a cause for wonder, and the loss of most of his music a source of keen regret. In addition to early training with his father, he studied at the university in Helmstedt and also with Nathanael Schnittelbach (1633–1667), a leading musical figure in Lübeck who one critic of the era praised as being Germany’s finest violinist of the 17th century. Beginning in 1660, the younger Strunck received a series of appointments as violinist to first the ducal courts in Wolfenbüttel and Celle, and then to the imperial court in Vienna. In 1665 he left there to spend a period of time in Hannover, where his fame as a performer and teacher increased, until in 1678 he accepted a call to Hamburg to become the city leader of both town and church music, in which capacity he performed several operas in the famed Gänsemarkt Theater. By 1682 he was again back in Hannover, this time in the employ of the ducal court as composer and director of the court chapel. In this capacity he accompanied his employer on trips to Italy in 1685 and 1686, where he met Arcangelo Corelli and dazzled him with his prowess on both string and keyboard instruments. (Corelli is alleged to have told Strunck that while he was named “archangel,” his guest’s virtuosity surely qualified him for archdevil status!) While in Italy Strunck heard of his mother’s death and left for Germany without the duke’s permission, which resulted in his dismissal. He then went on to Vienna, where he again performed for the emperor, and in 1688 was appointed assistant chapel master at the court of the Elector of Saxony, where he worked under Christoph Bernhard (1628–1692), a respected pupil of Schütz. Upon Bernhard’s death, Strunck succeeded him, with remuneration at the extraordinary salary of 1,000 thalers annually. At this point his fortunes took a turn for the worse; an opera company he founded in Leipzig ran into financial difficulties (though after his death his wife and daughters would continue to operate it until 1720), and in 1697 the Elector disbanded his court chapel as a cost-cutting measure. Strunck incurred heavy debts, and then died suddenly in 1700 of a fever. Of the several operas he composed, mostly on subjects from the Bible and classical antiquity, only the arias from
are extant. (Interestingly, Strunck’s fourth daughter, Dorothea Christine Lachs, became a poet of some reputation and wrote the libretto to Telemann’s opera
.) The surviving organ works consist of seven capriccios and two ricercars; unlike the other pieces on this disc, these can be precisely dated from a surviving codex (held at Yale University) to between 1678 and 1685.
Christian Flor (1626–1697), the son of a Lutheran pastor, was born in Neukirchen, near Kiel in the province of Schleswig-Holstein. Details of his musical education are unknown, though it is speculated that Franz Tunder (1614–1667) in Lübeck may have been one of his teachers, or that he may have studied in Kiel or Hamburg. In 1652 he assumed the post of organist at the Marienkirche in Rendsburg, also near Kiel, marrying his predecessor’s daughter according to custom the following year. In 1664 he became organist at the Lambertikirche in Lüneberg, and subsequently also of the Johanniskirche in 1676, remaining at those posts for the remainder of his life. His successor at the Johanniskirche was the renowned Georg Böhm. Most of Flor’s extant compositional output consists of sacred songs rather than his small-scale organ music, the latter comprising 14 chorales, two praeludia, and a fugue.
Of the other three figures very little can be said. Johannes Decker (1598–1668) was the son of Joachim Decker (c. 1565–1611), the noted organist of the Nikolaikirche in Hamburg and co-producer in 1604 of the
, a famed collection of Protestant hymns. Decker
was organist of the Mariendom, the cathedral church of Hamburg that was later demolished between 1804 and 1807. Like Flor, Dietrich Meyer (d. 1653) was an organist at the Lambertikirche in Lüneberg, the city where he died. Marcus Olter (1625–1684) was the organist of the Johanniskirche in Meldorf in Ditmarschen, a small province in the northern German peninsula that for almost two centuries had the unusual distinction of being a free
(Peasants’ Republic) in alliance with Lübeck and the Hanseatic League until its subjugation by Denmark in 1559. He also may or may not have served as organist at the St. Stephan Kirche in Tangermünde, near Magdeburg in Saxony-Anhalt.
In this two-CD set, the works of Delphian Strunck occupy the entire first disc, and those of his son Nicolaus and of Christian Flor all but 5:07 of the second one. As one might expect, there is a clear generational difference in styles between the pieces of the elder Strunck, Decker, Meyer, and Olter on the one hand, and those of the younger Strunck and Flor on the other. The former works clearly still inhabit the world of Renaissance dance forms with their distinctive melodic and rhythmic contours, whereas the latter just as clearly belong to the High Baroque era as exemplified by Dieterich Buxtehude. While all the pieces performed here are interesting and well-crafted, I was particularly intrigued by and taken with those of the elder Strunck. One does not always associate organ music from the Renaissance and early Baroque with either structural complexity or technical virtuosity; yet here we have two instances, the
Magnificat noni toni
Toccata manuale duplex
, that are elaborate multi-section compositions lasting over 10 and 15 minutes respectively, with the latter featuring at one point a blistering passage of extended runs of 32nd notes and sextuplets. The works of Strunck
and the surviving Canzon of Olter are likewise intricate, whereas the pieces of Flor, Decker, and Meyer are brief pieces of functional ecclesiastical music for preludes, interludes, and postludes to church services.
As in his previous discs in this series, of which I have reviewed two sets, Friedhelm Flamme once again proves himself to be an ideal interpreter in every way, uniting immaculate technique to impeccable taste in choosing stops and registrations, tempos and rhythmic pulse, and dynamics. He once more has splendid German Baroque organs at his disposal, and CPO as before provides ideal recorded sound with a presence and clarity that captures all the fullness of the instruments without any muddying due to resonance or reverberation. (To see a five-minute film clip by CPO of Flamme performing and discussing some of the repertoire in this series, go to jpc.de/jpcng/classic/home?lang=en, choose “Advanced Search,” enter “Flamme” in the “Interpreter” search box, and choose one of the several discs that appear, e.g., those devoted to Praetorius or Bruhns.) The booklet notes are exceptionally detailed even by CPO’s usual high standards. While there is no indication as to how many volumes this series ultimately will comprise, each entry continues to be a gem, and the entire run is a
sine qua non
for devotees of organ music before Bach. Highly recommended, with eager expectations for its successors.
FANFARE: James A. Altena
Works on This Recording
Magnificat by Delphin Strungk
Friedhelm Flamme (Organ)
Written: 17th Century; Germany
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