Notes and Editorial Reviews
Partitas Nos. 1, 2, 4, 6
Friederike Heumann (vdg); dir; Stylus Phantasticus (period instruments)
ACCENT 24217 (59:45)
The importance of organist/composer Johann Adam Reincken (1643–1722) is inversely proportional to the amount of music he left behind. Exactly two organ pieces and none of the vocal music have survived, but we mustn’t blame the poor guy for the ravages of history. Since the remainder of the music—mostly for harpsichord—has never been
published and is therefore largely unknown, the collection of chamber music titled
(A Musical Garden) is his major work by default. The facts of Reincken’s life that led to its composition certainly bear retelling.
Reincken was born in the Dutch Hanseatic city of Deventer, but even his birth year was misattributed from the beginning of the 18th century on, thanks to the Hamburg composer and theorist Johann Mattheson. Seems Reincken and Mattheson were not the best of friends—they sort of had a Wagner/Hanslick thing going. When it came time to publish Reincken’s death notice, Mattheson—for reasons unknown—listed the birth year as 1623. The death notice therefore made Reincken out to be a centenarian, although he died 20 years shy of that mark.
Reincken left Holland in 1654 as a boy of 11 (not a man of 31) to study with Heinrich Scheidemann, organist of the Catharinenkirche in Hamburg. In 1658 he was appointed assistant organist, and upon Scheidemann’s death in 1663, chief organist of the Catharinenkirche. He also married Scheidemann’s daughter. The custom of marrying your predecessor’s daughter was rather commonplace back then—think of Buxtehude (who married Franz Tunder’s daughter) and Sebastian Bach, who considered marrying Buxtehude’s daughter in order to assume the post of organist at the Marienkirche in Lübeck, but decided against it.
From his post at the wealthiest church in Hamburg, Reincken would wield considerable power and exert great influence on the musical life of the city. In 1678 he co-founded the Goosemarket Opera, the first public opera house north of the Alps. But Reincken was strangely lacking in ambition; he relinquished his stake in the venture after only seven years. This lack of ambition also surfaced in his aversion to music publishing (hinted at in the preface to
), and that may account for the large number of unpublished keyboard works that languish in Scandinavian libraries. Yet some of Reincken’s keyboard music must have circulated during his lifetime, because as early as the 1690s, the young Sebastian Bach was surreptitiously copying pieces of Reincken from a manuscript belonging to his older brother—the so-called “moonlight episode.”
The music is a unique amalgam of the established Italian instrumental style of Frescobaldi and Corelli and the newfangled French fashion of Lully, infused with Nordic imagination and boldness. Each partita (or suite) in fact begins with a Corellian
sonata da chiesa
in four movements, followed by four characteristic French dances: allemande, courant, sarabande, and gigue. So much for the bare-bones description; Reincken fleshes out this framework with the most multifaceted, ingenious writing. Movements are related thematically, but the material is continually refreshed using harmonic and metrical variation. There is imitative counterpoint and fugal writing aplenty; each concluding gigue, for example, is not merely a lighthearted
, but rather a permutation fugue in which the two themes are dovetailed, one after the other, using inversion and other contrapuntal tricks. The name of the group says it all: Stylus Phantasticus. In the late 17th century, the “fantastic style” of Reincken (and Buxtehude) would have elicited the same kind of jaw-dropping response from audiences as did the music of Stravinsky, Boulez, or Stockhausen when
I’m happy to report that the group completely lives up to its namesake. The instrumentation is essentially that of a trio sonata, with violin and bass viola da gamba as the upper voices. Two exceedingly fine violinists, Pablo Valetti and David Plantier, share the violin duties, while the gamba part is ably handled by Friederike Heumann, a virtuoso in her own right. The continuo group, consisting of lutenist Eduardo Egüez and Dirk Börner on harpsichord and organ, is top-notch. The group’s sonorities are quite marvelous, clearly a cut above the ordinary in period-instrument performance. Listen, for example, to the opening Adagio to Partita VI—the sounds of the low strings of the gamba, mixed with organ and lute (theorbo), are almost romantic in their lushness.
The combination of one-of-a-kind repertoire, virtuosic playing, and state-of-the-art recorded sound makes this release—the group’s debut—an absolute must. Highest recommendation—I can hardly wait for Volume 2!
FANFARE: Christopher Brodersen
Works on This Recording
Hortus musicus: Partita No. 6 in A by Johann Adam Reincken
Pablo Valetti (Violin),
Friederike Heumann (Viola Da Gamba)
Written: pub 1687
Venue: Temple St. Jean, Mulhouse, France
Length: 8 Minutes 3 Secs.
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