Weckmann recital: programme notes

The Queen’s College Chapel, Oxford.  27 April 2016
WP_20151124_12_09_44_Pro.jpgMatthias Weckmann

Andrew Benson-Wilson

Praeambulum Primi toni a 5
Ach wir armen Sünder (3v)
Canzon V
Magnificat Secundi Toni (4v)
Toccata ex D
Gelobet seystu, Jesu Christ (4v)

Matthias Weckmann is one of the most influential 17th century organist composers of the North German – a compositional school that started with Hieronymus Praetorius and the pupils of Sweelinck and culminated in Buxtehude and, by influence, Bach. Weckmann’s contribution was to bring elements of the Italian style to North Germany. Unlike most of his contemporaries who were born in or near Hamburg and studied in Amsterdam, Weckmann was born in Thuringia. He studied in the Dresden Court under Heinrich Schütz, a pupil of Giovanni Gabrieli, and in Hamburg with Jacob Praetorius, a Sweelinck pupil. After periods in Denmark and Dresden (where he befriended Froberger, also born in 1616), Weckmann settled in Hamburg in 1655, becoming organist of the Jacobikirche and setting up the Collegium Musicum. He is buried beneath the Jacobikirche organ.

The Praeambulum Primi toni a 5 is a fine example of the mid-17th century North German style of free composition that led to the so-called Preludes and Fugues of Bach. A dramatic opening of sustained chords is followed by keyboard figurations which lead to two thematically related fugues (the second in triple time) and a short coda.

The three verse Ach wir armen Sünder is based on a Passiontide chorale melody. It seems likely that the reflective first organ verse (with the tenor-voice chorale played on the pedal) was intended as a prelude to the congregational singing of all six verses. The other two organ verses were probably interspersed between the second and fourth of the sung verses. Each verse ends with a Kyrie, a change in mood reflected in texture of the organ verses. The second verse has the ornamented choral theme in the treble, moving to the bass for the third organ verse.

The Canzon in G is the fifth Canzon in a Weckmann manuscript in the archives of the Jacobikirche. It has three sections, the middle one having a theme similar to the chorale Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Her, the Lutheran version of the Gloria.

The four-verse Magnificat Secundi Toni was composed during the devastating 1664 Hamburg plague which killed Weckmann’s wife and many of his friends, including the organist Heinrich Scheidemann. The first verse is in a typical grand style with the chorale theme heard in the tenor voice. Although not indicated for this piece, I am using a technique that Weckmann used in another first verse where the pedal plays the lower manual voice (with the chorale theme) as well as its own bass-line. The second verse has the ornamented chorale theme in the treble voice, breaking into two parts towards the end. The third verse is unique in the North German organ repertoire of the time, its meditative and dissonant mood reflecting the Italian durezze et ligature style. The theme is heard in the tenor voice, played on the pedals. The concluding verse is probably intended as a prelude to a final sung Gloria. Despite its enormous power, it has a deeply mournful mood, the potentially dance-like triple-time second section being the more powerful for its emphatic rhythmic pulse.

The gentle Toccata ex D opens in the Italian Toccata style with a series of slowly rising chords leading to free-running passages which are eventually accompanied by repeated chords that dissolve into a typical slow durezze (typical of Frescobaldi) and a short coda.

The four-verse setting of the Christmas chorale Gelobet seystu, Jesu Christ is one of Weckmann’s grandest creations. It is intended for Christmas and, judging by Weckmann’s note on the cover, it perhaps reflects his overcoming the tribulations of the plague. Following a joyful opening verse, there is a full-blown chorale fantasia lasting around seven minutes. Each of the four lines of the chorale is treated in turn with a complex series of dialogues between solo and accompaniment. The more reflective third verse has the ornamented chorale theme in the bass and then, ornamented, in the tenor voice. The jubilant final verse has angel-like manual figurations dancing closely together above the grand pedal theme.
© Andrew Benson-Wilson 2016

Andrew Benson-Wilson specialises in the performance of early organ music, ranging from 14th century manuscripts to the late Classical period.  His playing is informed by experience of historic organs, understanding of period performance techniques and several internationally renowned teachers.  The first of his two CDs of the complete Tallis organ works (with Chapelle du Roi) was Gramophone Magazine ‘Record of the Month’.  The Organists’ Review commented that his “understanding of the historic English organ and its idiom is thorough, and the beautifully articulated, contoured result here is sufficient reason for hearing this disk.  He is a player of authority in this period of keyboard music”.

Andrew’s concerts have ranged from the enormous 1642 Festorgel organ in Klosterneburg Abbey and the famous 1558 Ebert organ in Innsbruck’s Hofkirche to a tiny 1668 chamber organ in a medieval castle in Croatia.  According to one reviewer, his London St John’s, Smith Square recital was ”one of the most rewarding organ recitals heard in London in years – an enthralling experience”.  Andrew’s next recital is a return to the 1723 Hildebrandt organ in Störmthal, Leipzig, where Bach gave the opening recital. He is then giving the special 400th anniversary concert in Christ’s Chapel of God’s Gift in Dulwich on 10 July 2016, featuring music composed in the years around 1616. Two further London recitals of Weckmann are on 11 October in St George’s, Hanover Sq and on 1 November in the Grosvenor Chapel, Mayfair, both starting at 1.10.

Andrew is a regular writer on early music and organ topics.  His little book, “The Performance of Early Organ Music” is used as a required text in a number of Universities.  After 20 years as the principal concert and organ CD reviewer for Early Music Review magazine, Andrew has now set up his own review website andrewbensonwilson.org.   His UK recitals can usually be found at organrecitals.com/abw.

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