Scheidt: Keyboard music transmitted in manuscript form

Samuel Scheidt: Keyboard music transmitted in manuscript form
ed. Peter Dirksen
120pp, 230×305 mm, ISMN: 979-0-004-18395-3
Edition Breitkopf EB8831.

Following the three volumes of Scheidt’s Tabulatura Nova (reviewed here), the most recent of the Breitkopf Scheidt edition, recently published, covers the keyboard music found in manuscript sources. The importance of his three volume Tabulatura Nova has meant that the music not included in those volumes is usually overlooked, not helped by the fact that several of them are anonymous in the sources and the other are attributions. The distinctive style of Scheidt’s compositions make attribution relatively straight forward and I wouldn’t argue that any of the pieces published here are not by Scheidt. Also included are three early version of pieces eventually included in Tabulatura Nova, as well as a shorter early version of the Toccata super In te Domine speravi, in the same publication, under the title of Fantasia etc.

Not surprisingly with an edition of this nature, Peter Dirksen’s extensive commentary is focussed on the issue of manuscript sources, with only a small reference to issues of performance practice – in this case, on the keyboard arrangement of the instruments (organ or otherwise) that Scheidt was writing for. This involves the so called ‘short octave’, where the lower end of the keyboard seems to end on what we would call note E but which, in the ‘short octave’ configuration actually sounds the note  C, with the notes that we would think of as F# and G# actually playing D and E respectively. The notes C# and D# do not exist in this format. That explains the many apparently long left hand stretches found in music of this period in many countries around Europe, apart from England and, to an extent, Italy. In the case of this volume, it explains why, for example, occasions when a low F# would have been musically suggested, an F natural is used.

The first two pieces included examples of fingering. This topic is something of a minefield, but is worth exploring as it gives so much information about possible articulation practice of Scheidt’s time. A few of the pieces include sections where pedals seem to be called for, in one case to bring out an inner voice. Pieter Dirksen has provided, in an annex, versions of these sections written out in traditional three-stave format, although I find it just as easy to read from the two-stave version. Dirksen has completed a couple of incomplete pieces, and offers advice on the interpretation of some passages. The most interesting piece is the impressive set of variations on Wie schöhn leucht’ uns der Morgenstern, a piece worthy of inclusion in the Tabulatura Nova so probably, according to Pieter Dirksen, composed after the publication of those volumes.

Parts I-III of the Tabulatura Nova (see here) include Harald Vogel’s comprehensive commentaries of the wider issues of Scheidt’s performance practice – essential reading, but it is a shame that at least a shortened version isn’t included in this volume. Unfortunately, as with the Breitkopf Tabulatura Nova volumes, the critical commentary is only in German. The text is clear to read. Although not of the musical standard, or technical challenge, of the Tabulatura Nova pieces, this is a useful addition to the Scheidt edition.

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