Scheidt: Tabulatura Nova III

Samuel Scheidt: Tabulatura Nova III
ed. Harald Vogel
192pp, 230×305 mm, ISMN: 979-0-004-18122-5
Edition Breitkopf EB8567.

Breitkopf & Härtel have completed their important four volume series of the organ and keyboard works of Samuel Scheidt. Volumes I & II of Scheidt’s monumental 1624 Tabulatura Nova were published as EB 8565 and EB 8566 (containing works SSWV 102-126 & 127-138 respectively), both edited by Harald Vogel, as is the third volume, EB 8567 reviewed here. This contains works SSWV 139-158, the nine Magnificat settings together with a Kyrie and Hymn settings and the extraordinary two final pieces. A fourth volume of Scheidt’s music, just published, covers the keyboard music found in manuscript sources and is reviewed here.

Scheidt’s Tabulatura Nova is one of the most important German musical publications up to the time of Bach, 100 years later. An extraordinarily comprehensive collection of 58 pieces, it reflects a distinctive style of keyboard polyphony, as opposed to vocal polyphony or the many keyboard intabulations of vocal music that had previously existed in German lands. Carefully put together by Scheidt, the original three volumes (mirrored in these three volumes) contain hardly any obvious errors. It includes reworking of some pre-existing pieces, and it is clear that it was intended as his magnum opus.

The meaning of the title is open to conjecture. Usually considered as a reference to the open score format (with a separate stave for each musical line, rather like a vocal score), it is also possible, and rather more likely, to refer to a new style of composition. Open score was not intended to be played from, but Scheidt suggests that performers translate the score into the more traditional letter-based tabulature notation which they can then play from. The process of copying the music out, he suggests, will teach the performer much about the structure of the music.

There have been at least two earlier editions and, as far as the musical text is concerned, there is little to choose between them. The Breitkopf volumes are in portrait soft-bound format, rather than landscape, which some players might take into account when considering which volume to go for. The spine is firm, meaning that it will not lie flat on a music desk without some spine-bending or breaking. But the key aspect of the Breitkopf editions are the excellent written commentaries included in each volume, in German and English. As a fairly obvious ploy to encourage purchase of all the volumes, these commentaries are spread out over the three volumes. So TNI includes Harald Vogel’s commentary on the edition, TNII explores playing techniques around 1600 while this volume, TNIII has notes on the use of liturgical pieces and registration practice.

The three volumes also differ in musical content, with the first two including many virtuosic works, showing a considerable development on the already technically advanced music of Scheidt’s teacher, Sweelinck. This third volume includes the important set of Magnificat settings, intended for alternatim performance with the organ and choir performing settings of alternative verses. The verses are delightful little essays in imitative writing around a cantus, and show an imaginative range of musical and registrational devices. Scheidt’s suggestions include playing a treble cantus line the pedals, using a 2’ or 4’ stop. Vogel makes this example of mental contortion easier by including a varied reading with the pedal line in the expected place on the third stave. The Hymn settings that complete TNIII have more developed examples of the treatment of a chorale melody. They are all an excellent introduction to Scheidt’s keyboard style, for those who do not feel technically up to the complexities of the music in the first two volumes.

The whole collection ends with two short, but aurally and technically monumental 6-part pieces with the titles of Modus pleno Organo Pedaliter. Performed with four manual voices and two separate melodic lines in the pedals, these indicate the style of playing with full organ. The second one, the completion of the entire Tabulature Nova is, appropriately, the Benedicamus à 6, a setting of the verse sung at the conclusion of services. Played on a full organ, with 16’ pedal reeds, the effect on the right organ is mind-blowing.

This, together with the two earlier editions of the Tabulatura Nova, are thoroughly recommended – as is a more recently published fourth Breitkopf edition of keyboard music transmitted in manuscript form, reviewed here. A sample page can be accessed here.

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