Sweelinck: Complete Keyboard Works

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
Complete Keyboard Works
Volume 1 – Toccatas (Ed. Harald Vogel, Peter Dirksen)

128 pages • 23 x 30,5 cm • 460 g • ISMN: 979-0-004-18206-2
Edition Breitkopf EB 8741
Volume 2 – Fantasias (Ed. Peter Dirksen,  Harald Vogel)

224 pages • 23 x 30,5 cm • 825 g • ISMN: 979-0-004-18272-7
Edition Breitkopf  EB 8742

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (dubbed the ‘Orpheus of Amsterdam) was one of the most important keyboard composers at that musically fascinating period at the end of the Renaissance period and the start of the Baroque. Born in 1562, he was employed by the city of Amsterdam as organist of the Oude Kerk for 44 years until his death in 1621. Organ music in the Calvanist church was limited to occasional playing of pieces to familiarise the congregation with the choral melodies, before or after the service, but not during. So Sweelinck’s duties as city organist were generally to give concerts for the public and visitors. This have him time to build up an extensive teaching practice, attracting a generation of North German organists who returned to develop the influential Hamburg organ school that dominated the 17th century, culminating in the music Buxtehude in nearby Lübeck. His music was known throughout northern Europe, with two of his pieces includrf within the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book.

Breitkopf have published his complete keyboard works in four volumes, the two specifically reviewed here, and two further volumes: Volume 3 – Variations on Chorales and Psalms (ed. Harald Vogel, EB 8743) and Volume 4 – Variations on Songs and Dances (ed Pieter Dirksen, EB 8744). Other Sweelinck editions are available, including the 1985 Dover reprint of the 1943 Max Seiffert edition, which contains a lot of music that is now known to be by other composers.

The Breitkopf volumes adopt a scholarly approach with an emphasis on representing the information contained in the sources. Each volume separates out pieces transmitted in the staff notation used by Sweelinck from pieces that only survive in the letter tablature used by the German Sweelinck school, and pieces that survive anonymously or in dubious sources. The detailed notes and essays include references to such factors as paper and its watermarks and tracing the possible transmission of sources. The musical text is based on the visual appearance of the sources, including aspects such as note values, beaming of notes, length of bars, time signatures, and the distribution of hands. The original titles are used. In addition to the new SwWV references, there is an added reference to the identification of Sweelinck works used in Peter Dirksen’s important book ‘The Keyboard Music of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck’ (1997) where, for example, the famous Chromatic Fantasia (Fantasia Crommatica, SwWV 258) is referenced as ‘d1’. Dirksen’s book is the foundation for much of the scholarship of these volumes.

The Keyboard Music of Jan Pieterszoon SweelinckThe volumes are published in softback portrait format rather than the more usual landscape format for organ music, the latter to emphasis the editors’ contention that the repertory was intended for all keyboard instruments, and not just the organ. As it the case with many music editions, they do not easily lie flat on a music desk without some spine-breaking. The music is spacious and easy to read, but with the consequent need to more page turns that in, for example, the old Dover edition. I confess that I still often play from that edition, not least because it has all my own markings and amendments to the text. But these up-dated editions are still essential reading for anybody keen to get closer to performing Sweelinck in the way that Sweelinck might have intended.

Each volume contains excellent and comprehensive essays in addition to the shared information of Sweelinck’s life and the source evaluation and essays on the genre included in each volume. Volume 1 focuses  on fingering and ornamentation, Volume 2 on Sweelinck’s instruments, and Volume 3 on registration practices.  There have been some interesting outcomes from this Sweelinck scholarship, including Peter Dirksen’s contention that the Chromatic Fantasia (referred to above) was intended for performance on the harpsichord rather than the organ, and that the well-known Balleth del granduca was probably not by Sweelinck at all.

Although the essays are all provided in German and English, the Critical Commentary is unfortunately only in German. Volume 1 contains a useful concordance between that edition and the 1943 Sieffert and the 1968 Leonhardt editions. Links to further information on all four volumes, including extracts from performances of some of the pieces on organ and harpsichord can be found here.

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