Programme notes: Weckmann recital

The Grosvenor Chapel, Mayfair
Tuesday 1 November 2016

Andrew Benson-Wilson

Matthias Weckmann (1616-1674)

 Praeludium A . 5 . Vocum
Canzon in G
Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmain
Fantasia ex D
Toccata ex d
Komm, heiliger Geist, Herr Gott

 Matthias Weckmann is one of the most influential 17th century organist composers of the North German school. He was born in Thuringia, studied in Dresden with Schütz, a pupil of G. Gabrieli, and in Hamburg with Jacob Praetorius, a Sweelinck pupil. He settled in Hamburg in 1655 as organist of the Jacobikirche where he remained until his death. He is buried beneath the Jacobikirche organ. It was said that Weckmann “moderated the seriousness of Praetorius with the sweetness of Scheidemann, and also introduced many new elegant discoveries“. After Andrew’s Benson-Wilson’s performance of his monumental set of chorale variations on Es ist das Heil kommen her at St George’s, Hanover Square (on 11 October), today’s programmes looks at a selection of Weckmann’s free works, together with two contrasting three-verse works based on chorales.

The Praeludium A . 5 . Vocum is anonymous in the original manuscript, but there are stylistic reasons why it is likely to be by Weckmann,one being the contrast between the ‘old fashioned’ five-part contrapuntal sections (in the ‘serious’ style of Jacob Praetorius) with the rather wild Italianate flourishes of the outer Toccata passages. It is the sort of work that might have opened a service in the Hamburg Jacobikirche.

The Canzon in G could have been written by Weckmann’s friend Froberger or his teacher, Frescobaldi, so Italianate is it in style. In typical three-section canzona style, it starts with a simple four note ascending phrase which is then developed and partnered with increasingly lively countersubjects and smaller motifs.

The set of three variations on the chorale Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmain is written in the Mode decimus, described as being ‘ very charming and sweet’. The chorale has ten sung verses, so these three organ verses would have been inserted between some of them. The second verse is typical of Scheidemann’s ‘sweetness’. The final verse is one of Weckmann’s most unusual chorale verses, with its extraordinary chromatic descending phrases in the final section –  unique in the North German organ repertoire.

The Fantasia ex D is also in the form of a canzona in five parts, showing the structural form of the canzona as a forerunner of the fugue. Could this be an example of the ‘merry fugue’ that Weckmann is known to have played at the conclusion of his famous Hamburg audition in 1655?

The 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 concluding Komm, heiliger Geist, Herr Gott is based on a chorale that was always sung at the start of Hamburg services. The three verses of the hymn relate to the mood of the three organ verses. The opening verse acts as a prelude, but is unusual in that the chorale theme is in the treble. The second verse is a chorale fantasia with an ornamented treble cantus firmus, often in canon with the pedals. The solo registration used is based on one that Weckmann is known to have learnt from his teacher, Jacob Praetorius, who may have learnt it from his teacher, Sweelinck in Amsterdam. The final verse has the chorale theme in the pedals, in long notes, below two complex voices in the manuals, opening in a style typical of Sweelinck.
© Andrew Benson-Wilson 2016


Andrew Benson-Wilson specialises in the performance of early organ music, ranging from14th 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”.

A review of his recent performance of Weckmann’s monumental Es is das Heil at St George’s, Hanover Square noted that “The performance had a confident and assured touch of someone who understood the musical style. His clarity of counterpoint allied to the programme notes helped the listener to identify the processes and individual lines of the music”.

Andrew’s concerts have ranged from the enormous 1642 Festorgel organ in Klosterneburg Abbey in Austria to a tiny 1668 chamber organ in a medieval castle in Croatia – via St John’s, Smith Square.  According to one reviewer, his St John’s, Smith Square recital was ” one of the most rewarding organ recitals heard in London in years – an enthralling experience”.  More recent concerts include return visits to the 1723 Hildebrandt organ in Störmthal, Leipzig (where Bach gave the opening recital) and the famous 1558 Ebert organ in Innsbruck’s Hofkirche.

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 reviewer for Early Music Review magazine, Andrew now writes for his own review website:


The Grosvenor Chapel organ was built in 1991 by William Drake, within the original 1732 Abraham Jordon case.

Great GG/AA – f”’                     Swell C – f”’                              Pedal C-f            
Open Diapason        8                   Open Diapason     8                  Stopt Diapason      16
Stopt Diapason        8                   Stopt Diapason      8                 Principal                  8
Principal                   4                   Principal                4                   Trumpet                16
Flute                         4                     Fifteenth                2
Twelfth                     2 2/3             Mixture                  III
Fifteenth                  2                   Cornet Treble        III                Swell to Great
Furniture                 III                  Cornet Bass           III                Swell to Pedal
Sesquialtera             III-IV           Trumpet                8                   Great to Pedal
Cornet                      V                     Hautboy                8
Trumpet Treble        8                   Tremulant
Trumpet Bass          8

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