Scheidemann: Magnificats

Heinrich Scheidemann (c1595-1663)
Complete Organ Works
Vol 2: Magnificat Cycles (Ed. Klaus Beckmann)
128 pages  • ISMN: 979-0-001-13660-0 • Softbound
Schott Music
 ED 9729

8 Magnificat Cycles; Anonymus: Chorale Fantasy (Magnificat VIII.toni)

Complete Organ WorksHeinrich Scheidemann is one of the most interesting of the students of Sweelinck, the Amsterdam organist and teacher, who influenced many organists, particularly in Hamburg. His pupils helped to develop the important  17th century North German school of organ playing and composition that led eventually to Dietrich Buxtehude, a composer that the young Bach admired and travelled to hear. In this period the organists in the Hamburg churches had almost as much status as the preachers, and were expected to elaborate musically on many aspects of the Lutheran service. Scheidemann was organist of the Catherinenkirche in Hamburg. He taught his successor there, Reincken, and also possibly Buxtehude.

Image result for heinrich scheidemannScheidemann’s compositions seem to have been restricted to organ music, with very little surviving in other genres. They reflect the tasks of a Hamburg organist of the time, with short free Praeludia and many pieces based on chorale themes. During the singing of chorales and the Magnificat, the organist would play in between the sung verses, reflecting on the sung text. The Magnificat settings in this volume of the Schott complete works demonstrate the range of Scheidemann’s style. They are found in the Zellerfleder Orgeltabulatur, dating from around 1630-50. Several settings seem to be early works (or just simpler), but four of them (those on the II, III, VI, and VIII tones) represent Scheidemann at the height of his musical powers.

With the exception of a chorale fantasia on the VIII tone, all the other settings have four verses, the second of which is in the form of a chorale fantasia, the last being for manuals, usually in the style of Sweelinck. The exception is the extraordinary  one movement chorale fantasia on the VIII tone Magnificat, a masterpiece of the chorale fantasia form that Scheidemann helped to develop. Beckmann argues (at length) in his introduction that this work might be by Tunder, the predecessor of Buxtehude at the Marienkirche in Lübeck. Fortunately, unlike some other editors nowadays, he still includes it in the Scheidemann edition – it is one of the best examples of the distinctive North German chorale fantasia style of composition.

As with all the North German organ repertoire of this period, there are many problems in transmission and, consequently, of editing the music. They were written in ‘tablature’ notation, with notes depicted by letters with the octave group indicated by other symbols. That leads to several possible errors in transcription to modern notation, one of the principal ones being the possible confusion between the written letters a, c, and e, for example. The correct octave can also be confusing, meaning that notes can occasionally be transcribed in an incorrect octave.

Beckmann’s style of editing owes much to the layout of the original text, and it includes some factors that can initially be rather confusing, however sensible they might be. One is his rather strict depiction of voice parts, leading in some case to the left hand seeming to have to play a voice higher than the lower of the right hand voices. This can catch you out when sight reading, but is easily remedied with a pencil. Similarly with some of the treble solo voices when they descend down to the bass of the keyboard, but are still shown in the treble clef, but with an ‘8‘indication of playing an octave lower. He also generally avoids tying notes  over bar-lines, and uses longer notes than we are used to nowadays, included the breve. Again, once you know the score (so to speak), you will get used to this.

In some of his earlier editions of music of this period, Beckmann had a tendency to made editorial changes to the accepted text based on his own idea of what he thought the composer might have intended, although it was often hard, if not impossible to find out when this had happened. This is no longer the case, although it does raise the issue of the ‘Critical Commentary’. In this, any most other German editions, it only appears in rather dense German, with no translations available, either in the printed edition or on-line – a serious issue for non-German speakers.

If you are not familiar with the pre-Buxtehude repertoire, this would be a good introduction. The 33 verses can be played separately for service playing, and a complete Magnificat setting makes for a splendid recital piece, given the right organ.



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