Melchior Schildt

Melchior Schildt (1592-1667)
Complete Organ Works  (Ed. Klaus Beckmann)
128 pages  • ISMN: 979-0-001-13431-6 • Softbound
Edition Schott 
ED 9585

2017 is the anniversary of Melchior Schildt’s death, so it is an appropriate time to look at his, sadly, very limited, surviving organ music. He was born in 1592 in Hanover to a family of musicians stretching back more than 125 years. He studied with Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck from 1609 (probably until 1612). In 1626 he was appointed court organist to the Danish king, and in 1629 returned to Hannover to replace his father as organist at the Marktkirche, where he stayed until his death.

He seems to have been ‘a bit of a character’, with several records of intemperate behaviour, one being a violent attack on the organ builder Fritzsche. Although his second marriage provided him with financial security, the relationship was troubled to the extent that Schildt’s will required their son to be removed from his mother’s care. His troubled relationship with the music profession can be seen in his further instructions for his son, forbidding him to learn any musical instrument of any kind “because those who do are held back in their university studies, and also adopt a wild and dissolute life”.

Something of his rather erratic character can be seen in his music, which often included dramatic and intense moments. His music only came to light in the 1950s when it was found in the Clausthal-Zellerfeld manuscripts, alongside pieces by Scheidemann. Based on his very few surviving organ pieces, he was fully immersed in the developing style of the Sweelinck-inspired Hamburg organists like Jacob Praetorius II and Scheidemann.

As well as two tiny Praeludia, there are two chorale-based works and a magnificent Magnifat Primi Modi, one of the most impressive examples of the genre. This, and the variation cycle Herr Christ, de einig Gottessohn have five verses, but the style varies between them. The Magnificat has an extended chorale fantasia as its second movement, with dramatic echo effects using the full resources of the North German organ. The intabulaton of the funeral motet Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, O mein Herr is an exquisite reflection, in the style of a chorale fantasia, that concludes with a dramatic chromatic scale.

The Schott edition is clearly laid out, in landscape format. Page turns aren’t always easy, but there are no obvious solutions to this other than having a page-turner. The introduction has an English translation, but the detailed notes at the back are only in German.

There are a few oddities in this edition. The main one is Klaus Beckmann’s apparent dislike of tieing notes over barlines. He will either add a fermata over a note and leave the following bars empty of rests or, perhaps even more confusingly, expect the player to notice a tiny dot next to the note. In the opening bars of the Magnificat, for example, the fourth pedal note is a dotted breve (written in square mensural style) followed by two empty bars before a rest indicates the end of the note. The same versus ends with a breve with a fermata, plus four empty bars to the end. There is what seems to be an error on page 32 (the second versus of the Magnificat, bar 151) where the left hand is shown on the Orgel rather than the Rückpositiv, as in the following bars.

Curiously Beckmann has included the admittedly rather odd setting of Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr in a state that renders it unplayable. The manuscript, not in Schildt’s hand, misses out several bars, but rather than providing an editorial suggestion for the bars, this edition just leaves them blank, with only the possible treble line to provide a clue. The 1967 Werner Breig edition (Kistner & Siegel) provides one solution, although you need to read the German preface to realise that those bars are editorial additions. Another unexplained editorial decision is to start the ornamented upper voice of the gorgeous Herzlich lieb had ich dich, O mein Herr with a downward leap of a seventh. Breig starts with middle C, which seems far more sensible. Neither editor explains their different decisions.


In the year of his anniversary, it is well worth bringing these few pieces by Schildt to the fore. Long overlooked by the likes of Jacob Praetorius II and Scheidemann, both with many surviving pieces, his music deserves to be heard. For readers within reach of Oxford, I will be playing his complete works in a recital on the famous Frobenius organ in The Queen’s College Chapel on Wednesday 29 November, starting at 1pm. More details can be found here.

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