Fortuna desperata: Gothic and Renaissance Organ Music

Fortuna desperata: Gothic and Renaissance Organ Music
Daniel Beilschmidt
University Church of St Paul, Leipzig
Genuin GEN17453. 77’22

I have been a regular visitor for Leipzig over many years, and was always fascinated by the ever-changing landscape of the city, not least in the construction of the striking new university buildings on the Augustusplatz (pictured). This includes the Paulinum, the combined assembly hall and university church, built on the site of the old St Paul’s University church which was controversely blown up in 1968 by the city’s then communist authorities. As well as a large multi-purpose organ at the liturgical ‘west-end’, there is to one side of the chancel a swallow’s-nest organ that will ultimately be based on the late Gothic/early Renaissance instrument later described by Michael Praetorius in his 1619 Syntagma Musicum. In its currently incomplete state, it reflects a late 15th-century Gothic ‘blockwerk’ organ, allowing for performance of an important but little known repertoire that forms the foundation of all later organ music.

At the moment, the organ has seven of its eventual 18 stops completed, allowing for a divided blockwerk chorus topped by a 12-rank mixture and a Rohrflöte on the Hauptwerk, a Brustwerk Messing-Regal and the 4′ Principal case pipes of the Unterwerk. Two of the Hauptwerk stops can be borrowed on the pedals.

In this 2017 recording, the University Organist, Daniel Beilschmidt plays music from the mid-14th to the mid-16th centuries, along with soprano Christine Mothes and Veit Heller, playing bells. The recording opens and concludes with the sound of the preserved 1659 bell of the St Paul’s church, while smaller Gothic bells appear in several of the other tracks. The programme is well chosen, and covers all the major sources of organ music from the period, including the Robertsbridge Codex, the Buxheimer Orgelbuch, the Faenza Codex, and the 1448 Tabulatur of Adam Ileborgh von Stendal. alongside pieces by Machaut, Busnois, Hofhaimer, and Buchner.

Key amongst the pieces are the two extended alternatim settings, the Kyrie and Gloria cunctipoetns Genitor Deus from the Faenza Codex and Paul Hofhaimer’s Salve Regina. These feature the impressive voice of soprano Christine Mothes, with her exemplary control of tone and pitch. Veit Heller is a researcher in the University Museum of Musical Instruments. His use of Gothic bells and bell-wheels adds a wonderfully exotic tone to the organ music, notably at the conclusion of the final piece, which combines the full organ with the grand 1659 St Paul’s bell with a glittering array of Gothic tinkles.

Although we have many surviving written examples of music from this period, most of the music of the time would have been improvised. Daniel Beilschmidt adopts an improvisatory approach in a number of the pieces, playing with a flexibility and a freedom from the written text that could well have been the practice of the performers of the time.

More information on the recording and the Leipzig organ projext can be found here.

Buxheimer Orgelbuch (~ 1470)
Redeuntes in idem (Ut)

Guillaume de Machaut (1300 – 1377)
   Sanctus (Messe de Nostre Dame)

Robertsbridge Codex/Philippe de Vitry (~ 1320)
   Adesto – Firmissime fidem teneamus – Alleluia

Tabulatur des Adam Ileborgh von Stendal (1448)
   Sequitur aliud praeambulum super d manualiter et variatur super a g f et c

Codex Faenza 117 (~ 1380 – 1420)
   Kyrie Cunctipotens Genitor Deus
   Gloria Cunctipotens Genitor Deus

Tabulatur des Adam Ileborgh von Stendal (1448)
   Praeambulum super d a f et g
   Sequitur mensura sex notarum eiusdem tenoris: Frowe al myn hoffen an dyr lyed
   Incipit Fortuna

Antoine Busnois(?) (1430 – 1492)
   Fortuna desparata

Johannes Buchner (1483 – 1538)
   Fortuna in fa trium vocum, Tenor in Basso

Tabulatur des Leonhard Kleber (1495 – 1556)
   Fortuna in fa quatuor vocum
   Fortuna in mi

Antoine Busnois/Alexander Agricola(~ 1446 – 1506)
   Fortuna desparata à 6

Paul Hofhaimer (1459 – 1537)
   Salve Regina

Tabulatur des Adam Ileborgh von Stendal (1448)
   Sequitur praeambulum in C et potest variari in d f g a

Johannes Buchner
   Dantz Moss. Benczenauer

Buxheimer Orgelbuch
   Redeuntes in mi

St. Galler Orgelbuch/Heinrich Isaac (~ 1450 – 1517)
   Tota pulchra es

Johannes Buchner
   Christ ist erstanden

Sethus Calvisius (1556 – 1615)
   Christ ist erstanden

St. Galler Orgelbuch
   Christ ist erstanden