Programme notes: 1360 to 1699

Christ Church Spitalfields, 24 October 2022

1360 to 1699

Organ music from the Gothic period to the late 17th-century
played on the 1735 Richard Bridge / 2015 William Drake organ

Andrew Benson-Wilson

Robertsbridge Codex c1360 Firmissime / Adesto / Alleluya
(after Philippe de Vitry, 1291-1361)

Faenza Codex <1420 Non ara may pieta questa mia dona.
(after Francesco Landini, c1325-1397)

Adam Ileborgh von Stendal Praeambulum super d a f et g
Mensura trium notarum supra tenorem Frowe al myn hoffen an dyr lyed
(Ileborgh Tablature, 1448)

Conrad Paumann (c1410-1473) Gloria de Santa Maria Virgine 3/8v.
(Buxheimer Orgelbuch c1460)

Paul Hofhaimer (1459-1537) Salve Regina 3/5v.

Anon c1530 Offertory: Felix Namque
(Brit.Mus. Roy. App. 56)

Hieronymus Praetorius (1569-1629) Magnificat Tertii Toni 2/3v.

John Lugge (1580-1647+) Voluntary.3. pts.

Frescobaldi (1583-1643) Toccata Quinta sopra I pedali per l’organo

(Il Secondo Libro di Toccate 1627)

Anon (Pedro de Araújo? c1610- c1684) Batalha de 6 Tom

Correa de Arauxo (1584-1654) Tiento de medio registro de dos tiples

(Facultad organica 1626)

Matthias Weckmann (1616-1674) Nun freut euch. 3v

Nicolas de Grigny (1672-1703) A solis ortus. 3/4v.
(Premiere Livre d’Orgue, 1699)
A solis ortus – Fugue a5 – Point d’orgue sur les Grands Jeu

The Robertsbridge Codex is the first known collection of music for keyboard instruments. It was found amongst the papers of Robertsbridge Abbey in East Sussex and is believed to date from around 1360. The music (three dances and three intabulations) seems to be of French origin. Its arrival in England may be connected with King Edward III’s captivity of the French King John II. Firmissime / Adesto / Alleluya is an arrangement of a three-voice motet by Philippe de Vitry from the Roman de Fauvel dedicated to the Trinity and to music. One of the three motet’s vocal lines has the words “Come, Holy Trinity, to those making music”.

The Faenza Codex is an 18x25cm booklet dating from around 1420, although most of the music is based on much earlier pieces. Additional pieces were added in 1473. It includes instrumental secular and sacred pieces of Italian and French origin. Non ara may pieta questa mia dona is a keyboard version of a secular ballata by the famous blind Italian organist composer, Francesco Landini (c1325-1397). His memorial stone in Florence shows him playing a portative organ. The text starts with “She will never have mercy, this lady of mine” and reflects the pain of love.

Very little is known about Adam Ileborgh von Stendal. He is thought to have been a monk or priest in Stendal, a Hanseatic town around 70 miles west of Berlin. The Ileborgh Tablature is dated 1448 and contains five tiny Praeambula and three settings of a homage to the Virgin Mary “Lady, all my hopes do lie with you”. The nature of the postcard-size manuscript suggests that is was intended as a dedicatory offering, rather than a performing score. I wonder if this, and the text of the vocal arrangement, suggests a link to the 1447 inauguration of Stendal’s imposing Marienkirche. The title refers to the music as being in the “modern method”, with an implication of a flexibility of tempo. The rather anarchic Praeambulum super d a f et g has a very free melodic line over what seems to be double-pedal notes. The equally improvisatory Mensura trium notarum supra tenorem ‘Frowe al myn hoffen an dyr lyed’ has a similarly adventurous upper voice over the accompanying melody and a countertenor.

The Buxheimer Orgelbuch is an enormous volume of music written between 1450/70 by around eight different scribes. It is likely that the organist and theorist Conrad Paumann(c1410-1473) was the driving force behind the collection although, as he was blind, he was not one of the copyists. He was born in Nuremberg, but built his career as Court Organist in Munich. Like Landini, his memorial in the Munich Frauenkirche also shows him playing a portative organ. Many of the Buxheimer Orgelbüch pieces are transcriptions of vocal works, but the Gloria de Sancta Maria Vergine is clearly a newly composed organ piece, intended for liturgical ‘alternatim’ performance with the choir and organ alternating verses. I will play three of the eight verses, the first and last being substantial pieces, suggesting a ceremonial occasion.

Paul Hofhaimer (1459-1537) was born near Salzburg and became organist to two Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperors, in Innsbruck, Passau, and Augsburg. He was ennobled by Maximilian I and was referred to as the “First Organist to the Emperor”. After Maximilian’s death, he became organist in Salzburg Cathedral. Despite his fame as an organist, he is probably best known as a composer of German songs. Famous woodcuts show him playing a positive organ in a grand procession on top of a large wagon pulled by a camel; playing an apfelregal during a service in Maximilian’s chapel and, possibly, in an image of Maximilian. A drawing by Albrecht Dürer in the British Museum is believed to be of Hofhaimer. His Salve Regina is also in ‘alternatim’ form and requires two manuals and pedals. The chant is first heard in the tenor, and then in the treble. I will play three of the five verses.

Felix namque was an offertory chant that became the basis for many English organ pieces, some, like Tallis’s two examples, of considerable length. This anonymous example is from a c1530 manuscript in the circle of Henry VIII, and is thought to have originated in the West Country. Only two-thirds of the long chant are set and is generally heard in the treble. It has a particularly complex rhythmic structure, starting with a time signature of 5/4. The second part opens in triple time, but the two lower voices then move into duple time, setting up rhythmic conflicts with the treble chant theme, using such rhythmic combinations as 3 against 4 and 3 against 8. It is interesting to ponder if there is any link between the style of the early 16th-century English composers, such as Redford and Preston, and Hofhaimer’s pupil Dionisio Memmo. After being the organist of St Mark’s Venice, he became organist to Henry VIII in 1616.

Hieronymus Praetorius (1569-1629) was one of an important dynasty of Hamburg organist composers. He succeeded his father as organist at the Jacobikirche and was followed by his son Jacob (a Sweelinck pupil) a teacher of Matthias Weckmann. Hieronymus Praetorius is an important example of the Hamburg organ school before the influence of the Sweelinck students that dominated 17th-century musical life in Hamburg. He took part in the famous 1596 Gröningen Castle Organ Congress. He wrote nine Organ Magnificats whose verses were intended to be played in between chanted Magnificat verses. I will play the first two of the Magnificat Tertii Toni’s four verses. The majestic first verse has the chant theme in the tenor and it is the basis for an ornamented treble line in the second verse.

John Lugge (1580-1647+) was born in Barnstable and was organist at Exeter Cathedral from at least 1602 until 1647 when Cromwell’s troops ended all music in the Cathedral. He was one of the first English composers to write for the English two-manual ‘Double’ organ, with a separate ‘Chayre’ case behind the organist, similar to the German Ruckpositive. His Voluntary.3. pts is the first of three examples. Its bass solos possibly reflect the genre of bass viol divisions. Typical of the English fantasias of the period, there are several contrasting sections, each treating different themes. They are first announced on the ‘single’ manual before the bass solos, marked ‘double’. It finishes with both hands on the ‘double’. Lugge now appears to have his own Twitter account.

Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643) was born in Ferrara. In 1608 he became organist of St Peter’s, a post he held until his death, alongside other appointments. His influence on the development of keyboard music is immeasurable, not least through the dissemination of his style to his pupils Froberger and Pachelbel. The English Restoration composer, John Blow cheekily incorporated some passages of Frescobaldi into his own organ music. Frescobaldi’s Il Secondo Libro di Toccate was published in 1627. The Toccata Quinta sopra I pedali per l’organo is in the durezze e ligature style, similar to his elevation toccatas, slow-moving and reflective pieces that relish harmonic clashes and suspensions. Frescobaldi gave instructions on how to play multi-sectional free-style pieces like this, using affetti cantabili, an early version of the stylus phantasticus, reflecting a radical departure from earlier styles.

Little is known about Pedro de Araújo (c1610- c1684), although he seems to have been active in Braga in northern Portugal in the 1660s. The Batalha de sexto tom (attributed to Araújo) is one of the most dramatic examples of this distinctive Iberian genre, generally assumed to represent either the real battles with the Moors (whose heads often decorate Iberian organ cases) or the more elusive battle between good and evil. It starts, as do most such battle pieces, with the distinctive open 5th interval from the opening of Janequin’s La Guerre. The sound of distant battle precedes what sounds like the increasingly rapid scurrying of opposing forces before the score asks for the Clarins. A later section (marked pressa) suggests a battle charge. A short bass solo leads to a pause, followed by more clarion calls, another charge and a tumultuous flurry of repeated chords (the enemy in flight?) before a dance-like triple-time conclusion (a victory dance?). In the manuscript, the piece ends with the words Finis. Laus Deo (Praise God), indicating the religious nature of this very secular-sounding work.

Francisco Correa de Arauxo (1584-1654) is one of the most important Spanish organ composers and theorists. Born in Seville, he was organist at the Cathedral until 1636, when he moved to Jaén Cathedral and then Segovia. His Facaltad orgánica (1626) included 69 compositions with detailed instructions on performance and style. The evocative Tiento de medio registro de dos tiples is one of his most exotic pieces.The title indicates that the piece is a fantasia for an organ with a single divided keyboard (typical of Spanish organs of the time) with two solo treble voices. They elaborate the strict polyphonic lines in the style of two instrumentalists. Their sinuous melodies weave a sensuous thread until the final few bars when the two voices speak together in thirds. I detect more than a hint of Arabic influence in the melodic lines.

Matthias Weckmann (1616-1674) was taught by Schütz, a pupil of Giovanni Gabrielli, in Dresden, and Hieronymus Praetorius’s son Jacob in Hamburg’s Petrikirche. He had organist posts in Dresden and Denmark, where he met and befriended Froberger, Frescobaldi’s pupil. In 1655, after a well-documented audition, he became organist at Hamburg’s Jacobikirche, which had one of the finest organs in Germany, with pipes dating back to 1512. The three-verse setting of the Lutheran chorale Nun freut Euch, Lieben Christen was intended to be inserted within the ten sung verses of the chorale as musical reflections on the texts. The first verse has the theme in the pedal, the second as an ornamented treble. I will use an approximation of a registration Weckmann used during his Jacobikirche audition. He is thought to have known it from Jacob Praetorius, who probably learned it from Sweelinck. The third verse has the theme in the pedal with the two upper voices intertwining in one of the most remarkable musical creations of the 17th-century North German repertoire. It ends with a unique sequence of intricate chromatic passage work.

Nicolas de Grigny (1672-1703) represents the peak of French High Baroque organ music. He was born in Rheims and, after a period as organist of St Denis in Paris, returned to Rheims as cathedral organist. He died aged just 31. A solis ortus is the final piece in his 1699 Premier livre d’orgue. It has four verses, but I will omit the Duo. It starts with the theme in the pedal. This is followed by an example of de Grigny’s most important contributions to the organ literature – a Fugue a5. As the last piece of an otherwise rather intense and serious volume, the flamboyant and dramatic Point d’orgue sur les Grands Jeu is a surprising contrast. Like John Lugge earlier, he uses different themes and, like Frescobaldi, pedal points.

© Andrew Benson-Wilson 2022

Andrew Benson-Wilson specializes in the performance of early organ music, ranging from 14th-century manuscripts to the late Classical period. His playing is informed by his experience of historic organs, his understanding of period performance techniques, and several internationally renowned teachers. The first of his two CDs of the complete Tallis organ works 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”.

Andrew’s concerts have ranged from the enormous 1642 Festorgel in Klosterneuburg 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”. Other concerts have included return visits to the 1723 Hildebrandt organ in Störmthal, Leipzig (where Bach gave the opening recital), the famous 1558 Ebert organ in Innsbruck’s Hofkirche and a reconstruction of the 1517 ‘swallow’s nest’ organ in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland, alongside many recitals on historic English organs.

A review of his performance of Weckmann’s monumental setting of Es is das Heil in St George’s, Hanover Sq, 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“. Another review of an early 17th North German programme stated that “Benson-Wilson’s playing was exemplary . . . a fabulous, joyous piece, full of exuberant flourishes, its infectious nature fully conveyed by Benson-Wilson . . . a sure grasp of structure while honouring the work’s more exploratory moments.

Andrew’s little book “The Performance of Early Organ Music” has been used as a required text in a number of Universities. For 20 years he was principal reviewer for Early Music Review magazine, and now reviews on his own website In 2020 he was elected to The Royal Society of Musicians of Great Britain (founded in 1738), and to the Council of the National Early Music Association. Examples from live performances can be heard at

Andrew will be giving a special recital for International Early Music Day on Tuesday 21 March 2023 (1:10) in the Grosvenor Chapel, South Audley Street, Mayfair.