Scheidemann: Chorale Fantasias

Scheidemann: Chorale Fantasias for Organ
Ed. Pieter Dirksen
Breitkopf & Härtel 2022
92 pages | 30.5 x 23cm | 361gm | ISMN: 979-0-004-18607-7 | Softbound
Edition Breitkopf EB8938

Although the rather retro style of the cover might suggest a reprint, this is a new edition of nine Chorale Fantasias on Lutheran chorales by the pivotal North German organist composer Heinrich Scheidemann (c1595-1663). One of the key students of Sweelinck in Amsterdam (1611 to 1614), Scheidemann’s return to Hamburg was key to that city’s extraordinary 17th-century flowering of organ music: a fusion of organ design and musical development that culminated in the music of Buxtehude and, ultimately, Bach whose early experience was strongly influenced by this North German school of organ composition.

Scheidemann’s main contribution to the organ repertoire was in developing Sweelinck’s chorale-based pieces into large-scale chorale fantasias on Lutheran chorales, a genre that displayed the vast range of colours and textures of the mature North German organ. Each line of the chorale melody is treated in a variety of ways, usually including extended echo passages and complex interplay between manuals. The pedal line usually acted as a companion voice to the other accompaniment voices as well as bringing out the chorale line in powerful reed registrations. Generally assumed to have been performed as part of a Lutheran service as interludes during the singing of a chorale, these works were considered to be the musical equivalent of the sermon, reflecting and commenting on the mood and text of the chorale. The organist had a status within the Lutheran church just behind that of the pastor.

Many of Scheidemann’s chorale fantasias are part of multi-movement pieces (continuing Sweelinck’s tradition of chorale variation cycles), including his set of Magnificat organ settings, all of which include a chorale fantasia as one of the four verses. Several of his similarly multi-verse chorale settings also include fantasias. This Breitkopf volume, edited by Scheidemann specialist Pieter Dirksen (author of the seminal book on Scheidemann), includes nine Chorale Fantasias that, except for one, survive as individual works. The authenticity of six of them is considered certain, with the attribution of three anonymously transmitted works being based on the source situation and style.

One issue which has kept musicologists busy for decades is identifying composers of the vast array of anonymous pieces. Pieter Dirksen continues that tradition here, identifying three pieces (Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein WV 67 and WV 91, and Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein WV 89) as being by Scheidemann, based on a comparison of compositional style. However, Dirksen does acknowledge that Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein also includes features that might indicate Melchior Schildt, another Sweelinck student, as the composer. The one piece that is not a stand-alone fantasia is Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein WV 91 which in the only surviving source stands in the centre of a five-movement piece, the two outer movements each linked together. The dramatic entry of the extravagant tenor solo line of the fantasia is worth noting.

The first variation of this set raises a common issue with organ music of the era, all of which survive in tablature notation where notes are indicated by letters (so a, c and e are easily confused), and the notation of pitches is not always clear. In bar 34 there is an interval of an octave and a fifth in the left hand, which is impossible to play. There are a number of ways of interpreting this according to the surrounding texture, but it is something that Dirksen doesn’t address in his introductory notes or concluding critical report (which are both in German and English).

There is a great deal of information on Scheidemann’s organ and other interpretation issues in other editions of his organ music, and this edition does not repeat or elaborate on this, generally concentrating on issues of surviving manuscripts and chronology. The pieces are arranged in a conjectural, and sensible, order of composition, based on stylistic features. One advantage of this publication for those with earlier editions of the chorale works is that it includes the two excellent chorale fantasias (Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ WV 75 and Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott WV 76) recently identified as being by Scheidemann.

Although the print is a little smaller than other Scheidemann editions, the layout is clear. This example is from one of the earliest, manuals-only, pieces.

The pieces included are as follows. The timings are from the Breitkopf website rather than the edition itself.

1. Vater unser im Himmelreich WV 27 (8′)
2. Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein WV 67 (7′)
3. In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr WV 8 (7′)
4. Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein WV 91 (20′)
5. Jesus Christus, unser Heiland WV 10 (12′)
6. Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein WV 89 (7′)
7. Lobet den Herren, denn er ist sehr freundlich WV 13 (4′)
8. Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott WV 76 (13′)
9. Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ WV 75 (7′)
10. Appendix: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (short version) (2′)