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Volume 11, no. 1:

Practicing Time and Art. ’t Uitnement Kabinet. Johannes Boer (viola da gamba), Erik Beijer (viola da gamba and continuo), Nuno Miranda (theorbo and Baroque guitar), Patrick Ayrton (harpsichord and organ). Radio Netherlands Music, 2003. [NM Classics MCCL92111.]

Jacob Riehman: Sonata, op. 1, no. 2
Carolus Hacquart: Suite, op. 3 (“Chelys”), no. 10
Johannes Schenck: Sonata, op. 9 (“L’Echo du Danube”), no. 2
Johan Snep: Sonata, op. 1, no. 1
Johannes Schenck: Sonata, op. 2 (“Tyd en Konst-Oeffeningen”), no. 15

Reviewed by John Dornenburg*

1. Introduction

2. The Composers

3. Schenck’s Sonata 15

4. Conclusion

References

1. Introduction

1.1 Dutch painters of the seventeenth century are renowned for their beautifully lit interior scenes of privileged domestic life, which often feature a viola da gamba basking in the warm colors of the bourgeois rooms, looking very much as if it has only recently been set down. But what music was played on the viola da gamba in those cultured Dutch rooms? The ensemble ’t Uitnement Kabinet was founded by gambist Johannes Boer with the specific aim of bringing Dutch seventeenth-century viola da gamba music to the attention of modern audiences, and Practicing Time and Art appears to be their debut recording to this end. The disc comes with a very informative CD-ROM track that includes extra materials, such as concise biographical outlines, references for the sources mentioned in Johannes Boer’s booklet notes, information on the viol itself, and a variety of pictures. It is in Dutch, and the files may be a little tricky to open on some computers, but the CD-ROM is a resource worth exploring. The ensemble’s name is taken from a 1649 anthology of instrumental music published by Paulus Matthijsz in Amsterdam, whose contents indicate a flourishing creative climate in Holland that led to a brief flowering of solo music for the viola da gamba. The four composers presented on this disc, although of mixed German, Flemish, and Dutch parentage, represent a very close-knit group of virtuoso composer-performers who were all active in the Netherlands at the end of the seventeenth century, and of whom Johannes Schenck was the most influential. All four men imitate the widespread musical models of the French suite and Italian sonata, but they do so with solid craft, individual artistry, and above all a keen understanding of the idiomatic and virtuosic capabilities of the viola da gamba which dominate their compositions.

2. The Composers

2.1 Each composer is represented on the recording by a single multi-movement work except for Schenck, whose more extensive catalogue of surviving works easily justifies the inclusion of a second piece. Four of the five works are titled “sonata,” whose sequence of movements, comprising a prelude followed by consecutive dances, would technically place them under the category of “sonata da camera” or “suite”; only Carel Hacquart uses the term “suite” throughout his publication. Despite the French spellings of the dances by Hacquart and Johan Snep, their courantes in particular remain more Italian in character, and never fully achieve the 3/2-6/4 metric playfulness that characterizes the French-style dance. The pieces by Jacob Riehman, Snep, Hacquart, and Sonata 15 from opus 2 by Schenck are performed with all movements intact and ordered as they appear in their original publications, but ’t Uitnement Kabinet has modified Schenck’s Sonata 2 from opus 9 in ways that will be detailed below (see par. 2.4).

2.2 According to recent research by Richard King, Jacob Riehman may have moved to Leeuwarden, Holland from Germany in 1702 in order to serve the royal House of Orange.1 His only surviving music for viola da gamba is the Six Sonates à une viole de gambe et basse continue, opus 1, which was published in Amsterdam by Estienne Roger in 1710. The only surviving copy of these sonatas is at F-Pn. The sonatas appear in two partbooks: one for solo viola da gamba and the other a well-figured continuo part marked “Organo.” The six sonatas ascend in key through the notes of the hexachord from C to A, and all six consist of five movements in the order Preluda-Allemanda-Corrente-Sarabanda-Giga. Riehman’s compositions fully exploit the viola da gamba’s rich chordal possibilities, in particular, its wide pitch range and its capability for pseudo-polyphony—all characteristics that are shared with the other music on this recording. While perhaps not quite as technically challenging to the performer as some of Schenck’s pieces, Riehman’s music nevertheless requires a very high level of ability that is well met by Johannes Boer. The Prelude of Sonata 2 in D Minor follows a free multiple-tempo scheme (slow-fast-slow) that can also be heard in works by Schenck, the German composer August Kühnel, and many other composers of the German-Dutch tradition. Its impressive chords and thirty-second-note flourishes make a very dramatic opening to the program and clearly show the influence of Schenck. The remaining four dance movements are thematically linked and remain consistently in the Italian style. Riehman is the youngest of the composers on the recording, and one can hear more concern for a Corellian sense of rationality in harmony and melody in his music than in that of Hacquart or Snep. The only performance issue requiring comment is Riehman’s original tempo marking of “allegro” for the Sarabanda, which is clearly indicated in both the solo and continuo parts (and on the CD cover). The performers, however, employ a decidedly slow tempo and smooth articulation which is quite beautiful, but Johannes Boer’s booklet notes are mute on this curious discrepancy.

2.3 Carel (Carolus, Carolo) Hacquart was born in Bruges and moved to Amsterdam sometime in the early 1670s. In 1679 he went to live in The Hague at the suggestion of Constantijn Huygens, who praised Hacquart as “ce grande maistre de musique.”2 Two publications of instrumental music by Hacquart survive: Harmonia parnassia, a collection of ten sonatas in three and four parts (1686), and Chelys (also 1686), a collection of twelve suites for viola da gamba. The Chelys suites all follow the same pattern of a multi-tempo Preludium followed by the dances Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, and Gigue (only no. 7 adds an “Ayr” before the Sarabande). The first six suites are all in D (four in minor mode and the last two in major), with the remaining six suites in G major, E minor, F major, A minor, G minor, and C major. The single surviving copy of Chelys is in GB-DRc, and its fifty-six pages of music contain only music for a solo viola da gamba. A catalogue from Estienne Roger from ca. 1703 describes the work as suites for solo viola da gamba and continuo, but if there ever was a continuo part by Hacquart, it is lost. Sometime just after 1700 the collection was purchased by Canon Philipp Falle of Durham Cathedral, who copied out a selection of his favorite pieces and added a continuo part to some of them; this manuscript is also preserved at the Durham Cathedral Library (GB-DRc Ms A 27).3 Some modern gambists have made use of these bass lines in their performances of Hacquart’s suites, while others have made up their own parts. It is not stated in the Practicing Time and Art CD booklet (or on the CD-ROM) which approach was taken for this recording. With its full chordal content and pseudo-polyphonic construction, the solo viol part is harmonically complete in itself, and it remains a possibility that Hacquart never intended to have a continuo part at all. The sonority-enhancing accompaniment runs the risk of clouding the solo viol if care is not taken. Perhaps because of this consideration, the ensemble ’t Uitnement Kabinet has dropped the harpsichord from the continuo group for this suite, which permits the theorbo and second viol to give this music a dark sonorous character that retains sufficient transparency. Hacquart’s movements are strongly linked thematically, including, unusually, the opening Preludium. Seven of Hacquart’s sarabandes, including that of Suite 10, are followed by variations in which each of the two strains of the dance is immediately followed by its variation in a flowing sixteenth-note division style.

2.4 Johannes Schenck was born to German parents in Amsterdam, where he was educated in music and published his opuses 1 through 4. He left Amsterdam in 1696 for a position in service to Johann Wilhelm II in Düsseldorf, yet he continued his association with the Dutch publisher Estienne Roger for all of his remaining publications. While his opuses 1 through 5 include both secular and sacred vocal music as well as a volume of trio sonatas, beginning with opus 6 (Scherzi musicali) he wrote exclusively instrumental chamber music, and most of it is for his own instrument, the viola da gamba. For Sonata 2 in A Minor on this recording, the performers have, without comment in the booklet notes, combined movements from two different sonatas found in Schenck’s opus 9. The title page of this publication (Amsterdam, ca.1704), states that the first two sonatas are for one viola da gamba and continuo, the next two for viola da gamba and continuo ad libitum, and the final two pieces for one viola da gamba alone. This recording’s Sonata presents the sequence Largo-Vivace-Largo-Giga. The Largo that frames the Vivace is taken from the unaccompanied Sonata 6 in A Minor, one of two unaccompanied sonatas that conclude the opus. The Vivace and Giga, on the other hand, are originally the final and second movements respectively of Sonata 2 in A Minor with continuo. The Vivace is a freely constructed rondo that is particularly interesting for its changes of texture. It is published in a score of three lines: the solo viol, a second viol in the middle, and the figured bass. The second viol mostly follows the continuo part, but also has several sections written in sixteenth notes that considerably elaborate the bass line, and at one point the soloist stops playing entirely for some fourteen measures while the second line actually becomes the “soloist.” In a later part of the movement, the continuo drops out for twenty-seven measures in a section that begins as a duet for the two viols and concludes with an unexpected Largo for the soloist, composed in double stops and mostly in the upper range of the viol. In Schenck’s original position as the final movement of Sonata 2, the Vivace concludes on a most puzzling dominant chord of E major. This recording’s reconstructed return of the Largo from the unaccompanied Sonata 6 solves this problem nicely, and provides a contemplative break before the group launches into the vigorously performed Giga from Sonata 2. In the sonatas of L’Echo du Danube it is easy to hear the strong influence of the Italian violin sonatas of Arcangelo Corelli, and this Giga evokes the qualities of the gigue-like Allegro that concludes Corelli’s Sonata 2 from his famous opus 5.

2.5 Of the four composers on this disc, only the Zeeland-born Johan Snep can claim an indisputable Dutch lineage. He was appointed organist at St. Lievens-Monsterkerk in Zierikzee in 1693 and opened a coffee house in that same town in 1695. His opus 1, a collection of ten sonatas for viola da gamba and continuo, was published by Estienne Roger in 1700. In his Forward to the publication, Snep gives high praise to “the great Schenck” whose “enchanted bowing” inspired him to take up the viola da gamba.4 There appear to have been two other publications from Snep, an opus 3 collection of songs with continuo, which is lost, and an opus 2 of which there remains no trace at all. His sonatas include a wider mixture of dance movements than those found in the publications of Riehman and Hacquart, such as the baletto, gavotte, rondeau, and chaconne. The opening movement of Sonata 1 in D Minor commences with a short, but extraordinary, Vivace that begins on the six-string viol’s lowest note, D, and dramatically ascends through three octaves and a fifth to the very end of the viol’s fingerboard before winding back to the D. The movement continues with a new meter sign, C, where the performers adopt a more moderate affect that is in keeping with the music’s figuration. The movement concludes with a lovely ornamented petite reprise that has been added by the performers. The second movement, “Baletto,” is basically indistinguishable from the allemande one would normally expect to find in this position. Snep’s dance movements are thematically linked, and it is particularly interesting that the short petite reprise from the suite’s first movement is quoted exactly in the petite reprise of the Sarabande, and is also partially referenced at the beginning of the Gavotte’s “B” section. In general, Snep’s dances are straightforward and tuneful, with the Gavotte most clearly representing the modern French jeu de mélodie.

3. Schenck’s Sonata 15

3.1 The recording concludes with Sonata 15 in F Major from Johannes Schenck’s opus 2, Tyd en Konst-Oeffeningen (Amsterdam, 1688) from which this recording takes its name in translation. Two copies have been preserved, one each in GB-DRc and GB-Ob. All except four of the fifteen sonatas in the collection consist of a multi-tempo prelude followed by a series of dances that typically follow the order of Allemande-Courante-Sarabande-Gigue. The remaining four sonatas contain no dances, and are more clearly modeled on the Italian violin sonatas that had become deeply rooted in German-Dutch instrumental music. Sonata 15 consists of only three movements: a relatively brief Adagio, an Allemande, and a Ciacone. For the first time on the recording the ensemble uses an organ instead of a harpsichord for the continuo in all three movements, and this provides a welcome change of timbre. The Adagio is surprisingly free of chords and virtuoso flourishes, and achieves its emotional affect instead through long chains of suspensions. The Ciacone is a truly virtuoso work consisting of twenty-six variations over a seven-measure diatonic bass pattern. Chordal passages, sustained bow strokes of up to six measures, and continual fast shifts between the low and high positions all contribute to the technical difficulties of this movement. The very same bass pattern appears earlier in the Tyd en Konst-Oeffeningen’s Sonata 10 as the Ciacone in C Major and again in Schenck’s Le Nymphe di Rheno, opus 8, as a duet for two bass viols in G major. The opus 8 duet has been recorded several times over the years, and anyone familiar with that piece will be struck by the similarities to the Ciacone in F Major presented here.5

4. Conclusion

4.1 Practicing Time and Art offers a performance of infrequently recorded and technically challenging literature that will undoubtedly be more commonly heard as this music becomes more widely available.6 Johannes Boer is a very capable soloist and has assembled a fine group of musicians to assist him on this recording. Harpsichordist Patrick Ayrton and theorbist Nuno Miranda have an excellent rapport, which allows Miranda in particular to add tasteful and subtle counter-melodies to the basic harmonic realization. The make-up of the three-person continuo group is varied among the pieces, and always with sensitivity to the music’s character. Overall, the disc’s sound has a bright, natural quality that lends it an immediacy one would hear at a live performance, but there are a few inconsistencies that should be noted. For example, Erik Beijer’s contribution as continuo viol is well done throughout the recording, but his moment to shine as soloist in Schenck’s Vivace from Sonata 2 is somewhat spoiled at first by a harsh tone, and then by some rhythmic insecurity between the viols in the short duet that follows (this is not the only example of where the continuo and soloist pull apart rhythmically). There are small tonal blemishes scattered across the recording in the form of occasional glassy string tone, a few out of tune notes, and one obvious error in the Tyd en konst-oeffeningen Ciacone. On the positive side this might indicate ’t Uitnement Kabinet’s intention to maintain a “live performance” quality over a studio-perfect product, but nothing is mentioned in the booklet notes to signal such an approach. On such an otherwise-strong recording, these small flaws can attract undue attention, and one wonders why more care was not taken to correct them. Some comment must also be directed to the soloist’s approach to ornamentation. While Schenck’s collections have a few trill signs in the form of a simple +, the music of Riehman, Hacquart, and Snep contain no ornament signs at all. This music is rich enough that it does not require elaborate ornamentation, but common-practice ornaments such as trills at full cadences would have been routinely added by contemporary players. Mr. Boer has left a surprising number of full cadences barren of trills which imparts a feeling of musical incompleteness at those places.

References

* John Dornenburg (jdrnbrg@saclink.csus.edu) lectures in music history on the faculty at California State University Sacramento, and teaches the viola da gamba at Stanford University. He holds the Soloist’s Diploma from the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, and has performed on over twenty-five compact disc recordings that include solos by J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach, Marais, Abel, Hume, Sainte-Colombe, Kühnel, Simpson, and others.

1 Much work on Jacob Riehman has been done by Dr. Richard G. King, University of Maryland, who kindly provided me with a copy of both his critical edition of Riehman’s opus 1 and facsimile copies of the original parts.

2 Constantijn Huygens, in a letter to Prince Maurits, October 2, 1679, The Hague. The relevant paragraph of this letter is given in its original French and in Dutch translation on the CD-ROM.

3 The information about Canon Falle’s booklet and the sale of the Chelys publication was kindly provided to me by the Belgian scholar Pieter Andriessen, author of Carel Hacquart een biografische bijdrage: Het werk (Brussels: Paleis der Academiën, 1974).

4 The full text of Snep’s Forward is provided on the CD-ROM.

5 See, for example the recordings by Alarius Ensemble (Harmonia Mundi KHB 20357) and Les Filles de Sainte-Colombe (Classic Masters CMCD-1013).

6 A new recording of the final six suites of Chelys was issued in 2004: Carolus Hacquart: Chelys; Guido Balestracci, viola da gamba; Nicola Dal Saso, violone; Rafael Banavita, archlute; and Massimiliano Raschietti, harpsichord and organ (Symphonia SYO 3205).


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