Johann Caspar Kerll, Four Suites. Edited by C. David Harris. "The Art of the Keyboard," 2A. New York: The Broude Trust, 1991. [$17.50].
Reviewed by David R. Fuller*
2.2 Harris, in a section on "dubia," discusses thirty pieces (plus two variations) that he considers spurious, among them the four movements (with one variation) of a suite in D minor and a further sarabande with variation, and he prints incipits of the rejected suite movements. His commentary and critical apparatus are by far the most complete and they include a lavishly documented biographical sketch that corrects a number of errors in previous literatureKerll could not have studied with Frescobaldi (Albert Giebler in New Grove), there is no proof that he was organist of St. Stephen's in Vienna, he was ennobled not in 1658 but in 1664, there is no evidence that he taught Pachelbel or Reutter (these three from Mattheson and much repeated), he was probably not in Brussels in 1650 (Giebler). A particularly valuable feature of Harris's edition is the extended discussion with examples of "relationships among the sources." His critical notes (which fill forty pages) are meant to be sufficiently detailed to allow the reader "to reconstruct the texts of the principal sources in all of their essential details." Although both Di Lernia and O'Donnell list most or all of the sources with brief comments, the former omits any notes on the individual pieces and the latter's are laconic in the extreme. O'Donnell does, however, reproduce twenty pages from the sources, including all the front matter of Modulatio organica.
2.3 Perhaps the most surprising difference
among the editions is that Harrisor rather, Broudespreads
the music over something like 75% more pages than the other two. This
extravagance results mainly from putting too much space between one note
and the next, sometimes to the extreme of bar 73 of the passacaglia (part
1, p. 130), in which twelve quarter notes are spread evenly over a bar
7 inches long (the full width of the score). Not only is the player
kept needlessly busy turning pages, but the music is much harder to read
because the graphic advantage of staff notation is sacrificed: the eye
does not instantly see the vertical intervals but must read the position
of each separate note on the staff. The Di Lernia edition is much the
pleasantest to read but the least informative, the O'Donnell is a practical
compromise (though the inconsistent spacing between the systems and the
undersized character give it an amateurish and spidery look), and the
Harris is for reference. I have not checked the first two for accuracy.
3.2 The parallels with Froberger (1616-1667) are remarkable. Both were born German Protestants, became organists in Vienna, studied in Rome, converted to Roman Catholicism, worked in Brusselsin all three of which cities their stays may have overlappedleft keyboard music in the same genres, and had a piece included in Kircher's Musurgia. It seems impossible that they would not have known one another, but there is no proof. Certainly their music is very different, in spite of the similar molds in which it is cast.
3.3 Except for the ricercar and the set of
Magnificats, none of Kerll's keyboard music was published and none
exists in the composer's hand; moreover, the manuscript sources attribute
pieces by others to him and his pieces to others. This problem apparently
existed in Kerll's own time, for in response, and to the infinite benefit
of editors in the distant future, he appended to his Magnificats a
thematic index of all his keyboard works up to that time (1686; odd that
it should not have been reproduced in any of the editions, especially
since its readings, if only of incipits, were helpful in choosing among
the sources of certain pieces). Thus not only are editors provided with
an authoritative canon of the repertory (with the exception of the ricercar
in Kircher), but they even have an order in which to present it, an order
respected by all three of the 1990s editions.
4.2 Both Harris and O'Donnell take as their "best text" for the music transmitted in manuscript A-GÖ, which contains
all the pieces listed in Kerll's index (he did not list the ricercar and
the Magnificats). This is superceded only by readings that differ in the
thematic index. O'Donnell, however, preferred the distribution of notes
between the staves of I-Bc, which was written in Italian keyboard notation
with an eight-line staff for the left hand. The differences and the advantage
in legibility of I-Bc are noticeable in the allemandes of suites 1 and
2 (I-Bc has no suite movements beyond the allemande of Suite 2). Comparison
of the two editions is not helped, however, by Broude's curious practice
of numbering fragments of bars as if they were whole bars; even an initial
sixteenth-note upbeat gets its own bar number, as does the half-bar on
either side of a repeat sign in the middle of a binary piece, with the
result that (as in another Broude edition) a perfectly normal gavotte
may have five-bar strains according to the numbering. A major difference
between Harris and the other two editions is in the treatment of white
(or "void") notation combined with occasional coloration in the closing
sections of Canzona 3 and the battle piece, two bars of the Passacaglia,
and the whole of the Ciaccona. Harris transcribes this into modern notation,
giving the original passages in an appendix, while O'Donnell and Di Lernia
present the pieces in their original notation, setting a mild challenge
to the unsophisticated.
5.2 In the matter of phrasing and articulation, much is made of the evidence of beaming, but since no beaming beyond the incipits of the thematic index can be attributed to the composer, and since there is so little consistency in what is presented, it can furnish no more than occasional suggestions. But how would the articulation be rendered even if we were sure of the patterns? Harris does not say, but he seems to imply, that it is a matter of breaks in a legato normand this in spite of his mention of pairwise scale fingering. But what if the norm were détaché? What would the meaning of articulation be then? How does it relate to the ubiquitous doctrine of "good" and "bad" notes? Is articulation the same on organ and harpsichord? Harris also does not mention the bearing that the pictures of the unrolled surfaces of organ cylinders in Kircher might or might not have on live keyboard articulation of the period, at least in Kerll's Ricercar. Notes of the value of a half-note or larger are all slightlyand uniformlydetached, and smaller ones seem to be legato.
5.3 The section on performance concludes
with brief comments on repeats and some material on the kinds of organs
and harpsichords that might have been available to Kerll. Even though
a thorough treatment of instruments could not be expected in an edition
of music, the very meagre citations of the vast literature on this subject
do not inspire much confidence in what is said. For example, does the
stoplist of the Munich Frauenkirche organ represent its state as built
in 1631, in Kerll's time, or at some later date? Harris's authorities
give two quite different stoplists (of which he reproduces one) without
answering the question. The same applies to old harpsichords, which are
rarely left alone by restorers in any period. There is no discussion of
pitch or temperament.
7.2 Harris's edition is certainly indispensable for libraries and anyone seriously interested in the details of Kerll's keyboard music. It is printed in two volumes, the thicker one of 215 pages containing the music, and not lying very comfortably on the customary flimsy music racks of harpsichords. It is not clear whether all the music will be available in offprints, but the user-friendly combination would be the volume of commentary plus the offprintsperhaps supplemented by the Di Lernia edition for real ease of learning the notes. One welcome practicality of the Harris edition is the provision of the plainsong versets that alternate with the organ versets in the Magnificats, so that these sets can be performed in the only way that they make sense. No attempt is made, however, to reconstruct the versions or the performance style of the chants as Kerll would have known them.
*David R. Fuller (email@example.com) is on terminal leave at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Return to beginning
1. Of which Oskar Kaul said that its "diversity of forms
and effective musical shaping of the allegorical subject together with
the extravagant luxury of its vocal and instrumental forces (splendid
choruses, solo ensembles, tone-painting, echo effects)" must give some
idea of the qualities of Kerll's operas and secure him a place as the
first important German opera composer after Schütz. MGG 7
(Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1958), 857.
2. See Robert Hill, "'Der Himmel weiss, wo diese Sachen
hingegommen sind': Reconstructing the Lost Keyboard Notebooks of the Young
Bach and Handel," Bach, Handel, Scarlatti: Tercentenary Essays,
ed. Peter Williams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp.
3.A reference to "fugues" in Handel's notebook could
refer to canzonas. And if Alexander Silbiger is right in his suggestion
(cited by Harris) that G. B. Pescetti was the principal scribe of I-Bc,
and if Pescetti had the manuscript with him in London in the late 1730s,
and if the necessary contact took place, that also could explain Handel's
knowledge of Canzona 3. The nature of the borrowing, howeveran unremarkable
passage buried in the middle of one piece turning up in the middle of
anotherargues for the operation of involuntary memory.
Example 1a. Johann Caspar Kerll, Canzone terza, mm. 35-38
Example 1b. George Frideric Handel, Organ Concerto no. 13 in F (HWV 295), 2nd movement, mm. 106-11
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