1.1 Three complete editions in five years! 1991 to 1995 deserve to go down in musicological history as the pentad of Kerll’s keyboard music. And unless the editors simply declined to mention the competition, these years of instant communication are also remarkable for the circumstance that three scholars simultaneously at work on the same music in the same libraries seem not to have been aware of each other’s existence. They were Francesco Di Lernia for Universal (three volumes, 1991-95; preface to vol. 1 dated 1989), John O’Donnell for Doblinger (four volumes, 1994; preface dated 1993), and C. David Harris for the Broude Trust (two volumes, 1995; preface undated; an offprint of the suites had already appeared as early as 1991). Harris’s bibliography lists Di Lernia, to be sure, but his “Editor’s Preface” says he is publishing the suites complete for the first time, and he mentions neither O’Donnell nor Di Lernia in his text. All three write as though they were the first ones to attempt a complete edition since Adolf Sandberger in 1901 (DTB II, 2). Doubtless there is a story behind their massive duplication of effort—all claim to have consulted over thirty sources scattered through Europe and this country—but I shall leave the gossip to others.
2.1 Although only the Harris edition is under review here, having mentioned the other two I ought briefly to indicate how the three compare. Kerll’s keyboard works comprise eight toccatas, six canzonas, four suites, a cuckoo capriccio, a battle, a ciaccona, a passacaglia, and a set of Magnificat versets for the eight tones published in 1686 under the title Modulatio organica. In addition, a ricercar arranged for a barrel organ in Kircher’s Musurgia universalis (1650) and ascribed there to Kerll but elsewhere to Poglietti is probably by the former. All this music is in all three editions. The only other pieces are two alternate versions of the cuckoo capriccio included by Harris and Di Lernia, a doubtful gigue in Harris, and four other doubtful pieces in Di Lernia.
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 literature—Kerll 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 Harris—or rather, Broude—spreads 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.
3.1 Kerll was a much more important figure in his own time than his posthumous fame would suggest. Born to Protestant parents in the southern tip of Saxony in 1627, he seems to have come at a very young age to the attention of the imperial archduke Leopold Wilhelm, who arranged for him to study with the then court Kapellmeister Valentini. A reference to a letter from the latter dated as early as 1641 mentions Kerll’s compositions. In 1647 the archduke, now regent of the Netherlands, took him to Brussels as his organist. From there he was sent in 1648 or 1649 to Rome to study with Carissimi (whom the archduke had tried unsuccessfully to hire), returning in 1652 apparently via Vienna. For seventeen years, from 1656 to 1673, he was court Kapellmeister to the elector of Bavaria in Munich, where he composed at least ten operas (all lost), and from 1677 until 1692 (through plague and the same Turkish siege that cost his colleague Poglietti his life) he was one of the organists to the imperial court in Vienna, where he enjoyed a reputation as a keyboard virtuoso and continued to compose and publish. His surviving works include, in addition to the keyboard music under consideration here, much church music including eighteen masses, pieces for instrumental ensemble, a Jesuit musical drama, (note 1) and a brief treatise on modes and counterpoint. At some point, probably early in his career, he must have become a Roman Catholic. On the evidence of the widely distributed sources of his music, the borrowings by other composers including Fux, Bach and Handel, and the encomiums of his early biographers, he was well known and highly honored in his lifetime. He died in Munich in 1693.
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 Brussels—in all three of which cities their stays may have overlapped—left 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.
4.1 Harris lists thirty-one manuscripts in his main section on sources, of which twenty-three are described in detail, and he mentions a few others in the section on “dubia.” Although Sandberger’s principal source, D-BKM Ms. 5270, was lost in the Second World War, the discovery of three major new sources, A-GÖ Ms. Kerl 2 (in the hand of Gottlieb Muffat and the only one to contain the suites complete), D-Mbs Mus. Ms. 5368, and I-Bc Ms. DD/53 (both in unknown hands), as well as some minor ones, made the present editions both possible and (at least one of them!) desirable.
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.
5.1 Harris devotes more than seven pages of his introduction to performance. The discussion of time signatures is not much clearer than the situation itself in the mid-seventeenth century, which Kircher called haec tota farrago. The fact that Kerll’s Ciaccona has four different signatures in as many sources bears out Kircher’s judgment. Fortunately, Kerll’s own thematic index gives what are presumably the right ones for his music, and these are preferred by Harris over any conflicting ones in A-GÖ. The purpose of Harris’s discussion seems to be to enable one to arrive at the right tempi on the basis of Praetorius’s 85 quarters to the minute in integer valor, but he leaves the hard work to the reader. For example, if I have done it right, the beat in the Passacaglia (semibreve) is a little over 60 to the minute, and that of the Ciaccona (half-note) about the same: in both cases a moderate and believable tempo. His comments on alteration of the written rhythms make good musical sense and he wisely avoids evoking the bitter controversies on these matters, but his bland assertion that “it was a convention of Baroque performance” to shorten upbeats will raise the eyebrows of anyone familiar with those controversies, as will his spectacularly anachronistic citation of Quantz in connection with overdotting in the dance pieces. The treatment of ornamentation and arpeggiation is similar: the conclusions are unexceptionable (there can be no question in these matters of “right”), but they seem to be based more on good sense than on exhaustive research.
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 norm—and 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 slightly—and uniformly—detached, 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.
6.1 Harris mentions briefly the borrowings from Kerll, notably those by Bach and Handel, both of whom encountered his music in their youth. “Let all the Angels of God” from Messiah takes its theme from the Sixth Canzona, and “Egypt was Glad” from Israel in Egypt is virtually Kerll’s Fourth Canzona with words added. (Both these canzonas, along with Toccata 5 and Canzona 1, would have been available to Handel in publications from 1698 and 1710 [Amsterdam] and 1719 and c. 1731 [London]). Two days before the premiere of Israel in Egypt on 4 April 1739, Handel completed the organ concerto that was almost certainly played at that performance (HWV 295, known as “The Cuckoo and the Nightingale”). Perhaps because of an association sparked by the oratorio chorus, the first extended solo in this piece comes from the beginning of Kerll’s Capriccio sopra’il Cucu. A commonplace book belonging to Handel, mostly in his own hand and dated 1698 (now lost), contained music by Kerll as well as “capricios”; one can only guess that one of the latter was Kerll’s. (note 2) But even if it was not, it is not hard to imagine the passage with which the piece begins—easily remembered from some other youthful encounter—popping up unbidden to his consciousness. What is more interesting is that the Kerll association seems to have called up another passage buried in the middle of a different piece: Canzona 3—a passage that is startlingly modern-sounding for Kerll but so ordinary, so much a cliché, for Handel in 1739, that one might hesitate to speak of borrowing at all if it were not for that association. (note 3) So far as I know, this borrowing has not filtered into the literature, so I offer it here as a “new discovery.” (Example 1)
7.1 Harris says nothing about what Kerll’s music is like; perhaps an edition is not the place for it, and he may in any case have discussed it in his thesis, which I have not read. I cannot, therefore, review his opinion of Kerll’s art, but neither can I resist saying something to counterbalance the weighty musicology and off-putting engraving style. Compared to Frescobaldi and Froberger, Kerll is less profound, less intensely expressive, but not less skilled, and a lot more immediately attractive. His music is marked above all by a love of intricate imitation and bravura display, both animated by a ceaseless flow of fresh, often amusing, and sometimes audacious ideas (like a fugue subject in the Magnificat in the third tone consisting entirely of sixteen repeated E’s). His harmony, usually without being fully tonal, is more tonally directed and thus more lucid than that of his two predecessors. The contrapuntal mastery can be seen at its best and most concentrated in the Ricercar and the Magnificat versets, the virtuosity in the toccatas, which sometimes verge on perpetual motion, and the two combined in the canzonas and the cuckoo piece (which Harris gives in three versions). One can see why Handel was so drawn to these last. The only really uncomfortable pieces are the allemandes and gigues, genres that seem to have baffled their composer. The courantes and sarabandes, on the other hand, are natural-sounding and graceful. The Battaglia, consisting of over 200 bars of banging on C major (counting the repeats, which are not always clear, especially as regards bars 126-31), is hardly to be borne. On the authority of A-GÖ, Harris includes a section called Scaramuza, which also circulated as an independent piece. O’Donnell mercifully omits it on grounds of doubtful authenticity, while Di Lernia prints it in an appendix.
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 offprints—perhaps 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. Return to text
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. 161-72. Return to text
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, however—an unremarkable passage buried in the middle of one piece turning up in the middle of another—argues for the operation of involuntary memory. Return to text
(set in Finale® by John Sheridan)
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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