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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 5 (1999) No. 1

Samuel Capricornus, Geistliche Harmonien III. Edited by Paul Walker. Collegium Musicum: Yale University, ISBN 0-89579-380-6. $86.40.]

Reviewed by Geoffrey Webber*

1. Background and Content

2. Editorial Policy

3. Advice on Performance

4. The Music


1. Background and Content

1.1 An enormous quantity of seventeenth-century German church music by the contemporaries of Schütz and Buxtehude still awaits publication in modern times. Interest in this area has waned amongst German publishers since the 1960s and '70s, and almost all that remains is a steady trickle of material from the excellent stable of A-R Editions, Inc. Most of the repertory exists in manuscript sources, but there are also a number of prints containing miscellaneous occasional music, individual compositions, and compilations of normally small-scale sacred concertos. Several such collections by Samuel Capricornus (German name Bockshorn) were published during his lifetime, and library records reveal that they were widely circulated throughout Protestant Germany, rivalling the popular volumes of Andreas Hammerschmidt. Yet they have received little scholarly attention, and this edition of the third volume of his Geistliche Harmonien (1664) is thus greatly to be welcomed.

1.2 In a similar format to previous publications from A-R Editions, Inc. the volume opens with details about the life of the composer (which happen to be particularly interesting), and continues with a discussion of the contents of the publication and performance issues, followed by texts, translations, and plates showing pages from the original print. The Critical Report is placed at the end of the volume following the music itself. The standard of presentation and accuracy in the volume is high, though two minor errors in the continuo part appear in several places, and there are the usual instances of isolated miscellaneous errors.

2. Editorial Policy

2.1 Paul Walker's admirably cautious editorial approach retains the original note values, time signatures and key signatures, though clefs are modernized. This intervention is sensible enough, but it is unfortunate that the original clefs are not indicated (there being no separate preliminary staves in the edition itself and no listing of the clefs in the Critical Report), especially as the unique use of a modern tenor clef for the Alto part in No. 3, Ich bin das Brot, is thus left unexplained.

2.2 One of the principal problems facing an editor of a printed source of this nature is that the original notes all have separate stems, though slurs appear regularly in the parts. Walker decides to adopt conventional modern beaming and reproduce the slurs exactly as they appear in the source. It is generally understood that the slurs in publications such as this were provided to help indicate text underlay, as described by Praetorius.(note 1) Walker points out the often "rather inconsistent, not to say haphazard, manner" in which the slurs appear in the source, and decides to retain them not for any positive reason but rather "just in case some sort of significance might later be discovered to attach to them." A broader understanding of slurs in this context needs at least to entertain the notion that some sort of performance indication is involved, even if the presentation in the source is as inconsistent in this regard as it is with underlay. How else can the slurs that appear during a melisma in measure 112 of No. 9, Ich weiß, daß der Herr, be understood, unless as an error? A further avenue of investigation concerns the evidence provided by manuscript copies of works that were copied from a publication. How is the beaming supplied in such cases? How are the slurs reproduced? No mention is made by Walker of any manuscript copies of the compositions from Capricornus's publication, but to judge from the incipits provided by Harald Kümmerling in his Katalog der Sammlung Bokemeyer (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1970), two of the works, Der Herr ist gerecht and Ad te suspiro do indeed survive in manuscript form as part of the late seventeenth-century core of the Bokemeyer collection. What do these copies reveal?

3. Advice on Performance

3.1 The issues dealt with under "Matters of Performance" are Basso Continuo, Performing Forces, Pulse and Flow, Pitch, and a particular problem of instrumentation in Anima mea. On the subject of ornamentation, the editor is silent. Much of the space available is given over to advice concerning the realization of the continuo part, since Walker decided (for good reason) to leave the part unrealized throughout the edition. This advice includes an astute warning to those players more used to realizing late baroque parts, together with helpful advice on a wide range of issues, though with arguably less information concerning the appropriate historical authority for the recommendations than is ideal. Two specimen realizations are provided by Walker for the player to study, and these raise two vital questions regarding the nature of continuo performance in this repertory. First, should the player play all the figures given, even if the implied notes appear in the voice part? Second, is it appropriate for the player to imitate phrases and/or rhythmic figures in the vocal part, or add diminutions? Walker's specimens suggest that his answer to both questions is no, though the surviving historical evidence is more equivocal on these points.(note 2)

3.2 A lack of reference to historical authority is again evident when the editor discusses pitch and tempo relationships. Clearly there is not space in an edition to consider these problem areas in much detail, but it is surely possible to point the interested reader in the direction of the relevant literature. Regarding pitch, Walker deduces from the range C-a'' in one of the concertos that "this … suggests (at least given the nature of modern voices) a pitch level rather close to A 440." Not only does the author give no bibliographical pointers to the inquiring reader, but even his statement concerning modern-day singers is open to question, as in my experience there are many more sopranos who can sing above a top a'' than basses who can sing a bottom C. (At least this serves soberly to remind us how two commentators writing at the same time—whether then or now—can give conflicting accounts of the same issue.) On tempo relationships Walker refers only to proportio tripla, stating that "one semibreve of duple meter equals three semibreves of triple." How does one then interpret the other triple time signatures in the piece (e.g. 3/2 and 6/8)? Where can one turn for historically informed guidance in such matters? (note 3)

4. The Music

4.1 Walker's summary of the contents highlights the most interesting features of the collection, which include a highly varied choice of texts in both German and Latin, and the imaginative use of instruments. Many of the texts cannot be identified, though they frequently contain biblical paraphrase or imitations of medieval and contemporary Latin writings. A revelation of the full extent of the use of instruments in the collection is particularly welcome as both the current The New Grove and MGG list the instrumental involvement in the collection as being simply two violins and continuo, thereby concealing the presence of several wind instruments in consort and obbligato, as well as other stringed instruments. No. 16, Præparate, for example, displays the idiosyncratic combination of cornetto, violin, trombone and continuo, and contains an extended trombone solo. The music itself offers a typically subtle blend of Italian and German features, though a full evaluation of the individual voice of Capricornus must await the publication of his other collections. Walker steers clear of comparing the contents of the volume with similar compositions by other composers of the time, though it would have been instructive to make a brief comparison with the music of, say, Christoph Bernhard's similar collection also entitled Geistliche Harmonien, published a year later in 1665. (note 4)


*Geoffrey Webber (gaw25@hermes.cam.ac.uk) is the author of North German Church Music in the Age of Buxtehude (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996 [reviewed in this Journal, vol. 5.1 (1999)]) and Director of Studies in Music at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. He has recently recorded a collection of largely unpublished church music by William Child (1606-1697) and the new reconstruction of J. S. Bach's St Mark Passion using recitatives and turbae by Reinhard Keiser recently published by Bärenreiter, both on the ASV label. Return to beginning


1. See John Butt, Bach Interpretation: Articulation Marks in Primary Sources of J. S. Bach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 24 ff. Return to text

2. Praetorius, for example, in the third part of his Syntagma Musicum recommends the addition of imitative phrases and diminutions to the continuo part in certain circumstances. Return to text

3. Useful remarks on the subject are made by Daniel Friderici in his widely-circulated treatise Musica Figuralis (Rostock, 1618), as noted in my North German Church Music in the Age of Buxtehude (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 190-91. Return to text

4. Edited by O. Drechsler and M. Geck in the series Das Erbe deutscher Musik (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1972). Return to text


Two minor errors in the continuo part: Not all of the original 3-sharp figures have been modernized to 3-natural, and in a number of cases where 5 is given over a B the necessary sharp has not been added. Return to text

Isolated miscellaneous errors: No. 8, mm. 22-3, "lieblch" and "leiblich" should both read "lieblich."

Ex. 1, m. 2, Ex. 2, m. 4: the specimen realizations have missing F sharps.

Wrong notes and figures, either uncorrected from the original or in the modern edition: No. 3, m. 77: fifth bass note No. 7, m. 64: first two trombone/gamba notes No. 16, m. 107: the ninth trombone note No. 18, m. 141: second continuo note No. 16, m. 8: the figured bass should read 6-sharp. No. 18, m. 110, should there be a note 'c' instead of the rest in the continuo part? No. 12, mm. 68-71: should not the sharp added in measure 70 also appear in measures 68 and 71? Return to text

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