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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 7 (2001) No. 1

Melchior Franck. Paradisus Musicus. Edited by Martin Philip Setchell. Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era, 106. Madison: A-R Editions, 2000. [xxx, 290 pp. ISBN 0-89579-464-0. $100.]

Reviewed by Arne Spohr*

1. Melchior Franck and His Paradisus Musicus (Coburg/Nuremberg, 1636)

2. The Edition


1. Melchior Franck and His Paradisus Musicus (Coburg/Nuremberg, 1636)

1.1 Melchior Franck (ca. 1579–1639) was one of the most productive and well respected German composers in the first half of the seventeenth century. His vast output consists of over forty collections of vocal music (sacred and secular), as well as collections of instrumental ensemble music, most of which were published during his time as Kapellmeister (1602/3–1639) at the court of Prince Johann Casimir in Coburg, a small town in northern Franconia.

1.2 Franck’s sacred works, written during a period of almost forty years, reflect the major stylistic changes in German music during the first decades of the seventeenth century. Most of his earlier sacred works are motets on Latin texts, composed in the tradition of sixteenth-century Netherlandish polyphony. They show the influence of composers such as Orlando di Lasso, Hans Leo Hassler and Leonhard Lechner, and while conservative in style, are highly expressive. The remarkable six-part motet “O dolor, o lacrymae,” written on the occasion of his mother’s death in 1603, is a good example.1 After about 1610, Franck began to write sacred music in a lighter, more homophonic style, using predominantly German texts. In the last decade of his life, he increasingly turned to the Italianate concerto style, composing sacred concertos for small vocal ensembles with basso continuo.

1.3 Melchior Franck’s magnum opus in two volumes, Paradisus Musicus dates from his later period. This work contains 66 vocal concertos scored for one to four voices with basso continuo (and an additional pair of violins and a bass viol in a few pieces). The texts are verses taken from Martin Luther’s translation of the Book of Isaiah. Their prophetic imagery allows the composer many opportunities for expressive word painting; Franck frequently uses virtuoso passages, ornaments, dissonances, meter changes and changes of texture for his highly evocative musical interpretation of these biblical texts, which invites comparison to sacred concertos by his contemporaries Schütz, Schein and Scheidt. Notable is the dramatic word painting of “Heulet” (Howl ye) at the beginning of No. 13, “Heulet; denn des Herren Tag ist nahe,” scored for two tenors and basso continuo. The musical language of other pieces has a more serene tone and communicates both faith and hope, such as concerto no. 12, “Ich dancke dir Gott,” scored for the high combination of two sopranos, alto and basso continuo.2 The expressiveness of this music as well as the prophetic texts may reflect the circumstances of Franck’s life in the 1630s, when the Thirty Years’ War had reached Coburg. Despite a series of personal hardships (his wife, daughter, son, and his patron Johann Casimir died), Franck continued composing with remarkable energy. In his preface to Paradisus Musicus, Franck writes that this music is intended to comfort all “troubled God loving Christian hearts” in “these most miserable times.”3

2. The Edition

2.1 Today, Melchior Franck is mostly known for his instrumental ensemble music, secular vocal music, and a few of his sacred works, leaving many of his early and late collections of sacred music largely unedited. This situation has recently started to change, with the publication of editions of two of his collections, Geistliche Gesäng und Melodeyen (1608) and Dulces mundani exilij deliciae (1631).4 Martin P. Setchell’s new critical edition of Paradisus Musicus marks another important step towards a reassessment of Melchior Franck’s work; it both widens our knowledge of his immense output and helps us understand his eminent position in the context of German Protestant church music in the first half of the seventeenth century. Moreover, it gives performers of Early Baroque vocal music the opportunity of discovering a rewarding new repertoire.

2.2 This edition follows the high editorial standards of A-R Editions’ “Recent Researches” series. Setchell’s short introduction gives concise and helpful information on the texts used in Paradisus Musicus, and on historical context, style, scoring and performance practice of the music. He draws special attention to eight concertos (nos. 57–64 of the second part of Paradisus Musicus), scored for one or two voices, two violins and basso continuo, with an additional “viole” (i.e. bass viol) in pieces nos. 61, 62 and 64. The scoring of these eight pieces is significant, since it is unique to Franck’s work; they show his style at its most advanced. However, the editor notes incorrectly that these pieces call for “a pair of discant viols (treble viols),” referring to the title page of the second part of Paradisus, which states “Auch etliche [Stücke] mit violen von newem componirt.” The German term “violen,” however, is a generic term for stringed instruments (i.e., violins and viols) and thus should not be translated as “treble viols”; it rather refers to the combination of violins and a bass viol used here. At any rate, this confusion of terms could have been avoided, since the parts in question are clearly labeled “violin” in the score.

2.3 Setchell gives the texts of Paradisus Musicus in transcription and in English translation, followed by some beautifully clear reproductions from the original partbooks. They include Franck’s German dedication and preface which are also given in transcription and translation. There are a small number of misspelled words in Setchell’s otherwise very careful transcription of the preface.5 However, the truly excellent English translation of the German text renders these words correctly.

2.4 The music itself appears in modern score with a spacious and beautiful layout. Incipits, given at the beginning of each piece, show the names of the vocal (or instrumental) parts, the original clefs, the key signatures, the mensuration signs and the first note of the piece. Original note values have been retained throughout. The editorial decision to standardize the old mensuration signs C and cut-C as 4/2 (rather than 2/2) helps to avoid adding editorial ties and to maintain visually the polyphonic texture of the pieces in modern score. The use of accidentals has been modernized according to the modern barline convention (i.e. one accidental is valid for the whole bar instead of for the following note only), but editorial accidentals are always carefully marked. The editor added (in brackets) many figures to the Bassus generalis part, which is originally only sparsely figured, thereby aiding the modern performer. There is, however, no continuo realization in this edition, following the current editorial policy of A-R Editions.

2.5 On the whole, this is (despite a few minor inconsistencies) a carefully prepared and beautifully printed edition of one of Melchior Franck’s most important works, deserving wide attention from both scholars and performers.


* Arne Spohr (arne_spohr@yahoo.com) is a Ph.D. student in musicology at the Musikhochschule in Cologne, Germany. He is currently writing his dissertation on the “English Influence on North German Instrumental Ensemble Music in the Early 17th Century.” Return to beginning


1. A recording is available on Paradisus Musicus, Melchior Franck: Motetten, Geistliche Konzerte und deutsche Lieder, performed by Orlando di Lasso Ensemble, directed by Detlef Bratschke (Thorofon Capella, 1997). Return to text

2. Both works are also available on the 1997 Orlando di Lasso recording. Return to text

3. The edition under discussion, p. 2. Return to text

4. Edited, respectively, by William Weinert and Randall Craig Sheets in Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era (Madison: A-R Editions), nos. 70 (1993) and 80 (1996). Return to text

5. For instance, “ergeket” should read “ergetzet,” “Unfechtungen” should read “Anfechtungen,” “bitz anbero” should read “bi§ anhero,” “deinst freundlich” schould read “dienst freundlich” and, in three instances, “Herzen” should read “Herren.” Return to text

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