Sunday, June 15, 2014

Repost: 17th Cent. German Catholic and Protestant Organ Music

The appearance of discernible trends in German keyboard music marks the beginning of the seventeenth century. In addition to the traditional separation between sacred and secular forms there was another: Catholic or Protestant. Each religion had its characteristic liturgy and musical forms, although some were common to both, and indigenous to geographic boundaries. While the North embraced the Protestant faith, the South remained steadfastly Catholic.

The Catholic liturgy, which had almost entirely abandoned congregational singing, limited organists to versets, preludes and interludes that were based on a Gregorian cantus firmus, though some characteristic musical forms did come into existence through the inspiration of the new currents of national schools, particularly Italian and French types. The Italian form of the keyboard score, using the standard forms of mensural notation, made its appearance in Austria and Bavaria where the Italian influence was strongest. Here, organists who were also court musicians and harpsichordists, enthusiastically embraced the music of Frescobaldi and Lully. But the organ was used mainly in connection with the Mass, the Magnificat, and a few devotional hymns usually associated with Vespers. These were cantus firmus compositions based on the plainsong propers and preserved, presumably, the alternatim practice of juxtaposing organ versets against vocal plainchant. We also find universal forms such as the toccata used in the Mass, since compositions intended expressly for Catholic use were not prevalent at the time. This paucity of Catholic organ music is quite surprising, given the importance of composers such as Georg Muffat, Johann Georg Albrechtsberger and Franz Xaver Murschhauser who were active in Catholic cities such as Munich and Vienna. Instead, imitative contrapuntal forms and secular genres constitute the more impressive portion of their output for the keyboard. Paradoxically, a significant amount of Catholic organ repertory was not written by Catholic composers at all but by their Protestant colleagues, since many Lutheran cathedrals still used Masses, Magnificats, and certain office hymns with their Latin texts. Noteworthy, are no less than ninety-four fugues on the Magnificat by Johann Pachelbel!

By comparison, there is an extraordinary amount of music based on Lutheran chorale melodies by Protestant organist-composers. This was an outgrowth of Martin Luther's third reform (Luther's Werke, L,368-74) which thoroughly endorsed congregational singing. Indeed, it encouraged "sensitivity to the beauty of artistically refined music." Luther, himself, loved the contrapuntal compositions of Josquin, Isaac, and Senfl. He wrote a most eloquent and romantic eulogy to polyphonic art, though he abhorred the deliriously wandering melismata in which words evaporated like incense. He wanted to restore the intelligibility of the text.

The chorale themes form the musical basis of the Reformation liturgy, initially consisted of plainchant melodies, popular tunes, and songs of German, Italian, French, and Dutch origin. The early reformers themselves enriched the Protestant hymnal; Luther contributed over forty original, adapted, and borrowed themes. As in Roman practice, where plainsong is proper to particular seasons and festivals, the Protestant chorale is of integral importance to the Protestant liturgy, with a distinctive character and function for each occasion. Furthermore, certain chorales correspond to components of the Mass (Wir glauben all' an einen Gott, for example, is the Lutheran Credo). The assimilation of this huge body of material, not only into organ music but vocal and instrumental works as well, was undertaken with great enterprise by the Protestant composers.


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