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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 19 (2013) No. 1

Published 2017

The Instrumental Music of Schmeltzer, Biber, Muffat and Their Contemporaries. By Charles E. Brewer. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2011. [440 pp. ISBN 978-1-859-28396-7. $149.95.]

Reviewed by Rebecca Cypess*

1. Introduction

2. The Study of the Archive at Kroměříž

3. Kircher and the Italian Connection

4. Schmeltzer, the “Pastorella,” and the “Animalien”

5. Genre and the Sacred-Secular Divide

6. Biber’s Rosary Sonatas

References

1. Introduction

1.1 The performance of seventeenth-century instrumental music has experienced a revival in recent decades, thanks to the efforts of a number of creative and sensitive players—perhaps especially violinists such as Andrew Manze, Robert Mealy, Monica Huggett, and Ingrid Matthews. Performances by these artists and many others demonstrate the virtuosic fluidity and rhapsodic spirit of the instrumental idiom; its formal, harmonic, and motivic complexity; its use of musical imagery and mimesis; and its harnessing of both folk and art traditions.

1.2 It is a portion of this innovative repertoire that forms the subject of Charles E. Brewer’s recent book, The Instrumental Music of Schmeltzer, Biber, Muffat and Their Contemporaries. Brewer’s book is a welcome addition to the literature on late seventeenth-century instrumental music, especially because most of the music it addresses has seldom or never before been discussed in the scholarly literature. The volume is packed with valuable information: especially helpful are Brewer’s structural analyses of understudied music and his translations and explanations of primary sources. In parts of the volume, however, Brewer’s use of these musical and verbal sources shows logical inconsistencies, some of which I will address below.

1.3 Brewer’s work is divided into five large chapters. The first explores the ideas that Brewer sees as the theoretical foundation for the music he is concerned with, especially the stylus phantasticus and other style classifications found in Athanasius Kircher’s Musurgia universalis (1650). Chapter 2 presents a life-and-works study of Johann Heinrich Schmeltzer that is complemented by an appendix containing a chronological list of Schmeltzer’s dated works. In Chapter 3 Brewer provides an overview of the cappella of the Prince-Bishop Carl Liechtenstein-Castelcorn, compiled from materials still held in the archive at Kroměříž, a city that was, in the seventeenth century, a crossroads for prominent musicians of the age. Chapter 4 presents a discussion of the music of Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber and Georg Muffat in Salzburg. In the final chapter Brewer returns to the theoretical framework of the stylus phantasticus, tracing what he sees as its dissemination and ultimate “dissolution.”

2. The Study of the Archive at Kroměříž

2.1 Brewer’s strongest scholarly contribution is his presentation of primary materials. Some of these (for example, the passages from Kircher’s Musurgia) were known before, but his translations, juxtapositions, and elucidations of various sources help to put them in all in a new light. Most impressive in this respect is Chapter 3, in which Brewer reports upon the documents and music in the archive at Kroměříž, most of which were unknown or underexplored until now. Kroměříž was the personal residence in the seventeenth century of the Prince-Bishop Carl Liechtenstein-Castelcorn, an influential and progressive patron of music whose collection provides a wide-frame snapshot of the musical activities of central and east central Europe.[1]

2.2 Using the materials at Kroměříž, Brewer explains a number of important facets of music-making in this important cultural center (organological terminology, genre designations, usage within church and chamber, and numerous other issues). His presentation of these topics is somewhat haphazard, a product of his descriptive style of writing, which does not lend itself naturally to the formation of a sequential narrative. For readers looking for information on a particular subject, however, it contains mounds of data from primary sources that will be invaluable for future research and interpretive studies.

3. Kircher and the Italian Connection

3.1 Chapter 1 is dominated by a discussion of Athanasius Kircher, whose theoretical works, Brewer writes, “form a mirror that reflected the basic cultural values of late seventeenth-century Central and East Central Europe” (2). And yet, it seems odd to establish Kircher as a prophet of stylistic categories that would emerge in the second half of the century without pointing to the obvious connections in style and genre between that later music and the music that Kircher heard in Rome, where he lived and worked starting in 1633. One hears in the instrumental music of Schmeltzer and his contemporaries so many of the same impulses that pervade the music of Italian composers earlier in the seventeenth century—both those who spent time working in Germany (Carlo Farina, Giovanni Battista Buonamente, Antonio Bertali), and those who remained in Italy (for example, Marco Uccellini, who, as Brewer notes, must have been known to his Central European counterparts). Although Brewer makes reference to Bertali and Uccellini, he does not sufficiently explain his decision to begin the bulk of his history with Schmeltzer, rather than these other composers. Especially given his use of Kircher as a theoretical foundation for his musical analyses—and remember, Kircher does not merely provide cultural context or social framework, but descriptions of actual music—it seems strange that Brewer’s book is so light on analysis of the music Kircher might actually have been writing about.[2] Neither Brewer’s positioning of Kircher’s work as the theoretical foundation for his discussion, nor his decision to separate the late seventeenth-century repertoire from its stylistic precedents, is clearly justified.[3]

4. Schmeltzer, the “Pastorella,” and the “Animalien”

4.1 Johann Heinrich Schmeltzer’s music, though favored by many baroque violinists in recent years, has eluded extensive engagement in current scholarly literature. Brewer’s chronological study of Schmeltzer’s music is extremely valuable, therefore, since it provides a clear overview of the repertoire, original texts and translations of some important primary sources related to the music (title pages, dedications, and correspondence), some comparison with works of other composers, and information regarding the social institutions (events at Carnival, for example, or the performance of Italian opera in Vienna) that might have led Schmeltzer to compose in certain styles or genres.

4.2 As one might expect, the surviving correspondence that mentions Schmeltzer’s music does not always provide clear indications of which piece in particular the author is referring to. In two cases, Brewer offers interpretations of correspondence, proposing connections between letters and the musical compositions to which he thinks the letters refer. The first is a “Pastorella,” and although the composition in question is not very well known, it raises some interesting issues. The second involves the famous “Sonata rappresentativa,” which until now has been attributed to Biber; Brewer argues that that attribution should be revised, since he considers it likely that the piece is in fact by Schmeltzer.

4.3 I turn first to the “Pastorella,” a genre whose name indicates an obvious connection with pastoral or folk music; indeed, citing the work of Geoffrey Chew, Brewer explains that in general this genre uses “musical imitations of folk songs and pastoral instruments, such as the bagpipe and Tuba pastoralis (alphorn)” (97).[4] In a letter to the Prince-Bishop Liechtenstein-Castelcorn, the court official Wenzel Cunibert von Wenzelsberg referred to a collection of sonatas by Schmeltzer, including one that he calls the “Pastorella.” In an edition of 1921, Paul Nettl interpreted this letter as referring to a set of balletti that includes a piece marked “Pastorella” as its second movement. Brewer disputes this identification, arguing instead that the letter must have been referring to another instrumental work by Schmeltzer that bears the same title: one in the “Rost” codex, a manuscript now held in the Bibliothèque Nationale. This work in the Rost codex, Brewer shows, was based on an earlier vocal work by Schmeltzer, the offertory “Venite ocyus de nativitate Domini.” He suggests that Schmeltzer’s offertory forms an early example of the religious theme that, as Chew has shown, would come to be associated with the genre of the pastorella by the eighteenth century: it is “a vocal work associated with the shepherds who heard the angels’ song, Gloria in excelsis deo, and went to visit the manger in Bethlehem” (97). Brewer concludes that Schmeltzer’s instrumental “Pastorella” would have retained the religious association of its vocal model.

4.4 All this shows excellent musicological detective work: Brewer has identified a new connection between vocal and instrumental works, and his suggestion that this piece is the “Pastorella” to which Wenzelsberg’s letter refers certainly seems convincing. More problematic, however, are the conclusions that Brewer arrives at based upon this evidence. First, he writes that it is “intuitively obvious that these works on a specifically religious theme were meant for use in church” (104). However, he also cites a note appended to a contemporaneous anonymous musical work indicating that such pastoral pieces, with their “drones and bagpipe-like melodic figures,” must be omitted in church (105); his inference that a piece called a “pastorella” must have been intended for performance in church is thus negated. The problem here is that even in cases where instrumental works have a clear vocal model, it is difficult to state with certainty that the meanings of those works—or their intended performance venues—would have remained consistent after the transfer of medium. The ways that early instrumental music accrued meaning are complex. Brewer’s evidence demonstrates that Schmeltzer set a religious text about shepherds visiting the manger by drawing upon musical topoi associated with folk song; but this does not necessarily mean that a purely instrumental work based upon this earlier vocal composition was also intended for use in church. The same topoi, absent the sacred text, might revert to the general associations of the pastoral. Indeed, the suite of dances that Nettl first identified with Wenzelsberg’s letter seems to undermine Brewer’s conclusion: there, a movement explicitly labeled “Pastorella,” which also bears hallmarks of folk music, stands alongside a series of dances in various “national styles” (a “Gavotta tedesca,” a “Gavotta anglica,” a “Gavotta gallica,” etc.) that seem unlikely candidates for performance in church.

4.5 The second case in which Brewer reinterprets correspondence relating to a piece by Schmeltzer concerns the “Sonata rappresentativa.” The letter in question was a follow-up to the one cited above, from Wenzelsberg to the Prince-Bishop. In this second letter Wenzelsberg wrote that he had attempted to obtain from Schmeltzer “the desired ‘Birdsong’”—a piece in which Schmeltzer would use his violin to imitate the sounds of birds (107). However, Schmeltzer evidently demurred, indicating that “he indeed had composed the arias, which in a substantial ‘Birdsong’ are between all the strong barking and cries of the beasts, but the voice of the birds and the cries of the other beasts must be studied by memory” (emphasis mine). Brewer argues that Schmeltzer ultimately complied with Wenzelsberg’s request, because “it would have been a great faux pas to not fulfill the Prince-Bishop’s expectations” (108). He suggests that the “Sonata rappresentativa”—attributed to Biber in the 1695 inventory of the holdings at Kroměříž—was in fact the very piece that Wenzelsberg had solicited from Schmeltzer, noting that it “exactly matches [Wenzelsberg’s] description” (108). Citing other cases of misattribution, Brewer proposes that Biber was only the copyist.

4.6 We may never know for certain whether it was Biber or Schmeltzer who composed this work, and the idea that it was attributed incorrectly in the seventeenth century is plausible. What is troubling about this section, however, is that it argues with confidence that Schmeltzer actually fulfilled Wenzelsberg’s request—that he wrote down a work he had already said must be learned “by memory”—without acknowledging the implication that such works, and the performance practices associated with mimesis of the sounds of nature, proliferated in an oral tradition. The sense that musical notation was an inadequate system for the transmission of animal noises and other curious sounds on the violin may have been what prompted Carlo Farina to include a verbal appendix explaining how the mimetic passages should be executed in his “Capriccio stravagante” of 1627.[5] The same sense persisted two centuries later, when commentators writing about Nicolò Paganini described the spontaneous fits of inspiration that sometimes led him to use his violin to reproduce “a whole farm-yard of animal sounds, with all the truth of nature”; and indeed, no written trace of Paganini’s musical farm-yards survives.[6] Given Schmeltzer’s reported reluctance to write down his animal-music, it would be worth acknowledging the possibility that both Biber and Schmeltzer might have played pieces in such a style, but that one of those may have been written out fully and the other may not.

5. Genre and the Sacred-Secular Divide

5.1 An aside in Brewer’s discussion of the “Pastorella” highlights the complexity of two other overlapping issues in the field of seventeenth-century instrumental music: first, the question of genre, and second, that of the distinction between sacred and secular works.

5.2 Before embarking on his discussion of the “Pastorella,” Brewer highlights Wenzelsberg’s use of the term “sonata” to refer to the pieces that he was collecting from Schmeltzer: “I also hope that Your Royal Highness will have received the two remaining Schmeltzer sonatas, known as the ‘Fencing-School’ and the ‘Pastorella'” (95). The first piece of evidence that he cites to disprove Nettl’s identification of this “Pastorella” with the one included in the suite of dances entitled Balletti â 4 is this: “It seems unlikely that either Prince-Bishop Carl or Wenzelsberg would have called a balletti [sic] a ‘sonata,’ however ambiguous the use of the term ‘sonata’ might have been in the late seventeenth century” (96–97). This claim seems tenuous. One precedent for such usage is a volume by Biagio Marini of 1655 (Marini being a composer whose work, as Brewer suggests, would have been familiar to central and east central European composers [191]) entitled Diversi generi di sonate, da chiesa, e da camera of 1655, but which opens with a suite of dances entitled balletto. Marini’s book seems to suggest that at least his publisher, if not the composer himself, thought the term “sonata” applicable to a collection of balletti.

5.3 It is in Chapter 3 that Brewer turns to the da chiesa-da camera divide, surveying the sonata literature from the archive at Kroměříž, as well as works by other composers who would have been known there, for evidence. Here, however, his discussion is hampered by his methodology. Brewer explains the procedure he used in his search for da chiesa or da camera designations: “Following William Newman’s methodology, only those works called ‘sonata’ in the sources were considered, though works called ‘sonata’ that were used as introductions to cantatas or ‘balletti,’ which were excluded by Newman, are also incorporated” (191). Although this statement shows that Brewer approached the repertoire with greater flexibility than did Newman in his volume The Sonata in the Baroque Era, Brewer’s method does not fully account for the terminological mess of late seventeenth-century instrumental music.[7] As Gregory Barnett has written in his overview of this repertoire, “The use of genre designations … seems haphazard and ill-defined by comparison with the later and more familiar practice of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Thus the theorist Angelo Berardi, writing in 1689, appears to mix the meanings of ‘concerto’ and ‘sinfonia’ in a brief mention of violin music by Corelli which had been published as ‘sonatas.'”[8]

5.4 However, even if Brewer had cast a wider net, including in his survey those works not explicitly labeled “sonata,” it is still not clear that he would have located what he was looking for. He finds very little in the way of specific, explicit designations per chiesa or per camera: “Except for the few sonatas ‘per chiesa e camera’ it is conspicuous that the individual designations of either da chiesa or da camera are extremely rare in the inventory [of sources compiled upon the Prince-Bishop’s death] or in the individual sources” (187).

5.5 Here, too, Brewer seems to be looking for terminological clarity where we should not expect to find it. As Barnett has shown, the application of da chiesa or da camera designations in Italian repertoire was quite inconsistent; nevertheless, Barnett demonstrates convincingly that by default the sonata repertoire in Italy, even in cases where the sonatas are “unmarked,” was “churchly.”[9]Although this section of Brewer’s book seeks to apply these Italianate terms and distinctions to the central and east central European repertoire, he does not cite Barnett’s important study. Instead, he limits his definition of sonate da chiesa to those that “specify a holy feast or religious term in their titles”; he counts only nineteen of these and suggests a twentieth whose title may imply a sacred theme. He also provides tables of “chamber sonatas” and “sonatas for church or chamber” (188–89), though for both of these the terminology is likewise inconsistent.

5.6 Brewer summarizes his findings concerning the chiesa-camera divide as follows: “In contrast to these special cases [i.e. the sonatas that have explicit sacred or secular designations], the majority of sonatas in the archives at Kroměříž, approximately 85 per cent of the total, only give the title ‘Sonata’ and the number of performing parts, which is basically true of all seventeenth-century sonatas…. The evidence would seem to indicate that sometimes a sonata is just a sonata” (191–92). However, if he had used Barnett’s findings as a starting point, Brewer might have conducted his study from an entirely different perspective—one that looked for markers of style and (to use Barnett’s word) “ethos,” rather than explicit verbal designations. The conclusion that “sometimes a sonata is just a sonata” may provide a way out of a terminological and methodological quandary, but it also misses the opportunity to provide a meaningful answer to the question of how instrumental music was used in the late seventeenth century.

6. Biber’s Rosary Sonatas

6.1 In Chapter 4 Brewer provides overviews and descriptive analyses of the music that Biber and Muffat composed for Salzburg. For the collections of extant instrumental music Brewer presents tables indicating the movements included, transcriptions and translations of the relevant title pages and dedications, and observations about their musical style and other prominent features. As with the chapter on Schmeltzer, all this information is highly useful and will provide a foundation for future studies. Among the most interesting and suggestive points that Brewer makes in this section is that Muffat actively adopted a style in imitation of Corelli, acknowledging as much in the dedications of some of his music. Here Brewer reminds us that, however useful it may be to study the local contexts of instrumental music, patrons in central Europe were equally concerned with cultivating an international style; furthermore, new mechanisms for the dissemination of music were at work that allowed for the spread of taste and sensibilities across Europe.

6.2 Probably the most famous collection of music that Brewer writes about is Biber’s cycle of works on the Rosary—pieces that have in the past been called the “Rosary Sonatas” or “Mystery Sonatas,” but that Brewer renames the “Rosary Partitas.” He provides ample justification for this change in title, arguing that it would have been more common for Biber and his contemporaries to refer to a work or suite that includes dance pieces (as the Rosary collection does) as a “partita” than as a “sonata.”

6.3 In addition to the new terminology, Brewer argues for a new dating of the Rosary works. He shows that the terminus ad quem of 1676, first proposed by Erwin Luntz in 1905, was based on tenuous stylistic evidence.[10] Brewer instead argues that these compositions date from the period 1683–87, the latter year being the date of the death of Biber’s patron and dedicatee, Archbishop Maximilian Gandolph. His evidence is mostly circumstantial, relating to hints in the texts of dedications of other books by Biber, and some in the texts of dedications by other composers, but he shows convincingly that the scordatura technique so central to the Rosary sonatas was in common use in the 1680s. For example, a 1688 publication by Johann Jacob Walther refers proudly to Walther’s own use of “the accurate intonation of simple well-sounding notes,” in contrast to recent publications by other composers whose strings are “falsely tuned ad nauseam” (312–13). Brewer suggests that Walther’s dedication was meant as an attack on Biber.[11] Again, while Brewer’s argument is not definitive, this discussion sheds new light on these important works and their musical context.

6.4 Although this review has called attention to some of the logical weaknesses of Brewer’s book, I should emphasize that on the whole the volume constitutes a much-needed step forward in scholarly engagement with the rich repertoire of late-seventeenth-century instrumental music in central and east central Europe. With its enormous quantity of primary documentation and its insightful descriptions of the musical styles that these composers used, this book offers an important new perspective and a springboard for further discussion.

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