Here is the work of another, hardly less significant figure, Heinrich Scheidemann. Hamburg-based, Heinrich took over from his father as organist at the church of St Catherine’s in 1629 and remained in post until his death in 1663. He wrote almost exclusively for his instrument, and in the expected forms of chorale fantasias, motet arrangements, preludes, toccatas and fantasias which constituted the bread and butter of the 17th-century church musician’s diet.
On this newly recorded album, the French organist Joseph Rassam plays a selection of all these genres, juxtaposed for maximum variety. In fact Scheidemann invented the genre of chorale fantasia, later so refined and developed by J.S. Bach, where a well-known chorale melody is played as the soprano line and reworked by means of superimposition, canon and imitation for the effects of grandeur and spiritual elevation. There are several Praeambulum movements in which Scheidemann builds on the legacy of the Dutch master Sweelinck, more freely composed, allowing full rein for the performer/composer’s own virtuosity.
Until quite recently, all Scheidemann’s keyboard works were thought to have been written for the organ, but scholarly research has now shown that more than a quarter of the hundred or so pieces known to be by Scheidemann (or attributed to him) were actually written for the harpsichord and intended for performance in a secular context. Joseph Rassam’s recording is therefore one of the first to place such pieces in their original, intended context. In doing so, it reveals new and extrovert facets of the music which was hitherto characterised as more solemn and monumental according to an eccelesiastical context.
Joseph Rassam has chosen to use three instruments appropriate to the historical and stylistic context of Scheidemann’s music. The organ is a relatively new one, inaugurated in 2010 by Gustav Leonhardt in the church of St Martin, Amilly, and built by Bertrand Cattiaux in the style of North-German Baroque instruments. He also plays an original 17th-century harpsichord of unknown manufacture, beautifully decorated and recently restored by Alain Anselm, and one of Anselm’s own virginals.
This new recording presents both organ works and harpsichord works of Heinrich Scheidemann (c. 1596-1663).
Chorales sung in the vernacular, the pillar of Lutheran Service, are the primary source of inspiration for Scheidemann’s organ music. In combining the simplicity of the original melody and the complexity of contrapuntal technique the organist-composer made the genre of chorale settings his own.
Joseph Rassam plays on an organ built by Bertrand Cattiaux who draw his inspiration from the Netherlands and North German instruments of the 17th-century, as well as a historic two-manual harpsichord, built in 1650/55 by “CLF”. The booklet includes excellent liner notes written by a musicologist, in both English and German.