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Vierdanck - Booklet
Johan van Veen (read his review below) writes some fine reviews of CDs and I find myself often agreeing with his assessment of recordings, also with the critical points he sometimes makes. As van Veen observes, Parnassi musici left out those compositions that would have required wind instruments. His critique of their continual use of the strumming lute as an accompanying "percussion" instrument is interesting (individual tastes will probably differ there). The compositions intended for wind instruments that were left out would have added more diversity still. I also seem to miss some of the heartfelt fervour ("affect") that some ensembles bring out more intensely in that sort of music.
Click to see cover picture
Johan van Veen's review (from here): Johann Vierdanck belongs to the large echelon which music historians label as 'minor composers'. Often this says more about the historians than about the composers. Many of them were highly valued in their time, and Vierdanck was no exception. He was born from a Saxonian-Thuringian family and started his career as a choirboy in Dresden under Heinrich Schütz, who described him as a "fine, modest person and making a very good, solid beginning in composition". He became a violinist in the court chapel in Dresden, worked at the court in Güstrow and in 1632 he travelled north to Lübeck and Copenhagen. In the last 11 years of his life he acted as organist in Stralsund.
In 1637 he published his first collection of music, Erster Theil newer Pavanen, which are suites for two violins and bc. They are notable for being arranged by key and for their trio sonata texture, making Vierdanck one of the first German composers following this Italian concept. He was also one of the first to be influenced by the Italian violinist Carlo Farina, who lived and worked in Dresden, as shows Vierdanck's second volume of instrumental music, published in 1641.
It is this collection which this disc is devoted to. As Musici Parnassi is a string ensemble, the pieces for wind instruments are left out. That is regrettable, and one can only hope that another ensemble is going to record these some day (Musica Fiata perhaps?). But let us be thankful for what we get here, which is first-rate music, very well performed by this ensemble.
The collection begins with 14 capriccios for two or three violins without basso continuo, nine of which have been recorded here. According to Vierdanck these were written for pupils to practice their technical skills, and not for public performance, but it is absolutely right to include some of them. They give an interesting insight into the development of violin technique at the time, and what was expected from violinists. Listening to these pieces it doesn't surprise how many brilliant violin music was written in Germany in the 17th century. The Capriccio No 8 is written for muted strings, in some Capriccios the players are expected to play pizzicato, and Capriccio No 4 explores the possibilities of polyphonic play through double-stopping. Interesting is also Capriccio No 10, where the third violin is playing a bass part.
The other pieces show mostly the influence of the emerging Italian style. When Vierdanck was working in Dresden he must have heard Carlo Farina, who lived and worked there as well. The last piece on this disc, the Capricco auf Quodlibethische Art, shows this most clearly, as Vierdanck requires effects which are reminiscent of Farina's Capriccio stravagante.
But there is also English influence here: when Vierdanck stayed in Güstrow, the English violinist and gambist William Brade was working there too. It is the Passamezzo in a minor which shows this influence most clearly, and Vierdanck adds a galliard on the same bass motif, which is played here almost without pause after the passamezzo.
Vierdanck gave precise instructions for the scoring of the basso continuo part. Many of the obbligato bass parts are given to the bassoon. This explains the presence of this instrument in the ensemble which otherwise only contains strings.
As I already indicated Musici Parnassi gives very fine performances, which are colourful, vivid and full of contrast. There is only one point of criticism, and that is the frequent use of the archlute as a kind of percussion instrument. This seems to be the fashion of our time, and this is by far not the only recording where this fashion is followed. I am not sure this is what the composers of the 17th century, and particularly in Germany, expected. Sure, the rhythmic pulse of this repertoire is very important and has to be paid attention to, but that doesn't imply using a plucked instrument in almost every piece, nor the use of those instruments as percussion.
But this doesn't withhold me from recommending this disc, which is devoted to an unjustly forgotten composer, whose music is historically interesting and musically worthwhile.