Musical Contribution – August 2021

Psalm 140                                                                                                   Jan Pzn. Sweelinck (1562-1621)

(LiVE Sample Set: Norden, Schnitger)

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of beloved and renowned Dutch composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. Prior to the introduction of the Euro, he was depicted on the 25 guilder bill.

Born in Deventer, he moved at the age of four to Amsterdam, where he was to later become organist at the Oude Kerk. It is said that Sweelinck never played during Sunday worship services because organs were required to remain silent on Sundays at that time. However, I don’t know whether this was actually the case. What we do know is that he gave numerous recitals during the week.

In addition to Toccatas, Fantasies and Ricercares, he also composed many choral variations. This month we are featuring variations upon a psalm. We’ve chosen not to publish them all – instead, we wanted to acquaint you with this “Old” music and the possibilities offered by different types of temperaments.

Sweelinck named the first variation simply “Variation 1”. Later in history, a variation series would often start with a four-stop chorale, but Sweelinck almost never does this.

Variations 1 and 2 feature the melody in its entirety and without embellishments in the soprano. The countermelody has a lively and richly varied figuration. In variation 1 the countermelody is compressed, while in variation 2 the 16th movement is almost constant. Variation 3 is a three-stop variation.

Sweelinck played and composed at a time when the meantone temperament was generally in use. This temperament has almost pure thirds in the usual keys. I’ve chosen a quarter-comma meantone for this recording. I hope you enjoy this “old” music.

Warm regards,

André van Vliet

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