Music this Sunday: October 14, 2018

This week’s incidental music is composed by Matthias Weckmann. Weckmann grew up singing for the brilliant Lutheran composer Heinrich Schütz (whose music will be featured at the upcoming Bach Vespers service on November 24), and ascended to the prestigious post of organist at the Jakobikirche in Hamburg in 1655. The organ in the Jakobikirche, built by Arp Schnitger, was one of the most resplendent organs in all of Germany, and as such this position was one of the most coveted amongst church musicians (Johann Sebastian Bach himself auditioned for the job in 1720 and was passed over). Thus, Weckmann was one of the most talented Lutheran musicians of his age—and indeed, his music displays an invention one rarely sees in music of this era.

Like much Lutheran organ music, Weckmann’s organ music may be divided into chorale-based works (pieces based on a hymn tune) and “free” works (pieces not based on a hymn tune). One of his most brilliant organ works, Es ist das Heil uns kommen her, is a chorale-based work and will be featured on Reformation Day this year. This Sunday’s incidental music will feature two of Weckmann’s free works, both written on the first tone (roughly equivalent to D minor): a fugue at the prelude, and a preambulum at the postlude. A fugue presents a short, simple melody, called the subject. Each voice plays the subject in succession, and the subject continues to return in various keys and registers—either hidden within the texture, or clearly presented high above or far below the texture. Weckmann’s fugues usually include a transformation of the subject at some point (a nod to the Italian style which was popular in the seventeenth century), and this fugue is no exception: it begins in duple time, switches into triple time, and then back to duple time again at the end. The subject remains the same, but is modified at each switch to take on new characteristics.

praeambulum is one of several names (such as prelude or praeludium) given to a free piece of music that doesn’t have a single, unifying subject, but rather “rambles” on from chord to chord, with scales, flourishes, and other ornamentation connecting and articulating the major harmonic goalposts. Typically a praeambulum will include a brief fugue or two. The praeambulum featured on Sunday is written in five voices, meaning that five independent lines of music are proceeding simultaneously. It takes real skill to sustain a five-voice contrapuntal texture (which is why pieces like this typically are written in only four voices, or even three), and Weckmann admirably pulls it off, demonstrating his finesse and aptitude with the tools of his trade.

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