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Friday Night Organ: The Orpheus of Amsterdam


The Evil Genius
Joined: 3 years ago
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Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621) was born in the town of Deventer and as a young child he and his parents moved to Amsterdam, which in the mid-1500s was little more than a fishing village. Sweelinck’s father was appointed organist of the “Oude” Church, St. Nicholas in 1566. This laid the foundation for a family tradition of organists that would last a century…father to son and then on to grandson. His father died in 1573 and by 1577 Jan had taken up his father’s post as organist at the age of 15.

In 1578 Amsterdam changed from Catholic to the new Calvinism sweeping the reformation. And with it Amsterdam was becoming a major European hub of international trade, and a jumping off point for explorers and colonists…in a word cosmopolitan. By the time of Sweelinck's death the age of Rembrandt was just taking off. However, Sadly (and predictably) the Calvinists had no place in their worship service for an organ, or any music for that matter. But by the late 16th century Germany and Holland could boast many fine instruments---two of which built by the famous Henrik Niehoff occupied the OudeKirke.

These instruments were a source of civic pride and were the property and responsibility of civil authorities. As a result Sweelinck’s appointment was civic, not ecclesiastical. So unlike Bach a century and a half later Jan didn’t have to cater to the temperaments of church officials. He was a government employee. In exchange for 100 guilders a month he was expected to play 1 hour twice a day for the edification and entertainment of visitors to the church. In addition organ recitals were encouraged after regular church services as a means to keep people out of taverns.

His salary doubled in 1590 when his mother died and was increased further to 300 guilders when he married. Alas back then there WAS an incentive to get married. In any case Sweelinck’s prowess at the organ was considerable and he soon became a tourist attraction and his fame spread. As I have mentioned previously many composers from all over Europe made the trip to Amsterdam to hear Sweelinck’s playing, and/or study under him. This entailed some risk if the student/composer/musician was from a Catholic country as their presence in Calvinist Holland could land them in prison in the Hague. Samuel Scheidt, and Heinrich Scheidemann (from last week) carried their knowledge back to Hamburg and formed the basis of the North German School of organ.

Here is a bit of irony. A number of Sweelinck’s works were published in his life time—but all were vocal works. Although known to us today for his instrumental works NONE were published in his life.

We begin with the Fantasia Chromatica (Which means a fantasy based upon the chromatic scale) This work is a personal favorite of mine and this performance is played upon one of only two remaining Stellwagan Organs in the world.

Here is Toccata Nr. 22

And finally SweeLinck's take on a popular tune of the day: Mein Junges Leben hat ein ende. (My young life is at an end) Yeah that was a pop tune back then.

OPPPS Mentioned Samuel Scheidt and failed to include any music SORRY! Well here are six short works for organ taken from Scheidt's  Tabulatura Nova.

Joined: 3 years ago
Posts: 2887

Amsterdam definitely contours up different memories for me than organ music!

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Uly The Cunning
Joined: 3 years ago
Posts: 2863

Definitely a son carrying on from the father. This is a fantastic edition. The fame from two variations of compositions as well as his ability to handle the religious turmoil that was enveloping the time and area shows this man to be ingenuitive and creative beyond measure. I rather like the longer video of compositions as it played all morning while I was reading and doing my routine. 

"Remember, you're fighting for this woman's honor, which is probably more than she ever did."
Groucho Marx: Duck Soup (1933)

Joined: 3 years ago
Posts: 2474

Hi Pete I put these 2 songs in honor of Tim’s Victory Celebration today on my thread and Gargamels thread, it’s not quite like yours but it’s close enough to your realm that I think you will like them, so I hope you enjoy. It doesn’t hurt to have some feel good soul music if you never heard it  😇 

#Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. (Revelation 3:3)