Christian Flor: Zehn Suiten
Ferdinand de Medici: 4 Klavier Suites
Review by John Collins

Christian Flor Zehn Suiten. Edited by Jörg Jacobi. Published by Edition Baroque EBA 4022 www.edition-baroque-de

Christian Flor, near contemporary of Buxtehude, and possibly a pupil of Scheidemann or Tunder, was organist of St Lambert’s and St Johannis’ in Lüneburg. His preserved keyboard compositions include 3 organ Praeludia, 11 Suites, 37 Dance pieces and 14 Chorale preludes. The ten suites presented here are taken from an MS dated 2nd March, 1687, preserved in the Ratsbibliothek, Lüneburg, and although anonymous in that source have been ascribed to Flor through concordances in the Möllerschen Handschrift, Berlin. Keys used include D minor (nos. 1 and 3), E minor (5), G minor (6), F major (2), C major (4), which most unusually modulates to the chromatic altered mediant, E major, at the close of each section, A major (7), E major (8) and Bb major (9 and 10). The key signatures

The make-up of these suites is considerably more varied than Buxtehude’s and Reincken’s; the traditional four movement suite of allemande, courante, saraband and gigue is represented by nos. 2 –5, 7 and 8. The courante (or corrente as it is most frequently called , and even current in no. 2) is present in all ten suites, the gigue is lacking in nos. 1, 6, 9 and 10, the allemande in nos. 1 and 6, and the sarabande in no. 10. No. 1 opens with an 8-bar aria mainly in quavers, and its variation, in semiquavers, no. 6 with an allemande-like ballet in flowing semiquavers over a quaver bass. Nos. 4, 7, 8 and 10 open with a praeludium; no. 4 is the most improvisatory with semiquaver and demisemiquaver flourishes as well as minim chords over a tonic pedal, no. 7 opens with broken chords in quavers, covering three octaves, before a motivic sequence sets in, in no. 8 after another broken chordal quaver opening a semisquaver sequence is followed by a longer final section in 12/8 built on rhythmic imitation, and no. 10 is based almost entirely on motivic sequences and imitations with artful changes, finishing in C major, a pause scarcely preparing us for the modulations in the coda.

The allemandes are mainly written in flowing semiquavers, although no. 2 progresses in quavers and in nos. 7 and 8 the stile brisé writing is more marked. The correntes are also generally similar to Buxtehude’s with many examples of broken chords in stile brisé (although no. 1’s is chordal throughout) and the prevalent opening figure being a dotted crotchet followed by three quavers; a variation in continuous quavers is provided in the first suite. The sarabandes exhibit several rhythmic varieties, with insistent crotchet motion in nos. 1, 2, 8 and 9, a more choppy feel to no. 3, semiquaver movement in no.4, well-marked broken chords in no. 5, melodic RH quaver movement in nos.6 and 7, the latter also having stile brisé effects. Variations, very effectively based on broken chords in stile brisé are included for nos. 1-3 and 8, The six gigues (nos. 2-5, 7 and 8) also exhibit different traits, nos. 2 and 3 being based on broken chords, no.4 is treated fugally, the second section opening with the subject’s inversion, no. 5 is based on imitation of motifs rather than being fugal, again with inversion at the start of the second section, no. 7, a rare example in 9/8, is quasi-homophonic, although quaver movement is heard throughout, and no. 8, the only example in a dotted rhythm, is treated fugally with different subjects in each section.

The edition is clearly printed and well laid-out to obviate page turns during the middle of a piece, but the informative preface is regrettably in German only and it is a pity that neither the suite in C nor the canzona included in the version of Suite no. 3 from the Möllerschen MS are included in this collection. There are several stretches of a tenth in the LH, and an eleventh between bass d and tenor g in the ballet and courant of no. 6, pointing to the use of a short-octave keyboard. These attractive pieces are worthy companions to the suites of Buxtehude, they are not as difficult as Reincken’s but the gigues in particular, as well as the clean integration of the several marked ornaments will offer enough challenges to occupy the player; the suites will make excellent teaching material and deserve to feature in concerts.

Ferdinand de Medici (?) IV Suite per clavicembalo. Edited by Jörg Jacobi. Published by Edition Baroque EBA 4011 www.edition-baroque-de .

These four suites, now preserved in Florence, were published in facsimile in 1987, the MS carrying the ascription Frescobaldi, which can be completely discounted. De Medici was a prince of Tuscany and great friend and patron of many of the greatest Italian composers of the time, including the Scarlattis, Pasquini and Casini. It has been suggested by Silbiger that he himself may well have been the composer of these curious pieces which were originally in his library. They comprise a total of 15 pieces, each with its own title, arranged by key, (A major, A minor, G minor and D minor); the editor has chosen to publish these groups as four suites. Each group opens with a prelude, the first one is marked Cantabile con ligature (tied notes) and opens with two bars of thick chords, before short rhythmic figures are passed between the hands. The ligature occur in the RH in eight chords only over semiquavers in the middle of the piece. The second prelude is headed di Botte, Acciachatture e Ligature and again contains many eight-note chords with dissonant passing notes; there are actually very few acciachatture. The third prelude is a short piece which after a chordal opening moves gently in quavers, and the fourth is a Cantabile con Ligature, which resembles an early 17th century Durezze in its opening, (ie a piece with dissonances prepared and unpreprared, frequently composed for use at the Elevation of the Host in the Communion service) forming before quaver movement carries on sequentially to the close. Each grouping contains an aria alla Francese, short, tuneful pieces in binary form which are unmistakably Italianate. There are two arias in each of the first and second groups, in the latter the first aria includes acciachatture and the second one a bar in 5/4. The aria in the fourth group is rather more quirky with several acciachatture and a big quaver leap in the LH from a chord based on tenor F to bass F and back again. There are two toccatas, in the second group the example comes between the two arias, and begins with semibreve chords before developing into those restless figures typical of the early 17th century from Trabaci and Mayone onwards, and dotted rhythms. In the third group the toccata commences with RH figuration over a long held chord, this idea passing from hand to hand in the middle of the piece in Frescobaldian style before a conclusion in crotchet and quaver chords, the suspensions adding harmonic interest. The one genuine dance movement in all of the pieces is the allemande in the third set, which proceeds mainly in quavers or dotted crotchet-quavers. It is quite unlike French or German models, and is far closer to some by Bernardo Pasquini.

The longest pieces in the collection, and by far the most interesting are the two Passagagli, the first one in the first group being marked Pastorali , the significance of which is unclear, there being no obvious connection with the traditional Pastorale movements as found in, for example, the multisectional Passacagli in D by Bernardo Storace, the second one, in the third group has no further heading. A French influence, rather than that of the earlier Italian Passagagli by Frescobaldi, or the later ones by Storace and Pasquini, is strongly evident here. Both open with thick chords, those in the first one being in even crotchets whilst in the second one, which commences on the second beat, the opening rhythm is crotchet, dotted crotchet, quaver. After the opening the first one proceeds with sequential figures, which contrasts by being in only two or three p[arts for most of the time, moving towards figuration over longer LH note values before further sequential writing leads to a recapitulation of the chordal opening. Careful fingering will be needed to carry off the highly dissonant suspensions of major and minor ninths in the bass at the close of the first section. The second one is built on a more continuous application of a dactylic rhythm, with interjections of the chordal opening until it closes this most majectic piece, highly reminiscent of the chaconnes or passacailles of Louis Couperin and Jean-Nicholas Geoffroy. Both pieces contain liberal acchiaccature that add further spice to the dissonant accented passing notes.

The edition is again clearly printed with the introduction offering useful and interesting information on the music and its provenance being in German only. These pieces most certainly deserve to be treated as more than curiosities and to be brought into the concert repertoire. Jacobi deserves our thanks for making them available in a highly recommended edition.

© John Collins, Nov 2010

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