Johann Ulrich Steigleder:
Ricercar Tabulatura (1624)
Review by John Collins

Title: Johann Ulrich Steigleder: Ricercar Tabulatura (1624) Edited by Ulrich Siegele
Publisher: Bärenreiter in 2 volumes BA8479/80
Price: 42.95 Euros per volume

Reviewed by John Collins

The 1620s saw a remarkable series of publications across Europe presenting the repertoire of an individual composer – Coelho, Correa, Scheidt, Frescobaldi, Titelouze. These two volumes, the first modern edition of this important print for some 40 years, present not only the 12 ricercars of the print but also a chorale setting of Wann mein Stündlein attributed to Johann Steigleder (1593-1635, organist in Stuttgart) and three pieces (a Toccata, a Passa è mezzo and a Fuga or Canzon) handed down under the name of Adam Steigleder (his father); all seven versions of the Fuga are presented in parallel including the two attributed to both Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli.

The twelve ricercars were originally published on two five-line staves, and run through two ascending tonic series from D to A, the minor mode being used for D, E and A, the major for the other keys; this is the first time that the traditional designations by tone were replaced by key designations. The first five are written in four voices, the rest in three. Six of the pieces (nos. 1-5 & 11) are of large dimensions of up to 235 bars, the others contain about 100 on average. Rapid repeated notes, runs in thirds and sixths and big leaps at speed will occupy the player, but the overall quality of the writing makes the technical challenges worth pursuing. The pieces form a compendium of the imitative styles drawn from the German, Dutch and Italian traditions, the first two having parallels with a Sweelinckian Fantasia with diminution and echo effects in different octaves, no. 3 in F (the subject runs to over 11 bars) contains an interlude in which the falling minor third in imitation of the cuckoo appears passed from part to part well over 100 times but, because of the varied partwriting, without wearying the ear, no. 4 has a four-note subject like one of Frescobaldi’s solmization works, the chromatic no. 8 is printed in the meantone notation of the original edition with Eb and Bb being used instead of D
and A
as well as in an orthographic transcription into “modern” notation, no. 9 includes the leading note to the dominant in its subject (C-B-C-A-Bb-C-F) and no. 12 is based on a descending major triad in a canzon-like rhythm.

The short chorale setting is also given in two versions, a literal transcription and a performing version. Of the three pieces by Adam Steigleder, the short Toccata is based on a Venetian/Dutch model with a slow imititave introduction leading to held chords against quaver passagework passed between the hands. The Passo è mezzo followed by a galliard is another short work in mainly crotchet movement. The Fuga or Canzona ia more substantial and comparison of the different versions will repay time spent.

The edition includes a comprehensive introduction in German and English covering the style, details of the original print and its production, notation, and several facsimiles, unfortunately the notes on the Ulm Minster organ in Volume I, and the comprehensive critical commentary to both volumes, are in German only. Original beaming has been kept so that the player can decide whether it has any impact on articulation. All works are playable on manuals only although pedals would be useful for avoiding some large stretches. With each volume containing only about 85 pages in total, their purchase will represent quite an outlay for relatively few pieces which may deter investigation by individuals; although demanding in places including several semiquaver runs in thirds certainly these volumes should form part of every institutional library since the pieces are well worthy of performance in concerts and as voluntaries.

© John Collins, Nov 2010

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