Netherlands Chamber Choir / Christie / Koopman / Phillips
Recorded: 18-19 january, 3-4 july 1989, 18 january 1990
========= from the cover ==========
'Herein lies he who set music to the words of King David, and who made Zion resound so to be heard in Holland faraway'
These verses were written by the Netherlands poet Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft upon the death of the Amsterdam-based organist Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck on October 16, 1621. That Sweelinck was considered to be one of the most important composers of his time is corrobated by the opinions of his contemporaries as well as subsequent generations. Several years following Sweelinck's death, one of Hooft's colleagues, Joost van den Vondel wrote a four-line epitaph in Sweelinck's memory. The fact that Constantijn Huygens wrote a Latin epitaph for Sweelinck in 1693, more than 60 years after the composer's death provides further evidence that Sweelinck's memory was not soon forgotten. Sweelinck's comparitively modest career lies in sharp contrast to his fame. Born in Deventer in 1562, he moved to Amsterdam, taking on the post of organist at the Old Church sometime before his twentieth birthday, a position he held to his death. According to Calvinist practice, organ music was not played during church services and was only heard before and after services and in organ performances during weekday evenings.
Needless to say, the organists employed in the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands were subject to different work norms than colleagues employed by Lutheran, Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches abroad. Thus, Sweelinck had time to engage in a range of other activities: inspecting new-built organs throughout the Republic, giving lessons and, last but not least, composing. Sweelinck's compositions fall into two categories: instrumental music written for organ and/or harpsichord and vocal music for ensembles ranging from two to eight parts. These two categories are separate from one another due to different purposes underlaying their creation. The keyboard music, consisting of toccatas, fantasias, and variations on Lutheran chorales as well as secular songs, were written either for Sweelinck's personal use or for his students, including an illustrious group of fellow organists from Netherlands Reformed Churches, German Lutheran organists, such as Samuel Scheidt, Heinrich Scheidemann and Jacob Praetorius, along with many competent amateurs. Several women could be counted in the ranks of the latter, including Hooft's first wife, Christina van Erp. As the music was intended for a limited number of performers, it was not printed but distributed in manuscript form.
One of Sweelinck's students, the Halle-based organist Samuel Scheidt, took the initiative to publish a number of his teacher's works in 1630; the edition presumably never came to fruition. Sweelinck's French chansons, French psalms and Italian madrigals were intended for quite another audience. These vocal works were written for collegia musica, best defined as groups of cultivated burghers who gathered in groups ranging from five to ten for evenings of music making. Some of these collegia were under the tutelage of professional musicians. Even though most of the repertoire for these groups was vocal, many of the group members played instruments as well as sang, leaving open the possibilities for duplicating or replacing vocal parts with lute, viola da gamba and harpsichord lines. The aforementioned poet Constantijn Huygens described his participation in a collegium musicum in his autobiography. When he was seven years of age, Huygens visited Amsterdam with his parents and joined in the musical activities at the home of Jean Calandrini, a whealthy businessman of Italian origin. This particular collegium musicum was under the direction of no one less than Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck himself. Constantijn Huygens played viola da gamba on this occasion.
Although Jean Calandrini moved to England in 1612, the collegium musicum was continued by his brother Philip Calandrini, to whom Sweelinck dedicated his second book of multi-voiced French psalms (1613), inscribed "Philomuses en la tresrenommee ville d'Amsterdam" (art-lovers from the very famous city of Amsterdam). The art-lovers Sweelinck alluded to were al businessmen. Sweelinck's Rimes francoises et italiennes (1611) were dedicated to yet another Calandrini, Jean-Louis Calandrini, one of Jean's sons. These dedications shed light on the relationship between Sweelinck's vocal music set to French and Italian texts and the enlightened, art-supporting business world in Amsterdam during this period of strong economic growth. Composers and publishers had dedicated music to their Amsterdam collegia musica before Sweelinck's time. Louis Mongart's collection entitled Cinquante pseaumes de David, avec la musique a 5 parties d'Orlande de Lassus. Vingl autres pseaumes a 5 et6 parties, par divers excellents musiciens de nostre temps (1597), including two of Sweelinck's works, were dedicated to "I'Honorable compagnie de nourissons, disciples, fauteurs et amateurs de la douce et saincte musique a Amsterdam" (the honorable company of supporters, disciples, practitioners and amateurs of gentle and sanctified music in Amsterdam).
Another example of this type of dedication is evidenced by Johannes Tollius' inscription on his Madrigali a 6 voci (1597). which reads "Inclito Amsterdamensium musicorum collegio optimae de se merito." Polyphonic French chansons, Italian madrigals and, most probably, French psalms formed an important part of the collegium musicum repertoire. These works consist of four or five equal parts, based on elegant Renaissance poetic texts in French an Italian, respectively. Sweelinck adopted these forms in the aforementioned collection, Rimes fraricoises et italiennes, with less voices (two or three) in this instance Sweelinck spent much of his life working on an ambitious proiect: to arrange the 150 psalms found in the French psalter in their French rhyme-form, dating back to the Renaissance poets Clement Marot and Theodore de Beze, into vocal settings in two to eight parts. The first volume, intitled Cinquante Pseaumes de David, mis en musique a 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8 parties, was completed in 1604. the fourth and last volume a year before Sweelinck's death and was pulished shortly thereafter under the title Livre quatriesme et conclusionnal des pseaumes de David nouvellement mis en musique a 4, 5, 6, 7 [&] 8 parties. These artful multivoiced arrangements were not intended for public worship services.
Instead, they were written to give the musically trained the opporunity to sing the psalms at home at a more satisfactory level than that attained in churches by the precentor and the community-at-large. Sweelinck used French and Italian verses rather than Netherlands language texts as the base for these works. There are several reasons for this reliance on foreign languages. First of all, the use of texts based on languages spoken throughout cultivated Europe gave Sweelinck instant exposure in these countries. Sweelinck's vocal oeuvre is extant in its totality in printed publications dated from the 17th century. Another reason for choosing foreign languages is simply the fact that during Sweelinck's lifetime the Netherlands language had only recently come into its own as a language suitable for cultural communication. Sweelinck preceded Hooft and Bredero by one generation, Huygens and Vondel by two. There were no internationally accepted models for compositions based on Netherlands texts at this time.
Aside from French and Italian, Latin was the lingua franca for Europe during Sweelinck's era. Sweelinck based his collection of motets Cantiones sacrae (Spiritual songs), published in Antwerp in 1619, on Latin texts.
Intended for Catholic services, these motets are similar in style and form to motets written by Sweelinck's contemporaries working in Catholic countries in Europe. Traditionally, polyphonic music was performed during the Mass, Vespers and Benediction, in which music was found suitable if the texts related to an event in the Church calendar. Sweelinck's Cantiones sacrae texts are much like the texts of similar works by other composers in that they combine psalm and Bible citations with fragments of liturgy and texts of unknown origin gathered together by the composer. The Cantiones sacrae are five-part motets, with two tenor lines. The music under present discussion is related to various religious denominations: organ chorales are associated with the Lutheran church; French psalms fall under the Calvinist tradition; Cantiones sacrae relate to the Roman Catholic church. Considering this, one is justified to ask what Sweelinck's religious beliefs were. The fact that Sweelinck worked at a Calvinist church added on to the fact that he had his children baptized there does not prove that he belonged to that particular religion. Taking into consideration the fact that Sweelinck's marriage was not registered by the Calvinist church and his son Dirk was accused of holding true to Catholic ideals could lead to the belief that Jan Pieterszoon held on to the Catholic beliefs of his father, Pieter Swiebertszoon, organist at the Old Church in Amsterdam before Calvinism took hold No matter what his personal convictions were, Sweelinck was first and foremost pragmatic in terms of commissions for compositions. He composed what was demanded of him whether designed for Lutherans, Calvinists or Catholics. The libertarian and mercantile spirit of Amsterdam at the time did nothing to stand in his way! Sweelinck's oeuvre stands as a worthy testament to the last generation of Renaissance compositions, in which 16th-century polyphony is of paramount importance as a compositional technique. The polyphony entails an interwoven texture of equally important voices. The composer's aim was to make each voice worthwhile in its own right. Texturally, the subtle game of consonances and dissonances governed by strict rules, plays a central role.
Although Sweelinck's vocal compositions cover many genres ranging from French psalms and French chansons to Italian madrigals and Latin motets, they are all testimony to Sweelinck's mastery which ensured for the works high level and stylistic unity within the different genres.