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Sweelinck's innovations are now accepted as normal but the famous virtuoso invented, for example, the method of beginning an organ fugue with one subject only and then piling up texture and complexity until they soar to a climax of resolved harmonies. He excelled the skills even of Frescobaldi in the manipulation of fugal devices such as countersubject, stretto and sustained pedalpoint. He was also the first to give an independent contrapuntal line to the pedals. These inventions awaited that other great dynastic prodigy, J S Bach after his birth in 1685 more than sixty years after Sweelinck died.

The organ works chosen for this disc are arranged in a sort of two-tier sandwich. Sweelinck's four-minute Toccata in C comes first [listen -- track 1, 0:00-1:00] with his eleven-minute Ricecar [listen -- track 20, 0:00-1:00] last and, in the middle, his arrangement of the dance tune Malle Sijmen (Simple Simon). Simple Sweelinck's duration for this is one minute thirty nine seconds. Wedged between the master's three bites at the sandwich are two 'echo' pieces by pupil Scheidt [listen -- track 3, 0:00-0:33] and a theme with ten variations, Est-ce Mars, lasting just over ten minutes. There is also some Magnificat-based music by another pupil, Scheidemann, which come in at slightly over twelve minutes. The brevity of all these pieces is breathtaking, indeed shocking, for they fire the listener like a space rocket into the early twentieth century. There is, after all, nothing new about Webern. Unlike Webern, however, Sweelinck and his pupils may have improvised on these short pieces to show off their acknowledged brilliance at the art of improvisation.

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Copyright © 28 August 2005 George Balcombe, London UK


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