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CHAPTER 34. Instrumental Music in Germany and Austria.

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chapter 34

Instrumental Music

in Germany and Austria

Although Italy was the fountainhead of Western art music during the seventeenth century, other countries developed their own distinctive musical styles and practices. In German-speaking lands, highly contrapuntal pieces and those built upon sacred melodies were especially favored.
johann froberger german organist and composer
Johann Froberger: German organist and composer
  • Like many Northern musicians, he studied for several years in Italy and later served as organist at the imperial court in Vienna. He composed almost exclusively keyboard music and established the dance suite as an important genre of music for clavichord and harpsichord.
Dance suite: An ordered set of dances for solo instrument or ensemble, all written in the same key and intended to be performed in a single sitting. The core dances of the dance suite are the
  • Allemande – in common time at a moderate tempo
  • Courante – a lively dance characterized by intentional metrical ambiguity by means of hemiola
  • Sarabande – A slow, stately dance in ¾ with a strong accent on the second beat
  • Gigue – A fast dance in triple meter with a constant eighth-note pulse
Program music: music in which some external influence or non-musical event affects the general spirit and the specific details of an instrumental composition. In the late seventeenth century, both the suite and the sonata began to display programmatic elements. Through the compositions of Heinrich Biber and Johann Kuhnau among others, instrumental music was appropriating the expressivity of vocal music.
heinrich biber
Heinrich Biber
  • Bohemian-born virtuoso violinist and composer, mostly known today for his sonatas for solo violin and basso continuo. Among them are his famous "Mystery" Sonatas (also known as the "Rosary" Sonatas), a set of fifteen sonatas for solo violin and continuo that project through music a sequence of fifteen miraculous, or mysterious, events in the lives of Christ and Mary (the annunciation, nativity, crucifixion, and so on).

Scordatura: Tuning a string instrument to something other than standard tuning (Italian for "mistuning"). The purpose of scordatura is to make certain passages easier to play, to produce special effects, and to make the instrument sound more brilliant by emphasizing the resonance of particular strings.

Johann Kuhnau: immediate predecessor of J.S. Bach as cantor at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, he is known today primarily for his set of six keyboard sonatas entitled Musical Representations of a Few Biblical Histories (1700). The first of these sonatas, The Battle between David and Goliath, constitutes a prime example of programmatic music.
the north german organ traditions
The North German Organ Traditions
  • Exemplified by Buxtehude's organ compositions, it is marked by intense counterpoint, the use of choral tunes, as well as plenty of virtuosic display showing vestiges of improvisation.
  • Dieterich Buxtehude: Considered the greatest north German organ composer. Born in Denmark, he served as organist at the church of St. Mary in Lübeck for nearly forty years.
  • Abendmusik: an hour-long concert of sacred music with arias and recitatives given during the late afternoons of the last five Sundays before and during Advent. The Abendmusik at St. Mary's Church in Lübeck were particularly popular during Buxtehude's time.
the south german organ tradition
The South German Organ Tradition
  • As evident in Pachelbel's organ pieces, it tempers the Nordic contrapuntal rigor with an increased fondness for lyricism.
  • Johann Pachelbel: German composer, trained in the south German and Austrian organ tradition. Although he composed hundreds of vocal and instrumental pieces, his fame today chiefly resides in his Canon in D Major.
Choral fantasia: a lengthy composition for organ that takes a choral tune as a point of departure and increasingly gives free reign to the composer's imagination.
  • Choral prelude: a work for organ that sets a Lutheran choral tune, surrounding it with counterpoint and florid embellishment. Unlike the choral fantasia, in a choral prelude the tune is sounded just once.