article 6: The online essay for NAXOS 8.573493-94 / FROBERGER /
23 Suites, Tombeau, Lamentation
Holy Imperial and Royal Majesty, the most humble devotion and respect which I owe your Imperial Majesty for so many unmerited gracious kindnesses rendered me have induced me to compose a number of works, which were inspired as well by the diverse feelings which the vagaries of time have aroused in me. For the same reason I have created and added this Fourth Part to the others which I already dedicated in all humility to Your Majesty, to whom, it being owing to the same, I dedicate it in ever greater devotion. Begging Your Majesty that it may please him in his accustomed kindness to look with favor upon this most reverent tribute of my most humble abidance, while wishing Your Majesty a long series of years full of prosperity and felicitous successes, I remain your Holy Imperial and Royal Majesty’s most humble and beholden servant, Gio. Giacomo Froberger. - Preface to the Libro Quarto, 1656
Such obsequiousness, at which we cringe nowadays, was obligatory for anyone in the 17th century wishing to approach the throne of the Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna. The reigning house of Habsburg well understood the necessity for a certain distance from its subjects, even from a highly favored one like the court organist Hanß (as he called himself) Froberger, whose memory now outshines that of his dull, bigoted master, the emperor Ferdinand III, as the Sun outshines a candle.
Johann Jacob Froberger was born in Stuttgart in 1616, the son of the leader of the highly cosmopolitan musical establishment of the Protestant duke of Württemberg. For reasons not clearly understood he went to Vienna (as a choirboy, according to one story; when Imperial troops occupied the city in 1634 according to another), and in 1637 appears on the court payrolls as third organist. To obtain the post he had to convert to Catholicism. In the next year he was granted (after an initial refusal) a stipend to travel to Rome to study for three years with the most famous keyboard virtuoso of the age, Girolamo Frescobaldi. Another extended journey to Italy followed in the next decade; when in Rome again, he became an associate of the eccentric Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher. A letter from Froberger to him contains a tantalizing mention of Carissimi, one of the most influential composers of the 17th century, and music director of the German seminary in Rome which was renowned for the high standard of its performances. Nothing is certain about their relationship, but I think it must have been one of the profoundest impact on the younger man. If Frescobaldi and Kircher were the sources of his contrapuntal mastery, from Carissimi’s oratorios he will have learned the secrets of expressive theatrical rhetoric; the swift changes of Affekt, which are so striking even in the earliest suites, and the power of Froberger’s individual musical gestures have their roots there.
Froberger returned to Vienna in 1649, and presented the Emperor with a Libro Secondo of masterpieces for organ and harpsichord (the Libro Primo is lost). He set out on his travels again almost immediately, partly as a cultural ambassador/diplomat, journeying through northern Europe until 1653. After passing through Dresden (where he entered a friendly competition with the Elector’s keyboard master, Matthias Weckmann) and numerous other German and Dutch cities, his main focal points were Brussels (where he joined the entourage of Ferdinand’s younger brother, the Stateholder of the Austrian Netherlands, Leopold Wilhelm) and Paris, where he was warmly welcomed by leading musicians, most notably Louis Couperin and the lutenist Blanchrocher, who died in Froberger’s arms after a fall from a staircase. At some point in this period he went to England, but was robbed twice along the way and arrived penniless in a country where Cromwell and his Puritans had crushed public musical life.
In 1652, 80 Parisian musicians offered the "fat German nobody", as an irritated chronicler called him at the time, a celebratory concert. On his way to rejoin the Habsburg court at the Regensburg Imperial Diet of 1653, he was again robbed by marauding Lotharingian soldiers. (Their ducal lord was dissatisfied with the terms of the treaty which ended the Thirty Years War.) Later that year, in Vienna again after more than three years on the road “seeing the world and qualifying myself”, as he says in a letter, he was reinstated as Imperial organist, only to be fired by Ferdinand’s successor, Leopold I, in 1658, as part of a retrenchment, but possibly also for political reasons; he may have been perceived as being associated with factions opposed to Leopold’s election as Holy Roman Emperor. His subsequent whereabouts cannot be precisely traced, but later travels took him back to Paris (1660), and as far as Madrid. The great Dutch statesman and connoisseur Constantijn Huyghens, long an admirer, finally met him by chance for a single day in Mainz in 1665, where he heard Froberger’s latest works. He later wrote of the composer and performer as a “wonder of the world”.
Froberger found a final refuge at the dowager residence of his devoted patroness Duchess Sibylla of Württemberg-Mömpelgard in the village of Héricourt, at the time German territory, now in southeastern France. He died before his plans to return to Vienna, reported in a letter to Huyghens, came to fruition; his beautifully-prepared autograph manuscript decorated with the arms of the emperor Leopold I which had disappeared for 350 years recently resurfaced. There exists a moving eyewitness account of his death, which he seems to have anticipated by one day, when he set aside a gold coin for his funeral. Sibylla had her friend and teacher buried, according to his wishes, as a Catholic outside her Protestant enclave, in spite of protests from her circle. They had surely known each other since their childhood days at the Stuttgart court.
Froberger was much loved for his friendly, modest character; his fame and influence were almost unparalleled during and long after his lifetime. Mozart arranged one of his contrapuntal pieces for string quartet. Froberger’s seal, with its coat of arms, indicates that at some point he had been raised to the minor nobility, but he made no great fuss about it.
Such are the outlines of a life of which we know little enough. A few program-pieces, like fragments of a musical journal, cast sudden flashes of illumination upon isolated events. Except for a few sacred vocal works, Froberger composed for the keyboard; a one-sidedness more complete even than that of such clavimanes as Domenico Scarlatti or Chopin.
Back in the previous century, when I was sitting on the jury of a harpsichord competition, I expressed to an illustrious colleague my joy at the recent, long-awaited appearance of a volume of a new Froberger edition. “Oh, but those are just the polyphonic pieces,” he murmured. The solid protein of Froberger’s brilliantly-wrought polyphony makes up about 75% of his surviving output by page-volume; its percentage by specific gravity is higher still. But the more accessible Suites and the exuberant Toccatas get all the attention. Part of the Suites’ attraction is their relative technical simplicity. But, as Quantz warned a century later, these dances in the French style - and they are the only pieces for which Froberger uses French keyboard notation, the modern norm - are not as easy as they seem. For the old layers of counterpoint, they substitute an extremely complex texture of speech-like gestures, worked out along the axis of time. The melody is in dialogue with the bass, and inner voices weave in and out, vanishing as suddenly as they appear. The skilled harpsichordist uses these to show underlying rhythms. To grasp this rhetorical structure in all its implications and give it well-balanced expression, rhythmically on target and solidly embedded in an eloquent harmonic matrix, is the true virtuosity of the style. It requires the utmost liveliness of mind and reflex. When successful, the result ought to be a simulacrum of the fabled evenings of conversation at the Hôtel de Rambouillet, which were just past their zenith when Froberger paid his first visits to Paris. (“Il faut bien qu’un instrument parle”, a French writer tells us fifty years later.) This exquisite admixture of esprit and mildness is the polar opposite of the brutality of modern, computer-game- and celebrity-driven life, but, if allowed to sink in, it can offer solace to the battered soul.
In 1964 my teacher Gustav Leonhardt made an LP of harpsichord and organ works by Froberger which marked the full flowering of the rediscovery of historical harpsichord technique. Something about the delicate balance between freedom and strictness in this music led Leonhardt down the narrow path to an interpretation where flexibility and rigour are in harmony. Unfortunately the idea almost immediately became widespread that more of everything must be better - more rubato, more articulation, more “dynamics” (read “banging”), more ornamentation, ever more extreme tempi. Bizarre distortions entered the field of harpsichord playing, which have now become so general that one sometimes despairs of the instrument’s respectability. This recording of Froberger’s suites attempts, in all humility, a return to sobriety; it is intended as a kind of audio version of a printed edition, with no repeats, and ornaments which, judging by Froberger’s own examples as transmitted in a few sources, could be considered obligatory. I regret the reduction of scale that this entails, but in my defense, I would say that 1) I know of nobody who does the third da capo repeats explicitly demanded by Georg Muffat, and sometimes indicated in compositions of Froberger and his contemporaries; 2) it is unthinkable to repeat the final sections of Froberger’s Tombeau for Blancrocher or Lamento for Ferdinand IV - one only descends into purgatory or ascends to heaven once, after all - in spite of the presence of repeat signs, which therefore seem non-binding; 3) I tire quickly of listening to others’ (and my own) recorded ornamentation, since it should be a thing of the moment, and 4) Froberger himself demanded strict limitations on the distribution of his works, since he felt nobody could play them properly without his instruction, or that of one who had known his method of playing; hence, adding massive do-it-yourself ornamentation feels to me even more like tampering with his will than playing his music in the first place. In any case, we should all bear Kerll’s warning against too much ornamentation in mind: “what has been well-cooked, should not be cooked again”.
A couple of years before his death Leonhardt must have been shocked by the appearance at auction of Froberger’s last autograph manuscript, mentioned above. I had no opportunity to speak with him about it, since I only found out myself when, looking through his library shortly after his passing, I saw the Sotheby’s sale brochure. It is full of his characteristic tiny pencilled corrections and queries of everything from factual errors to misspellings and missing commas; but the 18 iterations of the word “unknown”, in connection with pieces previously lost, were underlined in squiggles of green ink -- for this locked-down personality, an unusually emotional outburst on paper. This was only the latest of a series of three recent source discoveries which have revolutionized Froberger text-criticism to an astounding extent.
I know that the degree to which editors agonize over their choice of variants is of little interest to the listener, but I must mention the fact that this has been the most difficult job of its kind I have ever tackled, and that it is a work in progress with no end in sight. These movements evidently circulated individually, in shifting suite-groups, and as collections of various sizes and authority. They were subject to revisions by the composer as time passed and occasion presented itself. First in importance as sources are two autographs presented to Ferdinand III, Libro Secondo and Libro Quarto, divided into sections for toccatas, polyphonic works, and suites; but even these are not free of errors. The recently discovered autograph now takes its place alongside them. Next comes a large collection returned to the Singakademie in Berlin after its discovery in Kiev in 1999, where it had landed as Russian war booty. It contains much new information, especially concerning programmatic pieces and dedications. In third place comes a large source copied in Strassburg after Froberger’s death, partly ex autographo, by an organist named Bulyowski. It is maddeningly inaccurate, but consists in my opinion largely of later revisions which must be confronted.
Numerous other sources must also be consulted by whomever finally takes on the nearly-impossible task of a critical edition. Leonhardt was tinkering with one for most of his life. After the edition mentioned above came out, riddled with mistakes and lacking any critical commentary, he glumly told me that he thought “no publisher would touch” his, because the market was saturated. He may have been wrong about that, but at least he was spared the chagrin of seeing his work rendered obsolete by so many new sources.
Why only 23 Suites?
- “Complete Suites” was not a possibility, since at the time of recording, a previously unknown suite in the recently-discovered autograph manuscript of the probable Libro Sesto was not available to me. Because it also contains the definitive texts of the Suites XV, XVIII, XIX and XX, I have put them aside for the moment as well.
- I have rejected Froberger’s authorship of three suites from a late-17th-century source by a scribe who had some access to early works. But those traditionally numbered XXI, XXII, and XXVI (as well as a spurious “Courante 2” inserted into Suite XXV) are so markedly inferior to the others that I cannot believe that even a very young Froberger would have shown them to anyone. Many will disagree, but I think they are, if not intentional fakes, the misattributed work of a student or pious imitator.
- “Suite VI” from Libro Secondo is not a suite, but Froberger’s only true Partita, a set of variations on what is said to have been the emperor’s favorite German song, with some suite-like elements, reflecting the confusion surrounding the word “partita” (which simply means “a work in several movements”) at the time. It is mentioned separately on the title page.
- I also reject an interesting suite in E-flat, formerly attributed to Georg Böhm, now often claimed for Froberger and sometimes given the number XXIX as a replacement for a spurious suite. It looks to me far more like a very clever but flawed parody, in a key that Froberger never used, but which points in the direction of Böhm and a choirboy student of his in Lüneburg named Sebastian Bach. Its position as an anonymous unicum (near several genuine Böhm suites) in a manuscript copied by Bach’s brother leads me to suspect that the young scamp was pulling a prank. Bach would have had opportunities to study Froberger’s suites in Hamburg and Lüneburg (or clandestinely at night as an orphan in his brother’s house in Ohrdruf), and Froberger figures in the list of composers whom, according to C.P.E. Bach, his father admired.
There has recently been a willingness to accept any source attribution to Froberger, or any anonymous work sandwiched in between the genuine, or any of the hundreds of copyists’ errors, as an authorized “version”. This shows an endearing trust in human nature and competence. Fakery has been practiced in the arts ever since there have been artists, honest misattribution is common, many works of art suffer from later accretions, and we all make mistakes. A little more skepticism would do honor to the composer; a hundred organists in the German lands could have composed most of what I reject. There are works attributed to Froberger (and every other major composer of the period) which are so palpably not by him that they are assigned to the category “spurious” by even the most inclusive edition. The rest are on a continuum of increasing probability, arriving at certainty with the autographs. Where one draws the line will be a matter of individual judgement. Some of the suites I have left out here, called “experimental” by a recent editor more credulous than I, Hanß Froberger would surely have thrown into the fire, whoever wrote them.
The order of our tracks represents an attempt at a chronology. It is ironic that Froberger is in the history books for having established the canonical order of what the English called “a suit of lessons” (allemande-courante-sarabande-gigue). There were predecessors for that order, and in fact his earliest suites have only two movements, later ones have no gigue, and he finally settled on an order (allemande-gigue-courante-sarabande) which remained almost unique to him. Even 17th-century editions changed the order of the later suites back to the “standard” one. The original kernel was allemande-courante, both using the same harmonic progressions, a continuation of a long tradition of a slow duple dance followed followed by a fast triple-time variation.
The lively new sarabande, a lascivious street dance from the New World via Spain, was soon added in England and taken up by Froberger in his first suites, as were doubles, the French term for variations; but Froberger’s (which I use as repeats, following one of the options available at the time) were too Italianate to be à la mode, so they were eventually dropped. The old variation concept for allemand-courante is already fading by that point as well, and quickly disappeared.
The sarabande soon slowed down, as triple-time dances always did, and something faster was needed to restore balance: the gigue made its appearance as a finale. But then, as lutenists struggled to manipulate their ever-expanding baroque instruments and young Louis XIV tried to maintain his regal mien in his favorite dance, the courante slowed down radically as well, becoming something “solid, grave, and very perswasive...expostulating, as it were, the matter with much ferventness”, as an English contemporary (Mace) puts it. (“As slow as one can possibly imagine”, says Mattheson 50 years later; Quantz says “pompously”.) So Froberger put the gigue in second place, and ended his later suites with the noble, sensuous swing of the sarabande, which had not yet become the ponderous thing of Bach’s time. The new order is announced on the title page of the 1656 autograph. Copyists (in some cases probably Froberger himself), dissatisfied with the now “unfinished” state of the earlier suites, inserted later gigues and changed the order of movements. The bolder among them composed their own, sometimes under Froberger’s name, and cleverly enough to deceive modern editors. The finest of these spurious gigues, added to Suite III, looks to me like the work of no less a personage than Dietrich Buxtehude; but it is certainly not by Froberger. In this recording I keep to what I take to be the original order and number of movements, but use Froberger’s final versions of many details, as best I can make them out.
There exists a special category of rhythmically semi-free pieces in the position of the allemande, which the composer uses for occasions of heightened expressivity. These were doubtless inspired by the toccatas of Frescobaldi, and by the supple monody in the operas and oratorios Froberger heard in Rome (and possibly Venice, on his way there to and from Vienna). They are indicated by the words “avec discrétion”. Then, as now, this must have often been misinterpreted as a license for anarchy; but one only has to look at the trouble Froberger took in meticulously indicating rhythmic details to be made wary of too much leeway. We know from a letter by his patroness, Duchess Sibylla of Württemburg, that he had a certain, ultimately inimitable way of playing every single gesture, and that he so despaired of the “massacre” (sic Sibylla) people made of these free pieces, in spite of their “very clear” (sic Sibylla) notation, that later in life he severely restricted circulation of his music. Recently these pieces have infected interpreters’ ideas of other types of movements. That polyphony and dances have to be played strictly in tempo should be obvious to a child, and is thoroughly confirmed by contemporary sources; but the early music movement has always been afflicted by bizarre theories which come and go, like flotsam.
One of the strangest of these theories holds that all gigues in common time (C, 4/4), an import into France from England after King Charles I married the daughter of Henri IV, should be played in some form of triple time. The putative evidence is alternate triple-time versions of a few Froberger gigues; but these are palpably just that, with many notes changed. Tastes varied, and Froberger, in his accommodating way, occasionally made an adaptation. Gigues in common time existed from their beginnings, and culminated in Bach’s E minor Partita; to postulate that they all have to somehow be translated into triple time is simply nonsense. A statement by a contemporary (Bénigne de Bacilly) that gigues proceed “by jerks” (par saccades) should alone be enough to finally put the question to rest. Froberger’s gigues, by the way, are always played too fast, a pursuit of mere speed which leaves all their complex musical values -- syncopation, thematic clarity, articulation, split-second harmony changes -- by the wayside. (The “Sailor’s Hornpipe”, an old exercise dance still practiced by cadets of the Royal Navy, keeps the correct tempo and time signature.) The same applies to the later courantes. Froberger’s great lutenist contemporary Denis Gaultier tells us to play his pieces “very slowly, without stress, to avoid the usual confusion”. Quantz tells us that courante and sarabande are of the same tempo, but what François Couperin calls their mouvement or “soul” is so different that ennui is not an issue.
The matter of small ornaments, as opposed to the elaborations expected in repeats, needs a few words. Froberger formed his style in the 1630s and 40s, before a standardized set of keyboard ornaments became established, with its rules that were followed to J.S.Bach’s time and beyond. The main influence on Froberger was the supreme instrument of the time, the lute. One of the most important French lute books, that of Pierre Gaultier, was published in 1638 in Rome, while Froberger was there. Gaultier’s dedicatee was the Austrian ambassador, an agent of Froberger’s patron Ferdinand III, so there must have been considerable interaction. Lute ornamentation is difficult to reconstruct with exactitude, but two tendencies are clear at this time which set it apart from later styles: trills from the main note, and many forms of ornament (especially appoggiaturas or ports de voix) before the beat. Lutenists also loved to re-strike dissonances, and to play a final note with two strings at once, the tonic and its leading tone, before releasing the latter. I use all these, as well as Italian keyboard ornaments and the more familiar French ones unified under the iron fist of Louis XIV’s musical mouthpiece, Jean-Baptiste Lully.
The following comments about the individual works, certainly as far as they concern chronology and groupings of movements, are to be taken only as my opinions as of the time of writing. It should also be noted that the anachronistic term “suite” is used here only as a matter of convenience.
Late in life, according to Duchess Sibylla, Froberger only allowed limited distribution of pieces from the (lost) Libro Primo and the Libro Secondo (compiled 1649). I have identified six suites which I think originate from the first of these. They all have three movements (like two of the the suites of his teacher Frescobaldi, but using the new sarabande instead of the passacaglia as a finale), and show a rapid stylistic development. What I believe to be the oldest of them (CD 1, track 1), recently discovered in an archive in Holland, has an allemande full of Italianisms, a sarabande in a fast strumming style, and its variation, of a type which Frescobaldi called alio modo, but for which Froberger adopts the French term double.
The next five suites (CD 1, tracks 2-6) show the allemandes and courantes changing from lively forms to heavier, more ornate French ones, with notes inégales coming increasingly into play. (The high Roman numerals of these early suites reflect the numbering, still in use today, in the first modern-era edition -- from the late nineteenth century.)
Two movements of our CD 1, track 2 survive in German tablature notation in the University Library at Uppsala. A lovely sarabande in the same key, anonymous but coming directly after a piece by Froberger in a major source (Bauyn), might belong to this suite, and is included here; a similar missing, but confirmable, attribution to Froberger occurs elsewhere in the same manuscript. A different sarabande (in my opinion not by Froberger) is part of a spurious arrangement of this suite for violin and continuo in a German source. The doubles to the allemande and courante found there could stem from versions now lost.
The gorgeous Suite XXVIII (CD 1, track 6), a fragment in older editions, is found complete (and with the gigue from Suite XXX added later) only in the Bulyowski manuscript - a very lucky survival indeed. It underwent a re-working by the composer, as did other early suites, before this copyist got ahold of it. That, and the addition of the gigue, gives it a later aspect, but the presence of a full set of doubles shows it to be a relic from the lost Libro Primo. A different gigue in 4/4 time follows the allemande in the Bauyn manuscript, and was later recycled for Suite XV; a version of the same in 6/8 time survives in corrupt form in a 17th-century print. I think this is the original addition to XXVIII; both versions are offered here as an appendix (track 15) to CD 1. The confusing picture thus presented by Suite XXVIII can be seen as a result of Froberger’s persistent desire to update the best of his earlier suites.
The Libro Secondo puts its best foot forward with two highly developed suites, I and II (CD 1, tracks 10-11), the latter with Froberger’s first (Italianate) gigue, which errors in accidentals reveal to have been a later addition to the suite. These are clearly later works than III to V (CD 1, tracks 7-9), which are accordingly moved forward here.
Libro Terzo is also lost, but its six suites, a record of events from Froberger’s years of travel in northern Europe, survive in various sources, and as a group in the Singakademie manuscript. This is the point at which I switch from an Italian style harpsichord to a northern type. The Austrian harpsichords which Froberger would have known before 1650 were more Italianate than northern ones, and the early suites seem to work a little better with the crackle of brass strings; but one should not worry too much about the choice of instrument. Finickiness on the subject all too often serves to distract attention from mediocre musicianship. One could play these pieces on the very instruments Froberger used, and still play them badly.
The chronology gets some help from history: XIII (CD 2, track 2), “fait à Paris” (sic Bauyn), is dedicated to the composer’s patron and boon companion, the Marquis de Termes, a scoundrel who was present alongside Froberger at the death of Blanchrocher and was probably the model for Dorante in Molière’s Bourgeois Gentilhomme. It can be dated after February 6, 1653, when Cardinal Mazarin re-entered Paris from his exile after the long civil war, the “Fronde”. This event is satirized in the gigue: it pauses for a small cadenza near the end, which is to be played “slowly and with discretion, like the return of Mons. le Cardinal Mazarin to Paris”. His Eminence had delayed his triumphant return to power until after the arrest of his enemy, the Cardinal de Retz, to avoid suspicion of complicity. Mazarin’s reappearance on the scene very probably accelerated Froberger’s departure for Regensburg; as a servant of the Emperor and his brother in Brussels, he was suddenly very much on the wrong side of the royalist party redux. The piece was repeatedly revised by Froberger, who seems to have taken special delight in devising rhythmic complications to describe the duplicitous character of the Queen-Regent’s Italian-born first minister; or is it too far-fetched to see in it the struggle, in a single movement, between the two types of gigue (in 6/8 and 4/4 time), as symbolic of the endless treacheries and confusions of the Fronde, in which Termes was a minor participant? Bulyowski offers two different versions; the second, in the Italian style, is included here as a commemoration of the man who brought Italian opera to France, triumphed over his countless enemies, suppressed the petty pretensions of the nobility, and prepared the way for the ultimately disastrous reign of Louis XIV.
My best guess at the chronology of the other four suites and the Tombeau is:
-XVI (CD 1, track 12): its allemande, in an anticipation of Romantic-era tone-poetry, describes a journey along a mountainous road, and ends with a prayer.
-XXX(CD 1, track 13) (1651?), with a Plainte composed in London “to banish melancholy” after two robberies before and during Froberger’s Channel passage, and mistreatment by a colleague in the metropolis. The story is recorded in detail in both sources.
- (CD 1, track 14) The “Affligée et Tombeau” which Froberger composed on the death (1652) of his friend Blanchrocher fits into the chronology here. The ending is expanded in the recently discovered Singakademie source: a long, written-out trill, possibly representing the soul in Purgatory, intervenes before the famous final descending scale, here definitely in C major and followed by the words “Requiescat in Pace”. Seldom has grief been expressed with such intensity, in music or in any other form of human utterance.
-XVII (CD 2, track 1), en honneur de Madame la Duchesse [Sibylla] de Wirtemberg, which opens with an allemande rather resembling a billet doux -- and indeed, later on in Héricourt there was gossip about the pair. The suite ends with Froberger’s most contrapuntally elaborate and noble gigue.
-XIV (CD 2, track 3) (1653), commemorates another robbery, this time by soldiers of the Duke of Lorraine while Froberger was on his way to the Imperial Diet in Regensburg. The incident was part of the convulsions that followed the complex Treaty of Westphalia, which did not quite end the horrors of the Thirty Years War.
-XXVI (CD 2, track 4) -- a journey on the Rhine (1653, on the way to Regensburg?). The discovery of this suite in the Singakademie manuscript finally put a long controversy to rest (with no winner) regarding which suite could be the one mentioned by Mattheson as describing a near-drowning. The incident, which happened to Froberger and several traveling companions at Sankt Goar, is recounted in numbered detail below the allemande. Here is the original, with an abbreviated translation to enable following along:
1) The travelers return to their two ships from a revel at 5 AM. 2) Mr. Mittnacht falls into the water between them. 3-6) Four companions create a commotion. 7) The crew fails in a first rescue attempt. 8) The victim groans. 9) Froberger awakes on board, and finding himself alone on what he assumes to be a sinking ship, commends his soul to God. 10) A crewman tries to pull the victim out of the water with a hooked pole, but only tears his expensive French coat. 11) The victim tries to swim, 12) finds it difficult, 13) and rests for a moment. 14) He is pulled into a whirlpool 15) and starts thrashing about, 16) finally pulling himself up out of the vortex. 17) A crewman again tries to reach the victim with his pole, but 18) instead delivers the victim a violent blow. 19) The victim cries out in pain and 20) resolves to swim for it again, but 21) is drawn under by the current; 22) losing heart, he resigns himself to death. 23) He is drawn down ever deeper and 24) offers a final prayer, which is, contrary to expectation, graciously heard. 25) A crewman on a skiff finally reaches him, and 26) he is hauled aboard. Farewell.
The suites from Libro Quarto, the 1656 autograph dedicated to Ferdinand III, are also preserved en bloc in the Singakademie, in what I take to be the original order of their composition and sequence of movements. The first two are an extraordinary chronicle of events involving the imperial family in 1653 and 1654, and are accompanied in the autograph by drawings in black and gold ink by a court calligrapher.
- XI (5): After his travels in northern Europe, Froberger rejoined Ferdinand III in 1653 at a two-year gathering of the various Germanic powers which attempted to manage the unwieldy Holy Roman Empire, the Diet of Regensburg. The allemande is an evocation of the solemn atmosphere in the south transept of the great cathedral, where the sun still filters through the same stained-glass windows, during the coronation of the emperor’s son as King of the Romans (the designated imperial successor’s title). Froberger would have participated in the performance of Bertali’s Te Deum, composed for the occasion. (After the ceremony there was an interminable banquet where the musicians also played, invisible on a screened gallery. An ox stuffed with fish and other animals was barbecued for the common people over an immense pit, and was demolished within minutes.) The courante rejoices at the birth of the Princess Eleonora Maria, and the sarabande commemorates the coronation of her mother, Ferdinand’s second wife, as empress (coronations could be delayed until long after a marriage, since only a Diet could confirm imperial rank). The gigue, the last one originally in the finale position, was shifted to the new nr. 2 spot in the later autograph, and decorated with the Reichsapfel, the symbol of imperial dominion. One can almost hear the cries of “Vivat Rex”. The suite as a whole was given a place of honour as the penultimate work in the presentation copy for the emperor, who would, himself, be dead a year after he received it.
- XII (6): The tone shifts to tragedy in the final suite, for the joy over Ferdinand IV’s confirmation as imperial successor by the Diet was short-lived. He died a little over a year later, and this suite begins with a Lamento. It follows the three stages of a classical funeral oration: subdued grief, a brief rebellion against fate, and resignation to the inevitable. This orator clearly has difficulty finding words at the outset, as shown by a series of abruptios -- broken-off rhetorical gestures. The piece ends in the 1656 autograph with a long scale leading up to an illustration of waiting angels in heaven. The gigue, in second place for the first time, repeats that musical avowal of the Resurrection in the first three bars, and then looks back down in benediction. The accompanying illustration shows the king’s crown atop his funeral bier. This tragedy was, I think, the motivation for Froberger’s change to the order of the suite; something hopeful was needed to follow the Lamento, and the idea stuck. The courante, a mixture of hope and grief, shows a bowl of smoking incense and a pruned grapevine, in a poignant reference to John 15.1. The noble sarabande, with its flourishing field of grain and laurel crown, affirms the continuation of the dynasty and victory over death; but it too is tinged with sorrow. The words IL FINE, in a flourish of gold and black, then conclude one of the most remarkable documents in the history of music.
The four other suites of this group of six (VIII-IX-VII-X, CD 2 tracks 7-10), which follow here according to their order in the Singakademie source, are not programmatic - and indeed, what could follow the death of the King? They are remarkable only for their mature perfection, astounding richness of texture, and variety of Affekt. The plethora of ornaments in Gigue IX come from the trustworthy Singakademie manuscript.
We close (CD 2, track 11) with the Lamentation composed on the death (1657) of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III, Froberger’s patron since his youth. The sincere esteem and gratitude which must have been present on both sides of this master/servant relationship finds profound expression in a work which goes far beyond anything mere formality would have required. After the resignation of a final slow upward arpeggio in F (as in “Ferdinand”?), we hear the three bells of the daily Catholic spiritual exercise, the Angelus.
Libro Quinto (1658), Froberger’s hurried attempt to curry favor with the new emperor Leopold I before he was dismissed, contains no suites. The autograph manuscript which was probably intended as Libro Sesto, assembled shortly before the composer’s death when he had hopes of returning to Vienna, contains five, four of which survive in other sources, but which are omitted here, for reasons explained above. XV is a commemoration of Leopold’s coronation in 1658; it opens with Froberger’s most portentous processional allemande, and recycles an older gigue -- no love lost between composer and dedicatee. XVIII, found also as a relic of a late visit to Paris (and the only complete suite by Froberger) in the Bauyn manuscript, is here dedicated once again to Duchess Sibylla, but this time in a morbid mood. The gigue, La Philette, is Froberger’s only named portrait, likely that of a Stuttgart cousin of Sibylla’s, the lutenist Sophia Luisa.
XIX is another masterpiece of gloom, and the “new” F-major suite opens with an Affligée for Duchess Sibylla, surely written on the death of her husband in 1662. But the final slot in the autograph is saved for a slightly earlier work, and one that is more hopeful. XX in D major, a “meditation on my approaching death”, is dated Paris, 1660. Church bells sound, scenarios of mortality are imagined, and the peroration offers a glimpse of life after death, “in Abraham’s bosom”. The gigue rejoices at the prospect, courant and sarabande return us to the quotidien, with renewed inner strength.
While lingering out his days at Héricourt (or possibly in earlier years), Froberger occupied himself with composing substantial counterpoint: six Capriccios and six Fantasias, previously unknown and found only in the last autograph, were still unavailable as of this writing, as well as a Tombeau for the husband of his patroness Sibylla, and a Méditation on her own approaching death. Another of the works regarding death and its anticipation which occupy such a prominent place in Froberger’s final collection is the Lamentation for Ferdinand III, with its title changed to Tombeau. This is the only piece appearing there which I have recorded, using another source.
Sibylla outlived her stalwart friend by 40 years. Her chateau at Héricourt was captured and destroyed by the troops of Louis XIV, and she had to move back to Stuttgart. The last entry in her diary, on St. Valentine’s day 1707, is a nearly illegible scrawl; I read it as “my heart feels very strange”, a near-echo of some of Froberger’s last words. In a letter to Huyghens she expressed the wish that her “zealous and faithful master” would be in her thoughts when her heart stopped beating and her eyes closed forever. It would be difficult to imagine a more moving tribute.
Duchess Sibylla’s coffin (our cover image) is decorated with an engraved plaque which shows her turning away from domestic instruments (including a keyboard) and pointing to a piece of sacred music on an organ, possibly of her own compostion. (She is known to have composed, but nothing survives. Froberger’s teaching undoubtedly went farther than mere performance.) A doggerel inscription reads: “God wished to save her from suffering, she who had so often approached His throne with cymbals, hymns and prayers.” The cymbals are a reference to many passages in the Old Testament, especially Psalm 150. It could be a coincidence that one of the old German terms for “harpsichord” was “clavicymbel”, but I am reluctant to think so.