The North German Chorale Fantasia: A Sermon Without Words
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Heinrich Scheidemann and Jacob Praetorius (ii), young organ students from Hamburg, traveled to Amsterdam around the turn of the seventeenth century in order to study with the Dutch organist Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. While there, they learned not only the basics of counterpoint and voice-leading, but also how to create new kinds of musical texture, which were derived from improvisational practice. Scheidemann and Praetorius took those musical textures back to Hamburg, where they used them in increasingly long and complex chorale fantasias. This study traces those musical textures from their appearance in Sweelinck's chorale variations, through Praetorius and Scheidemann's chorale fantasias, and finally in the virtuosic showpiece, An Wasserflüssen Babylon, by Scheidemann's student, Johann Adam Reincken. In that piece, Reincken uses Sweelinck's musical textures, as well as his own teacher's expansion of the Dutch keyboard style to produce a work that reflects the text of the chorale on which it is based. And, like a sermon, the musical textures in An Wasserflüssen Babylon give rise to a nuanced narrative that works to take both the performer and listener on an aural journey.