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ClassicsOnline Home » BUXHEIMER ORGELBUCH (DAS), Vol. 1
BUXHEIMER ORGELBUCH • VOLUME 1
century was a period of great richness in the history of organ music,
particularly in Germany, and manuscript sources proliferate compared to the
previous century. But many are fragmentary or didactic, and only two contain
bona fide organ music exclusively. Perhaps the most important, certainly the
largest, is a collection containing more than 250 pieces at the Bavarian State
Library in Munich. It presents a conspectus of all the categories of keyboard
forms known up to that time - liturgical pieces on plainchant themes,
transcriptions of songs and motets of Flemish, German and English provenance,
preludes and teaching examples - serving, perhaps, as a workbook for active
the manuscript was preserved at a Carthusian monastery in the small Bavarian
town on the Iller that bears its name. Das Buxheimer Orgelbuch reveals the work
of at least eight different hands (though the first 124 folios were recorded by
a single scribe) written between 1450 and 1470, presumably in Munich. They used
a form of 'tablature' notation in which the uppermost line is written on a
staff with everything below that in letters; not unlike the guitar symbols
published in modern popular music.
The name of
Conrad Paumann (c.1410-1473), a musician of international importance at the
time, appears only once in the manuscript; but there is an abundance of
surrounding evidence indicating that he looms as the principal figure in its
creation, if not directly responsible for much of the music contained therein.
As he was blind, he could not have written down any of it himself and it is
reasonable to assume that his pupils played an active part in the transmission
process. The manuscript also includes intabulations and arrangements of
well-known polyphonic ensemble pieces by Dunstable, Binchois, Ciconia, Dufaye,
Morton and Frye, whose famous names are sometimes given but more often not.
Then there are others whose identities are vague, and it is hard to ascertain
whether Putenheim, Götz, or Boumgartner, for example, are the composers of
works that have been adapted for the keyboard or whether they are, in fact,
real composers of music specifically written for keyboard instruments.
the stylistic culmination of keyboard composition during its first epochal
stage of development rather than heralding a new age, the music of Buxheimer
Orgelbuch evokes Gothic resonance. The cantus firmus settings, in particular,
seem to preserve some quality of Notre Dame organum. Often the music is marked
with astounding voice crossings, dissonances, and flamboyant polyphonic lines,
showing a gradual progression from two-part counterpoint, with a third note
added now and then to complement the harmony. These denser textures suggest the
genuine four-part writing of a later period. The important preludes and
didactic works, in which the practice of improvisation is implicit, require
insight into the compositional and performance conventions of the time.
Considerable information is to be gleaned from Johannes Buckner's Fundamentum
of about 1525, a work that summarises much of the playing and fingering habits
applicable to even the earliest tablatures. In the present recordings, Buckner's
precepts have been carefully contemplated, with respect to the interpretation
of the singular trill symbol which appears in the text, and other elements of
embellishment - flos harmonicus - appropriated to the organ from the idioms of
singing, and plucked and bowed string playing. These were not fixed for
posterity by the composer and fall within the domain of the interpreting
performer. Moreover, the application of musica ficta has been carefully
manipulated - 'by reason of necessity' and 'by reason of beauty' - as are the
subjective resolutions to the copious corrupt passages in the manuscript itself.
One is ever aware of an amalgam of older medieval principles of voice leading
with the more uniform, smoother approach to dissonance of the mainstream
Franco-Burgundian style which seems to be characteristic of much of the music
in the Buxheim collection.
Orgelbuch emerged at a time when organ design, particularly winding methods,
showed indications toward the incipient standardisation of two types of
instruments. There were the small, eminently transportable Portativ organs used
in processions and ensemble (Positiv if they were too large to be carried),
usually possessing a single rank of metal pipes and having a short keyboard
range that did not require excessively large pipes. Much larger were the
permanently fixed church instruments that extended the unified Blockwerk
concept. Now came the variety of mixture and mutation stops, as different ranks
of pipes could be used separately - the Tierce, Quint, Fourniture and Cymbale.
Reeds are mentioned by Arnaut de Zwolle in his treatise, around 1436, though
they were not commonplace in German organs until several decades later.
Mechanically, the organ had already attained all the essential attributes it
was to have until the technical novelties of the 19th century. Organs equipped
with two or three manuals and pedal board were not unknown; indeed, the Buxheim
score sometimes summons the use of pedals with which to emphasize the tenor or
contratenor line, or the execution of an independent bass part.
cathedral church of St. Vincent - the Berner Münster - has played a prominent
part in the history of organ music ever since the time of the anonymous author
of the Berne Codex in the 11th century, and it was in Berne that Johann Kotter,
the important early 16th century anthologist of organ transcriptions, worked as
a teacher and organist. The most recent organ to occupy the identical niche in
the Münster given to instruments during the Gothic era, was built in 1982 by
the renowned Swiss firm, O. Metzler & Söhne. The ancient voicing methods
and unequal temperament, winding, and tonal scheme, combined with the organ's
'swallow's-nest' placement high above the choir , contribute to an exceptional
and genuine aural perspective.
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BUXHEIMER ORGELBUCH (DAS), Vol. 1