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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHENCK: Nymphs of the Rhine, Vol. 2
By Olivier Opdebeeck
Le Nymphe di Rheno,
Op. 8, Vol. 2
Details of the life of Johannes Schenck are relatively sparse and the
subject of varied speculation. He was born in Amsterdam, where he was baptized
on 3rd June 1660 into the Reformed Church. Nothing is known of his teachers,
but he established himself as a distinguished virtuoso on the viola da gamba.
In this he followed the tradition established by performers from England such
as Daniel Norcombe, who was earlier employed at the court of Archduke Albert in
Brussels. Henry Butler, musician and viol teacher to Philip IV of Spain, and
William Young, who served at the court of Archduke Carl Ferdinand in Innsbruck.
An undated engraving in Amsterdam by Peter Schenck, once thought to have been a
younger brother of the composer but apparently unrelated, shows the formally
dressed and bewigged virtuoso standing to play, with his six-string bass viol
resting on a footstool, in the performance style of the time. As a composer his
work represents an early synthesis of French, German and Italian styles.
It would seem that Schenck spent the earlier pan of his career in
Amsterdam, where his compositions included music for a Dutch Singspiel,
Bacchus Ceres en Venus, from which songs were published in 1687, as well as
works for his own instrument. Enjoying a wide reputation as a performer, in
about 1696 he moved to Düsseldorf to the court of the Elector Palatine Johann
Wilhelm, known as Jan Wellem, who ruled there from 1679 until his death in
1716, establishing a court that aimed to rival the artistic magnificence of
Versailles. Here Schenck served with a group of musicians drawn from various
countries. The court opera, which had been seen in Amsterdam, flourished with,
among other operas, Kapellmeister Sebastiano Moratelli's Il fabbro pittore, based
on the life of the Netherlands painter Quentin Matsys, which had been staged in
the Elector's an gallery in 1695. His successor Johann von Wilderer's La
monarchia stabilita was mounted with singular splendour for the visit to
Düsseldorf of Carlos III of Spain in 1703. It was to the Elector that Corelli
dedicated his Concerti grossi and from Düsseldorf that Handel, who
visited the court in 1710 and 1711, was able to recruit the famous castrato
Baldassari. Other musicians of distinction connected with the Düsseldorf court
included briefly the great lutenist Sylvius Weiss, together with his father and
brother, while, in 1715, the violinist-composer Veracini performed there.
Schenck is presumed to have continued in the service of the Elector
until the latter's death in 1716. Thereafter the electoral court moved to
Mannheim, followed by a number of the Düsseldorf musicians, who formed the
nucleus of a musical establishment that was to win its own unchallenged
reputation, as the century went on.
Doubts as to the date of Schenck's death, presumably in Düsseldorf, come
from the lack of any mention of his death in Protestant church records in the
city. From this it has been supposed that he may well have become a Catholic, following
the religion of his employer, and there are no Catholic records for the
probable period of his death. He is mentioned in a document by the court
cabinet secretary Rapparini in 1709, but by 1717 his name had disappeared from
the list of court opera musicians then compiled. As Karl Heinz Pauls points out
in his edition of the present work (Das Erbe deutscher Musik, Band 44, 1956),
and in his article in Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, the
principal source of the information here included, no reference to Schenck has
yet been found in the deaths recorded in parish and cemetery records in
Amsterdam, in the absence of any general register until 1750.
Le Nymphe di Rheno per due Viole da Gamba sole
Sonata No. 7 in B minor is in a modified version of church style, opening with
a slow movement in which the instruments at first enter in imitation one of the
other. This is followed by a fugal Allegro. The following Adagio con
affetto is an aria for the first viola da gamba, while the succeeding Allegro
promises a contrapuntal texture and the sonata ends unconventionally with
an Aria amoroso.
The opening Adagio of Sonata No. 8 in C minor has a
rapider section containing an interchange of rhythmic figures and a final
passage of triplets, before a solemn triple meter conclusion. This is followed
by a series of dance movements, an Allemanda and Corrente, duly
followed by a slow Sarabanda, and a Giga in which the instruments
enter in imitation. All does not end here, since a Rondeau follows, with
a clear-cut Gavotta and a final Menuet.
The shorter Sonata No9 in E minor starts with an Adagio, leading
to an Aria, marked Allegro Here and in the following Tempo di
Sarabanda there are elements of contrapuntal imitation. The Giga that
follows does not end the sonata, which has two further movements, a Bourree of
transparent texture and a final Menuet.
There are elements of the dance suite also in Sonata No. 10 in G major,
with an opening Adagio that finds a place for some chordal writing,
as do the following Allemanda and Corrente. The Sarabanda explores
the wide range of the viol and its contrasting registers and this is followed
by a Giga, with dotted rhythms, a Gavotta and a final Menuet.
Sonata No. 11 in G major opens with an Allegro in which melodic interest
centres on the first instrument, while the following Allegro, with its
dotted rhythmic figuration, shares thematic material between the two. A
seven-bar Adagio then leads to a Ciacona (Chaconne), the old
Baroque variation form. The ground on which it is based is heard first from the
second viol, before passing to the first, to continue through 36 variations.
Le Nymphe di Rheno
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SCHENCK: Nymphs of the Rhine, Vol. 2