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Beginnings of Instrumental Music

By W. S. B. Mathews
The beginning of instrumental music, apart from vocal, is to be found in the latter part of the sixteenth century, but the main advances toward freedom of style and spontaneous expression were made during the seventeenth, and, as we might expect, originally in Italy, where the art of music was more prosperous, and incitations to advance were more numerous and diversified. Upon all accounts the honor of the first place in the account of this part of the development of modern music is to be given to Andreas Gabrieli (1510-1586), who from a singing boy in the choir of St. Mark's, under the direction of Adrian Willaert, succeeded in 1566 to the position of second organist, where his fame attracted many students.

Among the numberless compositions emanating from his pen were masses, madrigals, and a considerable variety of pieces for organ alone, bearing the names of "Canzone," "Ricerari," "Concerte," and five-voiced Sonatas, the latter printed in 1586, being perhaps the earliest application of this now celebrated name to instrumental compositions. The pieces of Gabrieli were mostly imitations of compositions for the voice, fugal in style, and with never among them a melody fully carried out. Among the pupils of Andreas Gabrieli were Hans Leo Hassler, the celebrated Dresden composer, and Swelinck, the equally celebrated Netherlandish organist.

The beginning of organ composition, and the higher art of organ playing, made by Andreas Gabrieli, was carried much farther by his nephew and pupil, Giovanni Gabrieli (1557-1612), who, born and trained at Venice, early entered the service of its great cathedral, and in 1585 succeeded Claudio Merulo as first organist of the same. As a composer Giovanni Gabrieli continued the double-chorus effects which had been such a feature of the St. Mark's liturgy since the time of Willaert, but especially he distinguished himself in improving the style of organ playing, and in giving it a freedom and almost secular character somewhat surprising for the times. A large number of his compositions of all sorts are in print, very many "for voices or instruments." The alternative affords a good idea of the subordinate position still occupied by instrumental music, but a beginning had been made, which later was to lead to great things.

Swelinck Samuel Scheidt
The art of organ playing found its next great exponents in Holland and Germany, all of them having been pupils of the Venetian master. The most celebrated of these, considered purely as an organist, was Jean Pieters Swelinck (1560-1621), who was born at Deventer in Holland, and died at Amsterdam. He was more celebrated as a performer and improviser than for the instrumental pieces he published. Among his pupils was the celebrated Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654), organist at Halle, who is memorable as the first who made artistic use of the chorale. Scheidt is also famous as the author of a book upon organ tabulature, or the notation for organ, which in Germany at this period was different from that of the piano, and in fact much resembled the tabulature for the lute, from which it was derived. It consists of a combination of lines and signs, by the aid of which the organist was supposed to be capable of deciphering the intentions of the composer. No especial importance appears to have been attached to the difference of notation for instruments and voices in this period. And in fact, until our own times certain instruments, the viola, for example, have had their own notation, different from the voices, and different from that of other instruments. Another celebrated German organist of this period was Johann Hermann Schein, who, with Scheidt and Swelinck, constituted the three great German musical S's of the sixteenth century. Schein (1586-1630) was appointed cantor of the Leipsic St. Thomas school in 1615, and worked there as above. His numberless compositions are more free in style than the average of the century, and a number of them are distinctly secular. Nevertheless, in the development of instrumental music he had but small part, not being one of the highly gifted original geniuses who impress themselves upon following generations. The great German master of this period was Schütz, chapel master at Dresden, whose career forms part of the story of the oratorio, a form of music which he had so large a share in shaping into its present form.

In order to come once more into the path of musical empire, we must return again to Italy, where there was an organist at St. Peter's, who had in him the elements of greatness and originality. Girolamo Frescobaldi (1587-1640) was organist of St. Peter's at Rome from 1615. His education had been in part acquired in Italy, and in part in the Netherlands. As a virtuoso he attained an extraordinary success, and one of his recitals is reputed to have been attended by as many as 30,000 people. He distinguished himself as composer no less than as organist, and particularly by his compositions in free style. His Ricerari, Concertos and Canzones were all protests against the bondage of instrumental music to the fetters of vocal forms. It was the compositions of this master, together with those of Froberger, that Sebastian Bach desired to have, and which, in fact, he stole out of his brother's book case, and copied in the moonlight nights.

It would take us too far were we to enumerate all the composers who distinguished themselves in this century, no one of them succeeding in composing anything satisfactory to this later generation, but all contributing something toward the liberation of instrumental music, and all adding something to its too limited resources. Among these names were those of Johann Kasper Kerl, organist at St. Stephen's church in Vienna, who, after having served with distinction at Munich, returned later and died at Vienna in 1690. Another of these German masters, also one of those whose compositions Bach wished to study, was Johann Pachelbel, of Nuremberg (1635-1706). In 1674 he was assistant organist at Vienna, in 1677 organist at Eisenach, and soon back to Nuremberg a few years later. His multifarious works for organ, among which we find a variety of forms, were perhaps the chief model upon which Sebastian Bach formed his style. He especially excelled in improvising choral variations, and in fanciful and musicianly treatment of themes proposed by the hearer. Yet another name of this epoch, that of George Muffat, is now almost forgotten. He studied in France, and formed his style upon that of the French. A later master, also very influential in the style of Sebastian Bach, was Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707). For nearly forty years he was organist at the Church of St. Mary at Lübeck, where he was so celebrated that the young Sebastian Bach made a journey on foot there in order to hear and master the principles of his art. Buxtehude wrote a great number of pieces in free style for the organ, and, while his works have little value to modern ears, there is no doubt that this master was an important influence upon the enfranchisement of instrumental music. Among all these Netherlandish organists few are better known by name at the present day than Johann Adam Reinken (1623-1722), who was born at Deventer, Holland, and after the proper elementary and finishing studies, succeeded his master, Scheidemann, as organist at Hamburg. Here his fame was so great that the young Bach made two journeys there on foot, in order to hear him. He was a virtuoso of a high order, and his style exercised considerable influence over that of Bach.



Meanwhile the orchestra had been steadily enriched through the competition of successive operatic composers, each exerting himself to produce more effect than the preceding. In this way new combinations of tone color were contrived, and now and then introduced in a fortunate manner, and effects of greater sonority were attained through the greater number of instruments, and the more expert use of those they had.


The violin led also to an important development of instrumental music
In Italy (Fusignano, near Imola) was born in 1653 Archangelo Corelli, who became the first of violin virtuosi, and the first of composers for the instrument, and for violins in combination with other members of the same family, and so of our string quartette. He died in 1713 at Rome. Of his boyhood there is little known. About 1680 he appears in high favor at the court of Munich. In 1681 he was again in Rome, where he appears to have found a friend in Cardinal Ottoboni, in whose palace he died. His period of creative activity extended from 1683, when he began the publication of his forty-eight three-voiced sonatas, for two violins, in four numbers of twelve sonatas each. He also composed many other sonatas for the violin, for violin and piano, and other instruments.