Humble flowers blossoming in a Hamburg garden

Supreme elegance marks Reincken’s music. © Charles Thibo

You, yes, you – this is your chance. Your chance to come up with a last-minute Christmas gift with a high probability to please both you and the person you will give it to if you’re in for Baroque music. A rarity, both from a recording perspective and from a historical point of view, a sublime example of composing. In 1687 the German composer Johann Adam Reincken wrote a set of six partitas that he called “Hortus musicus recentibus aliquod flosculis” (A musical garden of some recent flowers). It is the only piece of Reincken’s chamber music that has survived. It follows the standard structure of five movements: Sonata, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gigue.

A paragon for Bach

Reincken was  born in 1623, he was of Dutch or Alsatian descent. He studied in Hamburg and from 1658 on, he assisted the organist of the Catharinenkirche in Hamburg, Heinrich Scheidemann. Five years later he succeeded Scheidemann. Reincken was a close friend of another great organist and composer, Dieterich Buxtehude, living in the neighbouring town of Lübeck, that we have met in an earlier post. And while Johann Sebastian Bach was a student at an ecclesiastical school in Lüneburg, he regularly traveled to Hamburg to hear Reincken play.

The Hamburg organist not only was an accomplished musician whose fame had reached the far corners of the German Empire, he was also an expert on organ construction, a subject that fascinated Bach from his earliest music lessons on. Reincken would make Bach familiar with the repertoire of organ music in Northern Germany, point out different instrument and performance types. The organ that he played in Hamburg was one of the best in Germany, and the impression Bach got from Reincken’s ability to combine contrapuntal art with new French and Italian forms was a lasting one. It would be his first contact with musical excellence.

Fighting off the critics

Now, Reincken having been a role-model for the young Bach, what better a reference could I offer to you for a Christmas present? The “Hortus Musicus” was written for two violins, viola da gamba and basso continuo*, though the score has been arranged later for three guitars too. However I am chiefly interested in the original score, beautifully performed and recorded by the German ensemble Stylus Phantasticus, lead by Friederike Heumann. Reincken wrote it to impress his many (jealous?) critics and to show them how mediocre their own music was compared to his “humble flowers”.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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