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Does This Make My Sackbutt Look Big?

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Samuel Scheidt, Ludi Musici (excerpts), Les Sacqueboutiers (released on October 31, 2006)
Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654) is one of those composers at the periphery of general awareness. Born in the generation after Monteverdi, he wrote music that often looks backward to the Renaissance. The fascination he and others in Germany had with the contrapuntal style of their predecessors, perpetuated in Scheidt's organ music especially, is partly responsible for the vogue of the fugue in the Baroque period. Shortly after Scheidt, the student of Dutch organist and composer Jan Sweelinck, was appointed Kapellmeister to the Margrave of Brandenburg, in Halle, he published this set of light instrumental pieces, the Ludi Musici (Musical games), in four volumes (only the first survives complete). That was in the early 1620s when the Margrave's court could afford to pay for light music to be played at dinner, but the troubles of the Thirty Years' War were about to put an end to the joyful spirit we hear in these pieces. In 1625, Scheidt's employer left Halle to fight alongside the King of Denmark for the Protestant cause, while the composer continued in his position but without a salary. As war, famine, and plague ravaged Halle (the disease claimed the lives of all of Scheidt's children), he remained, subsisting on income from teaching.

The Toulouse-based historically informed performance wind ensemble Les Sacqueboutiers has here recorded just over half of the pieces in what remains of the collection (17 of 32). Most of the instruments you hear are cornetti and sackbuts (one of the ancestors of the trombone, from which the group takes their name, from the word for a player of this instrument). Other sounds come from an organ, theorbo, and occasional percussion for the dance pieces. The members of the group have played with many of the leading HIP groups, and they play masterfully. For specialists this short disc (55:08) may not be able to compete against complete recordings of the Ludi Musici, like that released by Musica Fiata earlier this year on CPO, although that was a mixed-instrument ensemble. Scheidt left few instrumentation specifications with this music, meaning that a performance requires many decisions and much adaptation for whatever forces one chooses. The joyous, plaintive, evocative readings by Les Sacqueboutiers bring some much-needed life to this music. One hopes that they will record the remaining pieces for a second disc in the future.

Ambroisie AM9996


Sarah said...

The title of this post is killing me! Love it.

I was just talking about sackbuts the other day, but had to remind myself of what they were. The things one remembers from freshman music history.

Charles T. Downey said...

What one remembers from freshman music history...

Welcome to my life during all my waking hours. Sackbuts, when played well, have such a great sound, sweeter and more mellow than their modern counterparts. The players have improved so much in recent years. I remember listening to some of those early attempts at HIP recordings in the 80s. Sackbuts sounded awful, and shawms (*shudder*) were even worse. Thanks for reading!

Scott said...

I purchased the album, and have been enjoying it. These players are more aggressive in sound than His Majesties' Cornetts and Sackbutts, for an interesting comparison. There is a little more edge, due to playing a little more loudly.