The MHS Review 236 Vol. 3, No. 2 March 5, 1979
BY David M. Greene
Complete Organ Music, Volume 1
Fantasia on "Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott;" Advent Hymn "Alvus tumescit virginis;" Easter Hymn "Vita Sanctorum;" Fantasia on "Christ unser Herr zum Jordan Kam;'' Sinfonia.
Wolfgang Dallmann on the Praetorius organ at the University of Freiburg
(This title has not currently been issued on CD, and is not available to stream.)
"Although he wrote very little organ music, his Fantasias on "Ein' Feste Berg" and "Christ unser Herr'' are said by people in the know (organists, of course), to be simply glorious music, while the other two compositions on this record are merely beautiful music."
"Verdammter Schultheiss" snarl the benighted peasants in Carl Orff' s delicious folk-opera Der Mond, cursing the mayor who has sold the moon that used to light their way to the inn. They are, of course, archaic peasants, for in time a mayor became not a Schultheiss but a Schulze (or Schulz or Schultz). And Schulze became a family name that could, in the time of my youth be counted on--why, God only knows!--to evoke almost as much laughter as Brooklyn did. And maybe it did a long way back, for in Renaissance Germany the Schulzes, discovering in the new Humanism that praetor, "head man," was a close Latin equivalent, took to calling themselves by the highfalutin name of "Praetorius." Now there were lots of Schulzes, as you can well imagine, and a good many of them were musical, so that a man in my line of work has to be on his Praetorian guard when he encounters one of them.
Given only the information that this record embraced the assembled orgelworks of Praetorius and the Pegeltone was l000 Hz plus 6dR (editors note 2023: it appears that David was sent a test pressing as these are engineer's markings), I was hard put to figure whether the underlying Schulze was Bartholomaeus, Ernst, Godescalcus, Hieronymus, Michael, Jakob, or Charles M. After a dreadful weekend of suspense and freezing rain, I learned, not particularly to my surprise that it was Mike. Mike is the prominent Schulze, because everyone knows one of his Christmas songs as "Lo! How a rose e'er blooming,'' which is about as fancy a way of translating Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen (A rose has sprung up) as is substituting "Praetorius" for Schulze.
Michael Praetorius seems to have been unrelated to the other musical Schulzes. As a boy he sang in the choir of the Torgau Latin School, where his father was a colleague of the great Johann Walter, a seminal figure in Lutheran music. Michael seems to have learned to play the organ while he was plugging away at a D.D. at Frankfurt-on-the-Oder (a name I shall let lie). Anyhow he was organist at St. Mary's there from 1587 to 1589. For the next decade and a half he is reported in such scattered places as Prague, Regensburg, and Liineburg, which is not surprising, considering the importance of Wanderjahre to German maturation. Eventually he came to rest in Wolfenbiittel, where he worked as choirmaster and private secretary to the Duke of Brunswick, Heinrich Julius. The year after the Duke died, Praetorius was appointed prior of a monastery at Ringelsheim, but when he found that there was no residence requirement, he took a job at the court of Johann Georg I, Elector of Saxony, in Dresden, where he was a colleague of the famous but little-known Heinrich Schutz. When Schutz was put in musical charge there (c. 1617), Praetorius hit the road again, and during the next three years or so was seen variously in Halle, Sondershausen, Kassel, Leipzig, and Nuremburg. The weather and all was probably hard on him, for when he tottered through the gates of Wolfenbuttel again in 1620, he was drawn and ashen, and the shocked citizens whispered among themselves, Der alter, grauer Schulze, er ist nit wie er vormals war!. (The old, grey Mayor, he ain't what he used to be.)
Praetorius has three important claims to fame: (1) His Syntagma musicum is one of the most important source books on the performance of early music; (2) his nine-volume Musae Sionae (Muses of Zion), from which Es ist ein Ros' derives, is an exhaustive musico-theoretical treatment of the chorale, in which it may be said German Protestant church-music comes of age; (3) Terpsichore, the first volume of a planned secular counterpart to Musae Sionae, which is a fascinating collection of current dances. Which brings us to the Complete Organ Music. Despite that lofty title, it appears to consist of only five pieces, mentioned in none of the accounts of Praetorius on my shelves. There are two organ hymns (an old Bach Guild recital by Gustav Leonhardt contains a third, though perhaps this is a matter of variant title), two chorale fantasias (on "A "Mighty Fortress" and "Christ our Lord to Jordan Came"), and something designated as Sinfonia. Presumably the sinfonia is merely a prelude or introit, since the term was then used rather indiscriminately for introductory pieces; since it runs only ninety seconds, who cares very much? The hymns, equally brief; are contrapuntal treatments of Gregorian themes. The two chorale pieces are, however rather imposing structures. I question calling them "fantasias," however, the chorale-fantasia implying a freer treatment of the tune than I hear here. Chorale-partita, involving a set of variations, sounds more like it.