Schmelzer: The Emperor's Fiddler (CD)

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David Irving, Hannah Lane, Tommie Andersson, John O'Donnell, Laura Vaughan

Johann Heinrich Schmelzer was a leading violin virtuoso in mid-seventeenth-century Europe, highly favoured by Holy Roman Emperors Ferdinand III and Leopold I. His six Sonatæ unarum fidium (Sonatas for one fiddle) take pride of place in the history of violin music as the earliest collection of sonatas published by a native German-speaking composer, in 1664. These works cover the full gamut of emotions, from extreme passions and extravagant virtuosity to the most intimate and profound expressions of poetic introspection, with elegant dances inserted for good measure. Schmelzer likely played violins made by Jacob Stainer, the most celebrated luthier in Europe, whose violins were renowned for their fine silvery tone and long considered superior to Cremonese models. Here the sonatas are performed on a replica of a c.1670 Stainer violin, with strings in equal tension; the bow is based on seventeenth-century designs and is short and light, with its hair at high tension. This disc explores the lavish soundworld and rich musical invention of the emperor's fiddler.

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The Arts Desk

"O’Donnell’s and Irving’s notes are essential reading, the latter’s a concise and entertaining guide to bow holds, equal tension string and the intricacies of tuning baroque instruments, complete with eye-popping graphics. O’Donnell also throws in a wonderful little organ passacaglia by Johann Caspar Kerll."

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Kerll: Passacaglia

Schmelzer: Sonatae unarum fidium

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A treat for Baroque fanciers, this CD of music by the seventeenth century violin-composer Johannes Schmelzer features an all-Australian line-up of players. The six featured works are from his Sonatae unarum fidium seu, a violino solo of 1664, one of the few German collections of violin sonatas in a field otherwise dominated by Italians; it is thought that Biber, author of the more famous Rosary Sonatas, was Schmelzer’s student. The music is by turns rarified and earthy, with the virtuoso solo violin accompanied by a richly varied continuo of theorbo (a large lute), harpsichord, viola da gamba, and, pleasingly, a baroque harp. This lavish ensemble provides a musical texture that is always attractive, and endlessly fascinating, reminding us that seventeenth century music is every bit as appealing as eighteenth.

- The Classical Music Collector, Chris Dench