VIE: The Ensemble Suite

The steady influx of English comedians and violists into Germany at the beginning of the seventeenth century brought orchestral dance music to the Continent where it developed at a very fast pace. The preferred ensembles of the dance were quartets or quintets of viols, which should not be regarded as orchestras in the modern sense. It is significant that in Füllsack's Auserlesene Paduanen(Hamburg, 1607), one of the most popular dance collections of the time, English, Dutch, and Danish composers were by far in the majority. We meet here with names like Grep, Borchgreving, Brade, Dowland, Harding, Edward Johnson, Peter Philips, and Thomas Simpson. The works of Simpson, the most influential English violist in Germany, were printed in Hamburg and Frankfort. Similar dance collections for four, five, or six string or wind instruments without continuo were published by Hassler in his vocal and instrumental Lustgarten(1601), as well as by Melchior Franck (numerous collections, 1603 ff.), Valentin Haussmann (1602 ff.), Johann Staden, Johann Moeller, Erasmus Widmann (1618), Demantius, Scheidt (Ludi musici,1621), and Johannes Schultz. In these sets, dances of the same type were as a rule lumped together as they were in the contemporary Italian collections.

The preferred dance types included the by now old-fashioned pair of pavane and galliarde, the allemande, the courante, and the intrada. The pattern of the intrada was not rigidly stereotyped, but occurred in duple or triple meter, the pompous duple meter being more frequent. The dances were sometimes grouped in pairs as varied couples, but often only a single dance was printed and its rhythmic transformation to triple time (tripla or proporz) was left to improvisation. In the preface to the Venusgarten(1602), Haussmann expressly called for the improvisation of a tripla in the "Polish manner."

The most important German contribution to the development of the suite was the expansion of the form by progressive variation--a procedure that closely corresponds to the variation canzona. The varied couple could not yet be regarded as a cyclic form, but the combination of two varied couples led to the organization of the variation suite. This truly cyclic form was unified not only by the same key but especially by the use of the same thematic material for all the dances of the suite. The first variation suites were contained in the Neue Paduan(1611) of the Styrian organist Paul Peurl. In Schein's famous Banchetto musicale(1617) the variation suite assumed its classic form. Schein made a sharp distinction between stylized dances and straight dance music by scoring the pavanes, galliardes, and courantes for a five-voice ensemble in subtly polyphonic texture, the allemande and triplafor only four instruments in a simple chordal texture. While the last pair was always very clearly a varied couple the first three dances were not exactly variations of an entire piece but more or less closely related transformations of the same initial motive and a free continuation. That Schein consciously applied the variation to the entire suite clearly transpires from the preface which asserts that the dances “well correspond to each other in tonoand inventione.” Other composers of variation suites, notably Isaac Posch (1617), Hammerschmidt (1636), and Neubauer (1649), observed thematic unity less consistently than Schein. It can still be discerned in their works that the variation suite originated in the joining together of two different varied couples.

The suite of the early baroque did not observe any stereotyped order and practically any combination of dances was possible. Pavanes and galliardes usually opened the suite as the Ieading pair. Formal variations of the passamezzo stood, because of their length, outside of the suite. They were incorporated in the collections as an independent set of variations, as the passamezzi of Thomas Simpson and Haussmann show. Schein adopted in his courantes the French type, characterized by a slow tempo and a sophisticated hemiola rhythm. The variation suite formed only a small, if important, part of the entire suite literature. Its technique gradually fell into oblivion in the middle baroque period and survived only very sporadically in the late baroque.

In the middle baroque phase of the ensemble suite, pavanes and galliardes all but disappeared and other dances took their places. After the model of the French suite, allemande and courante became the leading pair, often still loosely treated as a varied couple. They were followed by gigues, sarabands, and other dances most of which were taken over from French lute and harpsichord music. Stylized introductory movements began to precede the dances proper. In one of the earliest German instances of this practice, the suites of Johann Jakob Loewe (1658), the introductions were designated as sinfonie. In other collections they were called prelude, sonata, toccata, or even pavane which by this time had completely renounced its dance character. These independent introductions paved the way for the overture in the late baroque suite.

In spite of the German reserve toward the continuo the harmonic language of the suites was fairly advanced. Seventh chords were frequent at cadences and the melodies were conceived on the basis of the polarity between bass and soprano. The deeply ingrained German predilection for polyphony came to light especially in the stylized movements which contain very closely spaced imitations and a great deal of open-work within static chords. The modern trio setting with continuo was only slowly absorbed into the suite. It can be found in Peuerl (1625), Vierdank (1640), and Rosenmüller (1645).

The ensemble suites of the middle baroque comprise the collections of Loewe, Diedrich Becker (1668), Furchheim (who wrote the five-voice ritornelli to Krieger's Arien), Schmelzer (1662), the charming wind ensembles of the clarino virtuoso Pezel (d. 1694), and the Sonate da camera(1667) by Rosenmüller. In the last collection inspired sinfonie serve as introductory movements.

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