Johann Adam Reincken’s An Wasserflüssen Babylon as organ oratorio

by Han Leentvaar | Het ORGEL | Year 94 | (1998) | Issue 25


Stef Tuinstra

Johann Adam Reincken’s An Wasserflüssen Babylon as organ oratorio

het ORGEL 94 (1998), nr. 2, 6-14 [summary]

The chorale fantasia An Wasserflüssen Babylon, composed by Johann Adam Reincken (1623-1722), can be seen as a key to the Stylus phantasticus, as can other north German chorale fantasias. In order to maximise understanding and application of the elements of the Stylus phantasticus, it is best to approach Reincken’s fantasy as an organ oratorio, in playing as well as in registration. The subject of the oratorio is the story of Psalm 137. One can follow the text word by word in the score; the music constantly expresses the ‘affect’ of the text.

17th-century writings of Kuhnau, Mattheson and later C.Ph.E. Bach indicate that the musical expression of ideas is indeed the main task of musicians. Organists may change registration while playing, which is confirmed by – among others – a 17th-century testimony of Johann Kortkamp, who assisted Matthias Weckmann as a registrant. The organist is the one who in the end decides, based on his musical experience, how the data collected by musicologists will influence his interpretation of the composition. The Stylus phantasticus and Reincken’s chorale fantasia show that poetry, compassion and lyricism are important elements not only in romantic and contemporary music, but also in earlier music.