Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck’s organ and harpsichord music by Pieter Dirksen

by Pieter Dirksen | Het ORGEL | Year 98 | (2002) | Issue 2
Pieter Dirksen Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck’s organ and harpsichord music
Het ORGEL 98 (2002), nr. 2, 5-11 [summary]

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621) lived and worked in Amsterdam. As far as we know,he travelled only once in his life: to Antwerp, to buy a Ruckers harpsichord. Nonetheless,Sweelinck was well informed about the European music culture: his work shows influencesfrom England, Italy, Spain and Germany.

Sweelinck wrote his keyboard music most probably in the last 15 years of his life. Mostof what survived is known from copies originating with his foreign pupils.

Characteristic is Sweelinck’s variation technique. In many cases, he opens withone voice, then adds a second, then a third, until the last variation is a four-partone.Sweelinck often combines variations in pairs. Many of his variations are based onecclesiastical melodies. These variation cycles are clearly organ music; the cycles basedon secular songs and dances fit the harpsichord better .

Sweelinck excelled particularly in his fantasias. In his time, composing a fantasiameant realising an individual type of music, based on imitative counterpoint. This isvalid not only for the large monothematic fantasias (most of which are based on anexisting theme), but also for the more playful echo fantasias.

The fantasia and variation cycle were typical Dutch genres. The toccata was not:Sweelinck introduced the Venetian toccata to Northern-Europe. He added English passagework and polyphony to the Italian concept.