Sweelinck’s Ricercar

by Pieter Dirksen | Het ORGEL | Year 117 | (2021) | Issue 5

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck is one of the few keyboard composers who treated the organ and strung keyboard instruments, in his case the harpsichord, equally.  The only composer who can be compared with him in this is Johann Sebastian Bach.  Although the sources do not specify the instruments directly, nevertheless Sweelinck’s keyboard music can be divided in two groups using a combination of indications such as the nature of the sources, the compass, and specific stylistic traits:  one group is conceived primarily for organ, the other primarily for harpsichord.  This of course does not mean that a harpsichord work might not be played, then or now, on the organ, or vice versa.  But Sweelinck differentiates the two instruments subtly nevertheless, and in general one of the two instruments is the ideal medium for a specific piece.

Sweelinck had the custom, particularly in his keyboard music, of composing in pairs.  The clearest example is the pair Fantasia F1 (‘Utremifasolla’, SwWV 263) and Fantasia d1 (‘Cromatica’, SwWV 258), which complete each other perfectly.  Another important pair are the Ricercar a1 (SwWV 280) and the Fantasia d2 (SwWV 259).  This article analyses Ricercar a1.