Johann Jacob Froberger

(1616 - 1667)


Keyboardist and composer. Probably studied with his father, Kapellmeister at Stuttgart, and possibly also with local organists Steigleder and Eckhardt. Shortly before the musically talented and accomplished Ferdinand III was elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1637, Froberger was appointed a court organist at Vienna, continuing in Imperial service for the next 20 years. However, he often spent long periods away from Vienna, beginning in the late summer of 1637 when be received a stipend to study with Frescobaldi in Rome through 1641; returned to Vienna as organist, 1641-45. He seems from 1645 to 1653 to have travelled extensively through various German states, Italy, the Low Countries, France and even England. During his travels, he perhaps visited Italy again in 1649, making contact with Carissimi at Rome and performing in Florence and Mantua; back in Vienna, a presentation manuscript of his keyboard works dedicated to Emperor Ferdinand III is dated Sept. 29, 1649. He evidently was in Brussels in 1650, where for a time he was attached to the court of Ferdinand's brother, Archduke Leopold, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands, in France in 1652 (where he performed successfully and met Chambonnières, Louis Couperin , and Denis Gaultier), and also in England around this time. Mattheson refers to a competition with Weckmann (whom Froberger later befriended) in Dresden. He was reinstated as Viennese court organist in 1653 but after the Emperor's death in 1657; although Ferdinand's successor, Leopold I, was also very musical, he permitted Froberger to be dismissed at the end of June 1657, although most of the Imperial Chapel musicians were kept on. Frobereger's final position was as tutor to Princess Sibylla of Würtemberg-Montbéliard at Héricourt, where he died suddenly during a vespers service.

His relations with his Imperial patron seem to have been very harmonious, marked by mutual respect and sincere affection. Two of the beautifully decorated autograph volumes of Froberger's music prepared for presentation to Ferdinand are still preserved in the Austrian National Library; alas, at least two more have been lost. We know from a letter dated September 1649, from Froberger to his old friend in Rome, the remarkable Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher, that the composer was even accorded long private audiences to discuss fine points of contrapuntal technique with his patron. Ferdinand's melomania even extended to taking the entire Vienna court opera along when travelling on state business. His bedchamber always contained a small keyboard instrument for his personal use.

The best evidence of the close bonds which linked Froberger and Ferdinand III is provided by the deeply felt Lamentation in his memory. This unquestionably genuine piece has survived only in a single manuscript of the early 18th century. The composer consciously chose the unusual key of F minor and the archaic three-section form, neither of which occurs elsewhere in his music, and ended the piece with a thrice-repeated F, all in tribute to the departed.

Though little of his music was published in his lifetime,Froberger was very influential through posthumous prints and manuscript copies; his fusion of Frescobaldi 's Italianate idiom with the French style of the era served as a model for many later German keyboard composers. His frequent designation as creator of the standardized suite must be questioned, however; the autograph manuscripts of his suites generally make the sarabande the last dance, with the gigue taking this position only in prints dating from the 1690s. His works, almost all for keyboard, reflect his mixed musical heritage: his partitas, capriccios, ricercars, and toccatas (some alla levatione for use in the liturgy) are in a style close to Frescobaldi's, while his suites and programmatic works (including several moving tombeaux) are based on the French usage.

In our own time the reawakening of interest in the music of the 17th century has been relatively recent as compared with the attention paid to slightly later periods. In the domain of the harpsichord, especially, this has been most regrettable because much of the most moving and impressive repertoire for the instrument dates from the 17th century. Froberger can be viewed as a central figure in the constellation of composers for keyboard in this period. He plays a special rôle, a particularly German one in uniting and synthesizing various stylistic trends of his time. He is the link between the school of Frescobaldi and the early clavecinistes. But important as all this undoubtedly is to the historian of music, to the sensitive listener Froberger's ultimate claim to greatness rests primarily on his capacity to convey to us the intense emotions that he was able to express in a few bars lasting but a moment or two. In this sense he was truly unique.

Froberger's autograph Partita

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