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Fortune My Foe: Works For Harpsichord

Detail from a portrait of Jan Pietersz. Sweelinck (1562-1621), by Gerrit Pietersz.

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck was organist at the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, one of the most important organ gigs in Holland, for most of his life.  Both his father, who probably gave him his first music lessons, and his son, who was his student, held the same position.

When the city of Amsterdam converted to Calvinism, and therefore the playing of the organ was banned during mass, Sweelinck turned his attention to public concerts, both on various church organs and on the harpsichord at municipal events and in bourgeois houses. Well known as a performer, he was also influential as a teacher whose students included the founders of the north German organ school which culminated in Johann Sebastian Bach.

Though he never left Amsterdam for more than a few days at a time, his keyboard compositions show Sweelinck to be a cosmopolitan composer familiar with repertory from all over Europe.  Alina Rotaru made a recording released in 2010 by Carpe Diem Records of his settings of a variety of melodies from England, Spain, Germany and Italy.  The CD also contains three pieces contemporary with, but not composed by Sweelinck, ending with a Fantazia on one of Sweelinck’s fugues written by Dr. John Bull just after Sweelinck died in 1621.  Here is part of Sweelinck’s Pavana Hispanica, a set of variations on a well-known dance tune.

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