Volume 75, Summer 2019
Johann Adolph Scheibe 3 sonatas op. 1, for flute or solo violin with harpsichord
ed. Michael Elphinstone
Edition HH, HH455.FSP, Launton, 2017 (pbk, £27)
ISMN 979 0 708146 62 94
The three Sonatas op. 1 by Johann Adolph Scheibe (1708-76) are a fine addition to the flute and obbligato keyboard repertoire. Flautists should be grateful to Edition HH for bringing to light such beautiful and interesting music, and to Michael Elphinstone for presenting us with such a thoughtful and scholarly edition. The music is presented in a clean, modern typeface and consists of a full score and a separate flute part. In the full score, the reader is also offered an Introduction by the editor, textual notes and ‘Suggestions for performance’.
The two sources for this edition are both housed in the Royal Library in Copenhagen: one is a manuscript copy in full score format of a no longer extant Haffner publication and the other a manuscript copy in separate parts for cembalo and flauto. Elphinstone suggests that work was composed around the 1740s. Not only are these pieces charmingly written, but they are also entertaining to play, as they present the performer with rhythmically interesting material.
The three Sonatas op. 1 are all in keys that are friendly to the one-keyed flute – the first in D major, the second in B minor and the third in A major. All consist of four movements in a sequence of slow-fast-slow-fast. In the two sonatas in major keys, the third movement is in the relative minor, while both their last movements are Minuets (Poco Presto in the D major sonata and Presto in the A major). The Affettuoso movement of the B minor sonata resembles a Siciliano and is delightfully written with plenty of dialogue between the flute and keyboard.
The issue of ornamentation is key in Scheibe’s music: much of the rhythmical interest of these pieces derives from written out ornamentation in both parts. A glance at the music reveals a number of extra ornamentation symbols: at least four different types of trills are indicated, and it is interesting that whenever the keyboard has a long held note, a continuous trill is suggested, to compensate for the harpsichord’s lack of sustaining power. Turns are also indicated; in the first sonata, the sign appears as a vertical inverted S, instead of the usual sign, an S rotated 90º to the left. This notation is apparent in both sources and is preserved in this modern edition.
Elphinstone devotes most of his ‘Suggestions for performance’ to the subject of ornamentation: he advocates short double cadenzas at the end of some movements, addresses the performance of appoggiaturas and suggests reading J. J. Quantz’s Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen (1752) and C. P. E. Bach’s Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (1753 and 1762), as well as analysing music by J. S. Bach, C. P. E. Bach, Quantz and F. Benda, in order to inform one’s style of ornamentation and continuo playing.
Scheibe was born in Leipzig, where he studied at university. In 1740 he became kapellmeister to the Danish king; he died in Copenhagen. He is not one of the better-known composers of the baroque era; in fact much of his music has sadly been lost. However, he was also an important theorist and music critic, and most of his writings have survived, the most famous probably being the sixth volume of his Critische Musicus (1737). Here, in an anonymous letter, Scheibe criticises the work and musical style of J. S. Bach, stating that as his music was mostly conceived for the keyboard, it posed problems when performed on other instruments, and that Bach ‘darkened the beauty of the music by an excess of art’ in his lavish use of ornamentation, although Scheibe made his admiration for J. S. Bach clear in other volumes of the Critische Musicus.
An evaluation of Scheibe’s work as a composer, theorist and music critic is still unfolding. I wish there had been more biographical information in Elphinstone’s Introduction to the flute sonatas, and a stronger focus on Scheibe as a primary source in the interpretation of these sonatas. Nevertheless, as a flautist involved in historically informed performance and the ongoing discovery of new repertoire, I praise the excellent work of Edition HH and Michael Elphinstone in bringing Scheibe’s 3 Sonate per il cembalo obbligato e flauto traverso ô violino concertato Op. 1 back to life.
We are grateful to theThe Consort for permission to reproduce this review.