Text of the booklet "J.C.F. Fischer. Musicalisches Blumen-Büschlein."
He was considered to be one of the best harpsichordists of his time and he was famous for making well known and spreading the art of ornamentation in Germany as well as a perfect performing style on this instrument.
That is the estimation Ernst Ludwig Gerber gave in his Historisch-biographisches Lexicon der Tonkßnstler to Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer (1656–1746), a composer and Kapellmeister to the Baden court.
His talent was rated extraordinarily high by his contemporaries; Mauritius Vogt in the Conclave thesauri magnae artis musicae (published in Prague, 1719) called him ‘the most perfect composer of our era’ (‘nostri aevi componista absolutissimus’). It is known that J. S. Bach kept copies of Fischer’s compositions and that this music was a source of inspiration for him. Modern research regards Fischer as a great composer of keyboard music, on a par with Froberger and Bach. Furthermore, he is written about as a musician who in German speaking countries was able to elucidate the peculiarities of the French style.
According to the Czech musicologist Tomislav Volek, Fischer was born on September 6th, 1656 in the Bohemian town of SchÚnfeld which is not far from Karlsbad. He attended the Piarist school in Schlackenwerth and probably received a good musical education there (the clergy of this order devoted much attention to music).
The residence of Julius Franz, the Duke of Saxe-Lauenburg, was located in Schlackenwerth and he was a man who cared greatly about his court’s reputation and maintained a large Hofkapelle. Fischer continued his musical studies under the direction of one of the court musicians although it is not known who exactly his teacher was. Apparently, Fischer was appointed to the Kapelle immediately upon graduating (and there is a lot of evidence that this was the case). There he got a splendid opportunity to study the new tendencies in musical art. The duke often travelled and orchestra musicians had to accompany him. According to some accounts Fischer also spent quite a long time in France but even if this was not the case he undoubtedly had plenty of chance to study the French style in Schlackenwerth, since from 1683 onwards Georg Blayer, who was famous in Paris as the first German composer to write and publish dances in the Lully style, worked at the Kapelle. Fischer’s successful career at the court is evidence of his ability, and his talent was both well recognized and in high demand. Indeed after the death of the Kapellmeister Augustin Pfleger it was Fischer who became his successor. In 1689 at the age of 48 the duke Julius Franz died suddenly. He had no sons and his Bohemian lands were shared between his two unmarried daughters, Anna Maria Franziska and Sybilla Augusta. Having received a good dowry both princesses could count on an advantageous marriage. Emperor Leopold I supposed that the eldest should marry Ludwig Wilhelm, the Margrave of Baden. The margrave took part in the war with the Turks and his contribution to this campaign was indisputable, but whilst fighting in the Balkans his Baden estate was ravaged by the French army and the land of Saxe-Lauenburg would have compensated for those losses. However, despite the emperor’s choice Ludwig Wilhelm preferred the younger of the two sisters Sybilla Augusta and their wedding took place on March 27th, 1690 in Raudnitz on the Elbe. The first years of their marriage were tough, so the young couple could not even think about maintaining any representative court staff. Ludwig Wilhelm commanded armies in the Balkans and the Upper Rhine and the young countess remained in Schlackenwerth or travelled together with her husband having to live in military camps.
For the Baden and Saxe-Lauenburg Hofkapellen united under the direction of Fischer that was also quite a difficult period. None the less, besides fulfilling his duties, the Kapellmeister had the possibility to travel and to compose. After the conclusion of peace in Ryswijk in 1697 Ludwig Wilhelm took the decision to move once again his residence to Baden. He commissioned the Italian architect Domenico Egidio Rossi to build a new luxurious palace in close vicinity to the old capital of Baden which had been destroyed by the French.
In 1705 the margrave and his family moved to a new wing of the palace but within two years Ludwig Wilhelm died without seeing the complete building. The widowed margravine stayed in Baden with her children and only returned to Rastatt after the end of the War of Spanish Succession (A peace treaty was signed in Rastatt in 1714).
After the death of Ludwig Wilhelm the court musicians were released from their duties, but having moved to Rastatt the margravine immediately hired Fischer again. According to the preserved copy of his work contract he took up his post on October 25th, 1715. Apparently, with the exception of some unforeseen departures, he held his position as Kapellmeister, led the orchestra and wrote theatre, church and instrumental music until his death in 1746. He must have also taught the Margravine Sybilla Augusta to play keyboard instruments, and then later her granddaughter Elisabeth Augusta Franziska. He dedicated a collection of keyboard pieces to each of them: to Sybilla Augusta the Musicalisches Blumen-Bßschlein (opus 2) and to Elisabeth Augusta (almost 40 years later) the Musikalischer Parnassus, a cycle of nine suites named after the nine Greek muses. The pieces comprising these collections are written very skilfully, although they don’t require exceptional virtuosity, so that they could be performed by the two, for whom they were designed.
The opus 2 suites are known in two editions. The first time Fischer published them at his own cost in Schlackenwerth in 1696, the cycle was called in French Les Pièces de Clavessin (The name referred to the PiÏces de Clavessin of Jacques Champion de ChambonniÏres, one of the first collections of keyboard suites, which was first published in 1670). Under the German title Musicalisches Blumen-Bßschlein, Fischer’s cycle was published within two years in Augsburg and, as mentioned above, this time it was dedicated to the Margravine Sybilla Augusta. The year of publication was not stated, but it is possible to establish it by reading Fischer’s preface, which is in equal measure informative and poetic. The author points out that the Musicalisches Blumen-Bßschlein is related to his first published cycle, the Journal de Printemps (1695); it is a collection of suites in the French style, dedicated to Ludwig Wilhelm. Thus, the Journal de Printemps and Musicalisches Blumen-Büschlein were presented as a gift to the ruling couple (such gifts at that time were quite common). The Journal de Printemps with trumpets and timpani parts was presented to the margravine ‘in the spring time and on the eve of the new military campaign’. The Musicalisches Blumen-Bßschlein was a present to celebrate the birth of Prince Karl Joseph who was born in 1697 in Augsburg (and died in 1703 in Schlackenwerth). At the same time Musicalisches Blumen-Büschlein was meant as a New Year offering; therefore, its publication can be dated quite accurately as the beginning of 1698. Fischer explains that cosy keyboard music seems to him more suitable as a gift to the little prince and his mother than a noisy orchestral composition. He does not wish to ‘fill the Prince’s rooms with the sounds of trumpets and violins, and herewith harm the ear of the new born Prince, growing under the New Year sun’. On the contrary, he wants to ‘humbly introduce to His Serene Highness a little quiet music for the clavichord or another instrument which is suitable for the Parthyen, collected together like a bouquet of various musical flowers’. At the same time, he remarks that these pieces were intended for the margravine who ‘like a skilled Minerva can play them herself and choose the best.’
The title of the collection indicates the colourful gaiety of the miniatures – the bouquet of ‘various musical flowers’ which the Kapellmeister presented to his lady.
Fischer united them in eight partitas (or suites) highly varied in their construction. Major and minor suites alternate and the tonal plan of the cycle looks as follows: d–F–a–C–e–D–g–G. All the movements of each suite are written in the main key. The typical core of a suite, allemande – courante – sarabande – gigue, is found only in the Sixth Partita, whereas the majority of compositions include gallant dances, such as minuet, rondo, canary and branle which at that time just appeared in French suites. Partitas V and VIII consist of only two movements: one has the Prelude and Aria with variations, and the other – the Prelude and Chaconne. Fischer evidently cared about variety within different genres. Especially noticeable is the comparison of the eight introductory Preludes. For example, the Prelude from Partita II is written with mere accords from beginning to end and develops one singular rhythmic model with the motion created by the harmony. The Fifth Prelude is formed by imitations of a short motif, the Sixth – by arpeggiated chords. Prelude VIII is clearly divided into three different sections. In the first section broken triads and scale fragments are heard in the background of the pedal point. In the second section Fischer noted only the chords remarking that the performer should tastefully arpeggiate without pausing (‘Harpeggiando per tutto con discrezione e senza riposar’). In the third, a motif develops from three sixteenth and two eighth notes.
The minuets are also quite varied in structure. In the First, Second and Sixth Partitas they are composed according to a typical scheme: 8 + 16 bars. In the Third Partita the minuet is expanded through a small reprise to 24 bars. In the Fourth Partita, side by side with a symmetrical minuet (12 + 12), there is a dance titled Amener (from the French à mener – ‘to lead’), this derives from the Branle of Poitou (Branle à mener de Poitou), a dance which is considered to be one of the forerunners of the minuet. (In Partita IV one can also find an example of an old Branle that refers to the 16th century suites). Besides this, Fischer became one of the first to use the form of minuet with trio (Partita VII). Amongst other gallant dances there are the Plainte (Lament) and the quick Canary in 6/8 metre, which apparently originated from the dances of the Canary Islands.
The Chaconne has a special function in the work. This dance was chosen by Fischer for the ending of the Eighth Suite and the whole cycle, and that decision was completely justified. In the times of Jean Baptiste Lully the Chaconne used to conclude court theatre performances; it could then naturally appear as a brilliant final piece.
Dr. Rüdiger Thomsen-Fürst, translated by Mark Barnard
Text of the booklet "J.C.F. Fischer. Musicalisches Blumen-Büschlein."