The Cornell Department of Music and Center for Historical Keyboards present an organ festival, “The Orpheus of Amsterdam: Sweelinck and his legacy,” from Oct. 20-23.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the Dutch composer and keyboardist Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck’s death, and the festival presents an opportunity to revisit a body of inventive and pioneering keyboard work that stands as a high point in keyboard history.
As a keyboardist, Sweelinck brought together the traditions of Italy and England, creating variation sets on both popular and sacred music, as well as new works in counterpoint that codified a new set of musical devices. This definitive lexicon encouraged numerous musicians to visit Amsterdam to learn both composition and performance from him, and his teaching served as the basis for the art practiced by many organist-composers, including J. S. Bach.
Sweelinck was employed by the city council in Amsterdam to play organ concerts at the meeting of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, and he became so famous that he was compared to the mythical Orpheus, whose musical powers could charm all things.
Annette Richards, university organist and director of the Cornell Center for Historical Keyboards, notes that the programs in this festival present Sweelinck’s music in the context of his contemporaries and his students. She says, “Our aim is to share with audiences the beauty, inventiveness, and brilliance of Sweelinck himself, but also to show how his music relates to the sounds and idioms of Italian and northern European keyboard music of the period.” More details about the concerts follow below.
Wednesday, Oct. 20
Midday Music for Organ: Guest organist Jeffrey Snedeker. “Music by Sweelinck,” performed on the large Baroque organ, as well as a small chamber organ; 12:30 p.m.; Anabel Taylor Chapel
Friday, Oct. 22
Jonathan Schakel (Italian organ and harpsichord) with guest Megan Sharp (soprano). “Sweelinck in Italy,” features music by Sweelinck and his Italian contemporaries; 8 p.m.; Sage Chapel
Saturday, Oct. 23
Annette Richards, Nathan Mondry and Anna Steppler, organists. “Sweelinck and the Germans,” exploring the ways Sweelinck’s musical ideas were taken up by his German students; 1 p.m.; Anabel Taylor Chapel
David Yearsley and guest violinist Martin Davids (baroque violin). The program “Schop and Scheidemann in the Organ Loft” focuses on the echoes of Sweelinck to be heard in his student Heinrich Scheidemann’s music, who performed with violin virtuoso Johann Schop in the late 17th century. Yearsley and Davids will conjure up that musical friendship and present the organ as accompanist, dueling partner, and source of inspiration; 8 p.m., Anabel Taylor Chapel
Advance reservations are recommended for the Oct. 23 evening performance and may be made online.
All events above are free and open to the public. Campus visitors and members of the public must adhere to Cornell’s public health requirements for events, which include wearing masks while indoors and providing proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test.
Laurel Gilmer is events manager for the Department of Music.