Wilhelm Karges (1613 or 1614 – 1699), was a German organist and composer in the North German organ tradition. He was born in Berlin, where he spent much of his life. In January 1646 he was appointed chamber musician and composer at the court of the Elector Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg in Berlin, and subsequently became organist at the cathedral there.

Three of Karges’ compositions can be found in manuscript Am.B. 340 (available as digital copy at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin), a Fantasia, a Prelude, and a Capriccio. This manuscript contains some 45 organ pieces, presumably copied by Wilhelm Karges. The composers are sometimes given with there initials, but most pieces remain anonymous in the manuscript. As a source for pieces by other composers than Karges this manuscript has been called “utterly unreliable”. Compositions in this manuscript that are known from other sources as well differ to a large extend from those other sources.

The Capriccio mentioned above, for example, is only half the work of Karges, as the second half of it is derived from a piece by Froberger. It is the second half of Froberger’s fourth Fantasia (“sopra Sol, La, Re”). Karges’ first half is based on the same notes as Froberger’s second half, and both parts blend together to form one coherent whole. The first half of Froberger’s piece is presented as a seperate piece in this manuscript, on the preceding folio.

Intruiging is that Karges scribbles and extra bar in the margin of the manuscript near the end of the piece. With a small cross besides it. He also scribbles a small cross after the first bar of Froberger’s second half. Is the extra bar to be inserted there? Musically that makes no sense, as it is almost a repetition of Froberger’s first bar. And if it is to be inserted there one would expect he would have written it on the same page. But he didn’t. He wrote it on the opposing page, near the end of the piece. There is actually a small line there, probably indicating it should be inserted there. The only logical explination is that the extra bar is meant to make a repeat possible. That’s why it is almost identical to Froberger’s first bar, and that’s why it is scribbled near the end of the piece.

As the extra bar is scribbled in the margin, Karges did not mean that the repetition should always be played. It is just there, I think, as a handy way of creating a longer piece if need be. I can imagine Karges, playing during service, looking down and thinking to himself “Are they nearly done? No? Okay, let’s play this part again…”

And that’s how this manuscript should be viewed, I think, it gives us some insight in the practical sides of Karges’ duty as organist. Pieces cannot be longer than two facing pages (to avoid awkward page turns), have a certain length in time (three or four minutes), and some pieces have handy indications where to perform a repeat so the length of the piece can be varied if need be. It is a practical organists organ book. And though most pieces are heavily adapted when compared to their original (if a original is known), the adaption is skillfully done and it remains beautiful music.

For most of the pieces contained in this manuscript no composer is given and for most of the pieces (if they are indeed adaptations) the model is not known to me. The Fantasia in A, presented here today, is such a composition. No composer is indicated in the manuscript and the model (if there is one) is not known to me.

The composition itself is a beautiful piece of music. It is build on two chromatic motives, one ascending and one descendig. The piece start with the descending motif, First in whole and half notes in all four voices, then in quarter notes, again in all four voices. Then the descending motif is introduced, first in the tenor voice, then in the bass voice. Both motifs then alternate for the rest of the composition.

As this composition is without composer and the manuscript has been deemed “utterly unreliable” this music has not been published before (not that I could find, at least). I think you’ll agree that this neglect is unjustified, as it is a beautiful piece, that deserves to be played and heared.

[Update, 22-12-2019] The work turns out to be published in a collection by Barenreiter of “Germanic Organ and Keyboard Music of the 17th Century”, BA 8426. There, it is tentatively attributed to Scheidemann. In that publication the music written in the manuscript on an inserted leaflet between the two pages this composition is written on is included. As I think that leaflet was a leter addition, perhaps to make it a little longer when need be, or for use when an ending on E rather than A was needed, I left it out in the publcation presented here.

The recording was done with the sample set of the Silbermann organ of the Stadtkirche Zöblitz by Prospectum.

pdf_iconKarges, Fantasia in A

Karges, Fantasia in A



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