Acronym—The Instrumental Recordings

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Program: #19-44   Air Date: Oct 21, 2019

Co-founder Kivi Cahn-Lipman joins us once again to discuss the groups work with instrumental composers of the early 17th century.

NOTE: All of the music on this program features the ensemble Acronym featuring founding member Kivie Cahn-Lipman. For more information:

I. Paradise: Instrumental Sonatas of Antonio Bertali. Olde Focus CD FCR901.

Antonio Bertali was born in 1605 in Verona. In 1624 he moved to Vienna, where he was hired as a violinist and composer at the Habsburg Court and eventually served as Supremus Musices Praefectus of the Imperial orchestra. Following the death of Giovanni Valentini in 1649, King Ferdinand III appointed Bertali Kappellmeister—then the highest musical position in German-speaking lands—a post which he held until his death in 1669. Bertali was a prolific composer of both sacred and secular music, ranging from oratorios and operas to instrumental sonatas, but few of his works were published and almost none survive. Nearly all of Bertali’s extant instrumental compositions (including twelve of the thirteen found in this recording) come from manuscript copies now located in libraries in Kromeriz, Uppsala, or Wolfenbüttel. Several pieces have concordant copies in more than one location, with slightly varying notes, rhythms, and instrumentations (e.g., trombones or bassoons replacing viols).


From Fanfare: Antonio Bertali (1605–1669) is one of those many composers from the Italian States who achieved prominence at the 17th-century Viennese courts of the Holy Roman Emperors. All of the rulers preferred the musical world of late 16th- and early 17th-century Italy, and their various musical directors provided many works along these stylistic lines. Bertali, who assumed the office of Kapellmeister followed Giovanni Valentini’s death in 1649, was especially known for his operas and church music, but his sonatas recall those of Uccellini, Merula, Marini, and Castello. That’s to say, they are a succession of dances, recitatives, fast movements in imitative counterpoint, and slow arias over ostinato basses. They are attractive, distinctive pieces that haven’t lacked for champions in the recent past, though Acronym claims first recordings for six of the sonatas heard on his release. 

As for the ensemble, it performs with a rich, full-bodied sound in unison, as I remarked on its almost concurrent release of Pezel’s Opus Musicum Sonatarum Praestantissimarum Senis Instrumentis Instructum (Olde Focus 903). That precision is especially welcome in the faster movements, and the ensemble catches some of the extravagant “take stage” expressivity in the more freely phrased of the recitatives.  They’re not quite as adverse to vibrato here as they are on that Pezel release, but they come close: I counted only two brief uses apiece of slow and fast vibrato applied in the first six of the 13 sonatas. It would at least help with the tonal issues, as would other experiments with violin color that were written about at the time. 


Sonata in d a4 (D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—76) 10:02



Sonata in g a6 (CZ-KRa—A 515) 03:36



Sonata in d a6 (D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—100) 04:49



Sonata in g a5 (D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—90) 02:31



Sonata in d a2 (D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—51) 03:20



Sonata in d a3 (S-Uu—13:7; D-brd-Kl—ms. mus. 60) 06:01



Sonata in G a2 (D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—38) 08:24



Sonata in d a6 (CZ-KRa—A 561; D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—98) 03:32



Sonata in G a8 (D-brd-Kl—ms. mus. 98) 04:01



Sonata in C a8 (CZ-KRa—A 584; CZ-KRa—A 502) 04:51



Sonata in e a6 (D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—101) 04:31



Sonata in a a8 (CZ-Kra—A 549; D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—107) 05:43



Sonata in d a6 (CZ-KRa—A 515) 02:32



II. Wunderkammer Olde Focus CD FCR906.

In seventeenth-century Germany, a Wunderkammer (typically translated as “Cabinet of Curiosities”) was a type of private museum collection in the home of an aristocrat. Always in search of the most fascinating music from this era, ACRONYM has unearthed a large number of previously unrecorded manuscript sonatas written by long-forgotten composers. Some of these pieces contain harmonic eccentricities, rhythmic or metric irregularities, or structural curiosities. This disc includes ten such works, ACRONYM's own musical Wunderkammer. The composers are Samuel Capricornus, Adam Drese, Johann Philipp Krieger, Andreas Oswald, Antonio Bertali, Daniel Eberlin, Philipp Jakob Rittler, Georg Piscator, Alessandro Poglietti, and Clemens Thieme.

ACRONYM (A Cabinet of Rather Odd and Nutty Young Musicians) is dedicated to giving modern premieres of the wild instrumental music of the seventeenth century. The ensemble formed in 2012 to create the first recording of the “Alphabet Sonatas” of Johann Pezel. ACRONYM’s next disc, sonatas by Antonio Bertali, was released in 2014 to critical acclaim; Alex Ross selected it as a CD Pick, and Early Music America Magazine wrote “the idiomatic performances and spacious recording by these young musicians are absolutely first rate. This is a disc … belonging in everyone’s collection.” ACRONYM released a third album, the first recordings of Giovanni Valentini’s instrumental works, in 2015, and Gramophone wrote that the recording is “played with expertise, enthusiasm and an almost tactile sense of timbre.” Upcoming recordings include the modern premiere of Valentini’s 1616 book of madrigals with the vocal ensemble Les Canards Chantants later in 2016, and a disc featuring the music of Johann Rosenmüller with baritone Jesse Blumberg in early 2017.

From American Record Guide: This program of ten sonatas, for ensembles ranging in size from two to eight instruments, offers a fine representation of the state of the art in 17th-Century Germany. The organizing principle for the recording appears to have been twofold: to expose the inherent rhythmic and harmonic eccentricities and structural curiosities of the repertory, and to compare the works of canonic composers with ones off the beaten path. For example, the sonatas of Bertali and Krieger are relatively well known, but this is the first recording of music by Georg Piscator (early 17th Century) and Daniel Eberlin (1647-c. 1715). Between these extremes we have the works of Andreas Oswald, Adam Drese, Philipp Jakob Rittler, Alessandro Poglietti, Clemens Thieme, and Samuel Friedrich Capricornus.

The repertory is taken from the four most important collections of the period: the Partitenbuch of Jacob Ludwig (1623-98); the Liechtenstein Music Collection of Karl II von Liechtenstein-Kastelkorn (1623-95); the Rost Codex, copied by Franz Rost (c. 1640-88); and the huge Düben Collection of 2300 manuscripts gathered by Gustav Düben the Elder (1628-90). Acronym’s stirring performances of these sonatas on string instruments gives them an overall homogenous character, yet Kivie Cahn- Lipman notes that scribes anticipated many other possible combinations of string, reed, and brass instruments.

Each sonata is remarkable in its own way. The eight-part Sonata in A minor by Capricornus exhibits a style similar to Johann Rosenmüller, the way he quickly shifts from rich sonorities to quick contrapuntal passages. Compare, for example, the recordings by the Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble (Christophorus 77333; J/A 2011) and Ensemble Masques (ATMA 2660; S/O 2013). Perhaps the most curious sonata is the five-part Sonata in F by Philipp Jakob Rittler, which includes nearly 40 tempo changes in the span of 90 measures. Piscator’s seven-part Sonata in A minor is also rather appealing for its stunning harmonic curiosities and sudden dynamic changes.

---Peter Loewen


Sonata a8 in A Minor

Samuel Capricornus



Sonata a6 in C Major

Adam Drese



Sonata a4 in F Major

Johann Philipp Krieger



Sonata a3 in E Minor

Andreas Oswald



Sonata a2 in A Minor

Antonio Bertali (1605 – 1669)



Sonata a2 “La Eminenza” in E Minor

Daniel Eberlin



Sonata a5 in F Major

Philipp Jakob Rittler



Sonata a7 in A Minor

Georg Piscator



Sonata a8 in A Minor

Alessandro Poglietti



Sonata a8 in C Major

Clemens Thieme



III. The Battle the Bethel & the Ball.  Olde Focus CD FCR913.

Programmatic battle music has long been popular, from Renaissance polyphony in which singers imitate gunfire and cries, to Romantic-era orchestral works which feature actual cannon in the percussion section. Many seventeenth-century pieces of German battle music referred to military conflicts between the Holy Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire, which by then had been taking place periodically for more than three hundred years.

Perhaps the most famous surviving work of baroque battle music is the concluding piece on our recording, composed by H. I. F. von Biber, an Austrian composer who worked in Graz and Kroměříž before settling in Salzburg. Biber’s Battalia (1673) is in eight continuous movements and dedicated to the god Bacchus. A brief untitled introduction is followed by Die liederliche gesellschaft von allerley Humor (the dissolute company of all sorts of humor), in which eight contemporaneous folk songs are heard simultaneously in different keys, and a note in the manuscript reads: “hic dissonat ubique nam ebrii sic diversis Cantilenis clamare solent” (here is dissonant everywhere as drunks shout out various songs). This cacophony is followed by two untitled presto movements, with Der Mars (the god of war) between them. A gentle aria is a respite but segues directly into Die Schlacht (the battle). Der Mars and Die Schlacht each explicitly call for extended string techniques rarely heard until the twentieth century: striking the strings with the wood of the bow, threading paper between the strings to produce a rattle, and snap pizzicato. Battalia ends with an Adagio: Lamento der verwundten Musquetir (lament of the wounded musketeer).

From Fanfare: I’m not quite sure why this potpourri of selections by or attributed to Biber (and we’ll get into that in a bit) required a subtitle, “the Battle the Bethel & the Ball”—written just like that presumably to drive copy editors to drink—which is about as revealing about this album’s contents as a disc featuring some well-known bass in Mozart’s sacred music and scurrilous vocal canons called “the Basilica, the Bass, & the Bars.” And, come to think of it, that might actually provide some sense of Mozart’s very human breadth of character to celebrate.

Not so, here. Instead, we have seven works listed as by the composer; and if there’s any thread uniting them, it’s the questionable attribution of five out of seven. That’s not apparent anywhere on the album cover—though to be fair, most other CDs I’ve purchased or received for review over the years including these compositions either reserve any brief comment about their authenticity for the liner notes, or fail to mention this fact at all. To his credit, the anonymous individual who wrote this release’s notes briefly considers the reasons for the dubious stature of each. Thus, the manuscript containing the dance suite for two antiphonal choirs, Balettae ad duos choros, was originally ascribed to “Henrico Biber,” which was subsequently crossed out and replaced with the currently unknown “Signore Hugi.” The Sonatina featuring viola da gamba now attributed to Biber was formerly credited to Augustinus Kertzinger on several albums, among them one by the ensemble Fantasticus (Resonus 10112), and another by Olivier Fortin and Masques entitled Mensa Sonora (Analekta 29909). The so-called Sonata Jucunda is found without attribution in the castle library at Kremsier (now Kroměříž) where Biber worked briefly for the Bishop of Olmütz, but some musicologists are now suggesting that a more likely composer for the piece is Heinrich Schmelzer. And the Ciacona (heard here in the longer of two known versions, claimed as a premiere recording) is anonymous, but again from Kroměříž, where Biber seems the most likely candidate for its authorship, given the stylistic markers.

Whether all of the works on this disc were composed by Biber or not is in any case less important a question than whether they maintain the same standard of compositional sophistication and frequently lively wit that Biber’s popular Battalia does. They do, and Acronym furnishes an excellent balance between spirited execution on the one hand, and stylistic appropriateness on the other. That isn’t always the case with other releases that have featured this music. For example, Camerata Nordica’s version of the Battalia on last year’s album, Tales of Sound and Fury (BIS 2756), decided to overlay the bizarre dissonances of the second movement with what sounds like loud comments and laughter. This recreates a cocktail party atmosphere which drowns out some of the music. Acronym’s lively performance digs into the rhythms with gusto, and phrases incisively.

They do so in yet another work available for comparison: the Biber-attributed cantata O dulcis Jesu. It’s a highly affective work, with Acronym pressing the strings harshly on the final line, “Jam, jam tecum volo, mi Jesu, mort!” (Now, now I want to die with you, my Jesus!). By contrast, Cord’Arte on an album of Baroque cantatas (Pan Classics 10293) is all silky smooth. Their soprano soloists mirror this division. Cord’Arte’s Hana Blažiková is technically adroit and a very “cool” performer, who concentrates entirely on musical values. Acronym’s Molly Quinn softens her voice for emotive effect—as on the repetition of the final, pleading word in the line, “Charitate tua me vulnera.” She also varies color by altering her vibrato, though this sometimes appears without regard to text or music. An American, Quinn presumably was also informed that she should pronounce her Latin as though she were German, so you might find it disconcerting that “qu” is sung as “kuh-vee,” as in kuh-vee-ee-rem-bam for “Quaerebam.” Still, I prefer overall the expressiveness she and Acronym bring to the work.

Whatever the authorship of so many items on this album, Acronym supplies them with enthusiastic and stylistically informed performances. Highly recommended.

-Barry Brenesal, 4.10.19, Fanfare


Sonata Jucunda à5

ACRONYMEdwin Huizinga, violin




O Dulcis Jesu à2

ACRONYMMolly Quinn, sopranoKarina Schmitz, violino discordato



Sonatina [con altre arie]



ACRONYMLoren Ludwig, viola da gamba





ACRONYMLoren Ludwig, viola da gamba





ACRONYMLoren Ludwig, viola da gamba





ACRONYMLoren Ludwig, viola da gamba





ACRONYMLoren Ludwig, viola da gamba





ACRONYMAdriane Post, violin




Balettae ad duos choros à8





Hic est Panis à2

ACRONYMJesse Blumberg, baritoneKarina Schmitz, violino discordato




Battalia à9

ACRONYMEdwin Huizinga, violin



Composer Info

Antonio Bertali (1605–1669), Samuel Capricornus, Adam Drese, Johann Philipp Krieger, Andreas Oswald, Daniel Eberlin, Philipp Jakob Rittler, Georg Piscato, Alessandro Poglietti, Clemens Thieme, H. I. F. von Biber,

CD Info

CD FCR901, CD FCR906, CD FCR913