Searching fantasy: Froberger’s fantasias and ricercars four centuries on.

Charlston, T. (2016) Searching fantasy: Froberger’s fantasias and ricercars four centuries on. Journal of the Royal College of Organists, 10 pp. 5-27. ISSN 0969-1642

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The fantasias and ricercars of Johann Jacob Froberger (1616–1667) provide fertile ground from which to study seventeenth-century counterpoint and its keyboard performance. They constitute just under a quarter of his entire keyboard music and almost one half of his contrapuntal keyboard music. Froberger’s historical significance, e.g. as ‘father’ of the keyboard suite, has often assumed greater importance than his contribution to the development of fugue generating a bias for a small core of more popular genres and pieces amongst performers: a trend reflected across the surviving sources and in current teaching and performance today. Froberger’s autograph collections arrange and group the fantasias and ricercars into single-genre sets. These genre complexes display clear agendas of balance, contrast and self-referencing within and between pieces. This essay discusses the wide dissemination of sources and locates this with the context of the music’s reception history. It is proposed that the fantasias and ricercars form a distinctive grouping within Froberger’s contrapuntal keyboard music which complements the toccatas, suites and lamentations and, in comparison with them, represents a less overt, equally rhetorical, and more intellectually ‘virtuosic’ interpretation of the stylus fantasticus. Issues of performance practice, including ornamentation, tempo and meter, articulation and phrasing, instrumental designation, expression and affekt, and notational practices are considered. The composer’s compositional methods and contrapuntal skills are scrutinised and compared with contemporary theories of counterpoint. A new analytic approach is outlined to understand Froberger’s reliance on motivic construction better and which has practical applications to musical theory, historical inquiry and performance.

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