J.H. Schmelzer: Sacro-Profanus; Sonatas / Ens. Masques, Fortin

At a time when instrumental music in Europe was dominated by Italians, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer rose to become the most important Austrian composer of instrumental music of his day. This recent release on the Zig-Zag label (the one with the Zebra for its logo) contains seven sonatas from Schmelzer’s Sacro-Profanus collection of 1662 in addition to a number of purely secular suites and sonatas, also for five or six players. The players on this recording are members of the excellent Canadian early music group, Ensemble Masques.

Schmelzer’s Sacro-profanus concentus musicus of 1662 is a collection of sonatas intended for dual use, either in church or at court. The Italian models, which Schmelzer was certainly familiar with, were at this time generally written for one purpose or the other – the Sonata da camera and the Sonata da chiesa. The chamber versions were different from the church versions in many stylistic ways, but most notably as they were based on a series of stylized dance movements, such as the gavotta or corrente. The upper voices in these sonatas were also given very elaborate, flamboyant solo lines while the church sonatas (and Schmelzer music here) were more reverent, based on contrapuntal models sanctioned for use in church.

In the album sample we have for you to hear, Sonata IX a cinque from the Sacro-profanus collection, the importance of counterpoint is evident right from the start. The work even contains several fugues. All of the music from this collection is subdued in nature while the secular occasional pieces are much livelier. Two examples are titled Polish Bagpipes and On the day of the bean-feast where the bassoon is employed to simulate the flatulence that ensues the meal (you can hear that sonata in the video below).

Schmelzer’s music is very unique, and Ensemble Masques’ program provides quite a varied selection of it. It’s all beautifully played and recorded. If you don’t yet have a Schmelzer section in your collection, you might want to consider starting one with this fine Zig-Zag production.

Album Overview

With this first project for Zig-Zag Territories, the musicians of the Canadian ensemble Masques under the direction of the harpsichordist Olivier Fortin demonstrate their passion for the music of the Austrian Baroque composer Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. Like most of his contemporaries (Biber, Walther, Sances), Schmelzer gives music a dual purpose: ‘Music is a pleasure for the saints and for men; it is an act of devotion, but also a symbol of human virtue.’ …


Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (ca. 1620-1623 – between 29 February and 20 March 1680)

Schmelzer was an Austrian composer and violinist of the Baroque era. Almost nothing is known about his early years, but he seems to have arrived in Vienna during the 1630s, and remained composer and musician at the Habsburg court for the rest of his life. He enjoyed a close relationship with Emperor Leopold I, was ennobled by him, and rose to the rank of Kapellmeister in 1679. He died during a plague epidemic only months after getting the position.

Schmelzer was one of the most important violinists of the period, and an important influence on later German and Austrian composers for violin. He made substantial contributions to the development of violin technique and promoted the use and development of sonata and suite forms in Austria and South Germany. He was the leading Austrian composer of his generation, and an influence on Heinrich Ignaz Biber.


Olivier Fortin, conductor

Founder and director of the Ensemble Masques, Olivier Fortin was born of a French mother and a father in Quebec. He has many years sharing his life and work between the two continents (USA & Canada). This Solost and Chamber Musician is in Demand, Olivier Fortin played, recorded and participated in numerous tours in Europe, U.S., Asia and Canada with various ensembles, including masks, Stravagante Capriccio and the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra in more likely to occur in concert with harpsichordist Skip Sempé and Pierre Hantai programs in two and three harpsichords.

As a soloist and in various ensembles company, he has recorded more than twenty recordings for Analekta, ATMA, Paradizo, Alpha and Teldec houses. Olivier Fortin taught harpsichord and chamber music at the Conservatoire de musique de Québec from 2004 to 2008 and taught at Tafelmusik Summer Institute in Toronto.

Ensemble Masques

Has a core of six instrumentalists specializing in baroque music. Ensemble Masques is known for its expressiveness, eloquence and depth of his interpretations and musical involvement of its members. The name of the group is inspired by the masks of Elizabethan England – who inspired performances combining poetry, music, dance and theater. Concerts and recordings of the assembly are frequently greeted with enthusiasm by the international press. Working in chamber without a leader, its members each contribute to the musical result of the works performed. Occasionally, all this works requiring larger numbers which are then directed from the harpsichord by founder, conductor and artistic director of the ensemble, Olivier Fortin.


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