Pre-XVIII century harpsichord music

I devoted myself mostly to XVIII century harpsichord music. I only did the bare minimum requested at the conservatory. I plan studying a bit more of the XVII century music for harpsichord. Any advice on repertory / editions?

I recommend to start with Frescobaldi, Froberger, Purcell, Boehm, Pachelbel: they should keep you occupied and out of trouble!


Don’t forget Louis Couperin!

Like Dom I have done mostly 18th c. music. Recently I was thinking I should try some of the earlier stuff, so this thread is timely.

I have spent some time with Sweelinck, whose music I highly recommend – fantasias, toccatas, variations on popular songs, and much else. The variations on “Mein junges Leben” are a masterpiece. Here is a link to the wonderful Fantasia cromatica.

An older edition of Sweelinck’s keyboard works is on IMSLP. IIRC this is a revised/reprinted edition of Seiffert’s 19th c. publication. There two more recent urtexts, which you can consult if you really want to delve deeply into these works, but the volume on IMSLP is a good way to get started.

I didnt put Sweelinck simply because I am not sure how much of his music is XVII cent. But it is magnificent. Mein junges Leben is an absolute masterpiece, as is the Fantasia cromatica.

Louis Couperin I forgot – shame on me!

The 17th century is prodigal in great composers, but some of the best (e.g. Corelli) did not write a single note for the keyboard. Others did, but their keyboard output is minor compared with their orchestral/choral output (e.g. Purcell). I am ignoring the English virginalists, mostly still writing in a Renaissance style. My favourite baroque 17th century harpsichord composers, of which at least a dozen pieces by each one is a masterpiece, are Louis Couperin and Jean-Henri d’Anglebert.
Then, of course, also important but I do not “feel” them so close to my taste, are Frescobaldi, Froberger, Sweelinck, Chambonnières, Buxtehude, Pachelbel … Each one of them has a handful of pieces that i find marvellous.

Turning specifially to 17c Germany, here are more composers well worthy of study and performance:

  • Johann Casper Kerll
  • Melchior Schildt
  • Heinrich Scheidermann
  • Matthias Weckmann
  • Johann Krieger
  • Dietrich Buxtehude
  • Georg Böhm

Edward Parmentier has a recording 17th Century German Harpsichord Music: The Stylus Phantasticus with all these composers on it.

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An excellent list indeed, Andrew!

I have the printed scores for most of them, including the complete Buxtehude harpsichord works, and Georg Böhm.
I apologise for not having included Böhm in my previous post.

What printed editions do you suggest?

…and don’t forget Samuel Scheidt’s Tabulatura Nova (Hamburg 1624). Much of this works well on harpsichord as well as organ. Some of the simple liturgical settings are really beautiful. But it is far richer than just that- great fantasias, fugues and song variations.

His Passamezzo variations (on IMSLP, copy from the Denkmäler deutscher Tonkunst edition by Seiffert) seem to me primarily for harpsichord from a stylistic point of view. This is a good finger work-out for right-hand parallel thirds and sixths (RH fingers 4/2 and 5/2). In variation 9 the LH requires a broken octave bottom C in measure 19, probably also in var. 10, measure 19. This is not my favourite piece of Scheidt, however; it is his contrapuntal writing that I really like.

“What printed editions do you suggest?” Excellent question, Domenico, thanks.

For Scheidt, the two critical editions of Tabulatura Nova, both on IMSLP, are both good: Seiffert (DDT 1.1, 1892/repr.1958) and Mahrenholz, Scheidt Gesamtwerke vol. 6, 1953. There is also a very good facsimile of the 17th -century edition on IMSLP (not the Gallica one but the BS-Bayerische Staatsbibliothek one). I have only played from my print copy of Seiffert and hadn’t looked at Mahrenholz before you asked.

Seiffert argues convincingly in his foreword, top p.xiii, that the many typo errors in the 1624 printing arose because the printers were translating it into a full-score format from Scheidt’s tabulature notation (more details at the bottom of this email).

Comparing the two editions: Unlike Seiffert, Mahrenholz provides the texts of the sacred songs, a big plus for me. From a playing point of view, for the harpsichord the Seiffert edition is more convenient because the music is all on two staffs; the Mahrenholz edition is aimed at organ players and puts some of the canti firmi on a third pedal staff. However, the 3rd staff is also quite readable on the harpsichord once you are acclimatised to it.

The Seiffert edition switches occasionally from bass clef to alto clef- something of a hindrance if one is not comfortable reading these.

So, in future I will probably flip between the two editions, comparing their advantages for individual pieces and depending whether I also want to use an organ pedalboard or not. Notewise my first impression both editions are reliable, but maybe someone has compared them properly for individual pieces. They are both more reliable than what was available in the 17th century.

Here are a few more editorial nuts & bolts which I found in Seiffert’s foreword, with added comments from the 1958 reprint by H.J. Moser.

The 17th-c ed. had already provided copious Errata lists, which Seiffert has incorporated without comment. He also emends “obvious” errors that were not included in the Errata lists. And he has also found good quality corrections “written in an old hand” in his Berlin (now Berliner Staatsbibliothek, I think) library copy, which he likewise adopts without comment. There is a number of other places where he has departed from the original though it is not necessarily wrong, and Seiffert itemises these in his “kritische Bemerkungen”. In the 1958 reprint there is a second “Revisionsbericht”. It lists 34 deviations from the 1892 ed. based on subsequent research (Mahrenholz found further text copies with old manual corrections by 17th-century users of TN). Naturally the 1958 deviations aren’t visible in the scan of the 1892 Seiffert on IMSLP, but they don’t appear to be huge.

There is a more recent edition of Tabulatura nova by Harald Vogel, published by Breitkopf & Haertel in 1994Ć’Ć’.

I haven’t seen this ed., but there’s a review here:


Jackrail stripped the link to the review, so I’ll try to add it here; no idea whether that will work.


No. Strange, the links shouldn’t be affected. I try here (don’t know what the original link was):

one review: Review: [Untitled] on JSTOR
another review:

The Harald Vogel edition is excellent, with very clear printing and informative prelims etc. Sometimes he uses three staves for choral variations. However the page turns are not always convenient. For this reason I usually use pages from the Seiffert edition printed from IMSLP when playing the longer pieces on the harpsichord.

The Fantasia super Io son ferito lasso is a wonderful piece.

  • David Bedlow

Personal prefs, of course:

  1. Frescobaldi, one of the instrument’s greatest masters;
  2. Louis Couperin, one of the instrument’s greatest masters;
  3. Froberger, one of the instrument’s greatest masters;
  4. Fitzwilliam virginal book, one of the instrument’s greatest collections;
  5. After you’ve finished your study of these, well, um, let me say that better: you will never finish your study of these.

Good luck,

Ok thanks. For Louis Couperin I have the Davitt Moroney edition, I guess it is still up to date, isn’t it.
And what edition for the others named by David, Frescobaldi, Froberger, Purcell, Boehm, Pachelbel?
(To which I could add some italians-neapolitans: Storace, Greco…)

domenico.statuto Domenico Statuto
February 14

(To which I could add some italians-neapolitans: Storace, Greco…)

Of earlier seventeenth-cent Neapolitans, Ascanio Mayone (ed. Christopher Stembridge) and Giovanni Maria Trabaci.
There is a complete edition of Trabaci in Roland John Jackson’s dissertation, The keyboard music of Giovanni Maria Trabaci (University of California, Berkeley,1964); published selections include An Anthology of Seven Pieces for Keyboard by Giovanni Maria Trabaci, ed. Aileen Callaghan (1987).

Personal prefs, of course:

  1. Frescobaldi, one of the instrument’s greatest masters;
  2. Louis Couperin, one of the instrument’s greatest masters;
  3. Froberger, one of the instrument’s greatest masters;
  4. Fitzwilliam virginal book, one of the instrument’s greatest collections;
  5. After you’ve finished your study of these, well, um, let me say that better: you will never finish your study of these.

Good luck,

For Frescobaldi I highly recommend the new Bärenreiter edition edited by Christopher Stembridge. Beautifully laid out, almost all page-turns convenient, very informative prelims. Also the new Bärenreiter edition of Froberger, though some of the later volumes which contain pieces which come from different sources can be a bit confusing as they show every possible variant. For Pachelbel, Michael Belotti’s edition published by Wayne Leupold is good. I play Boëm from an old Breitkopf & Härtel edition.

  • David Bedlow