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Johann Jacob Froberger

The cosmopolitan composer and harpsichordist Johann Jacob Froberger (1616-67) was born in Stuttgart. He spent much of his professional life at the court of Vienna but traveled widely to Italy, France, England, and the Netherlands. In his keyboard compositions, he acknowledged the divergent styles of his European contemporaries while forging a highly personal and musically powerful synthesis. Serving the Viennese Hofkapelle from 1634 until 1645, he was granted a stipend from the Italophile Emperor Ferdinand III to travel to Italy and supplement his musical training by studying with Girolamo Frescobaldi. He studied in Rome from late 1637 until 1641 and made a second trip to Rome, Florence, and Mantua before 1649. An extensive period of travel from 1649 to 1653 probably included trips to Paris (where he met Chambonnières and Louis Couperin), the Spanish Netherlands, and England. After a second period in Vienna as principal organist to the Imperial court from 1653 to 1658, he retired to the estate of Princess Sybilla of Württemburg-Montbeliard, where he died suddenly at a Vespers service in 1667.

Most of his (almost exclusively keyboard) music was published posthumously beginning in the last decade of the seventeenth century, at a ripe moment in the forging of High Baroque German national artistic consciousness. Thus his style, blending Italian and French genres and techniques with quintessentially "German" contrapuntal thinking, was immediately perceived as a foundation of this national style. In many of Froberger's autographed copies of his music, the different genres are separated and anthologized, with attention to the distinctive notational practices. The ricercars, fantasias and other polyphonic pieces are notated in open score, to highlight the independence of the voices. Conversely, the Italianate toccatas, are notated in the Italian style of one six-line staff above a seven-line staff, clearly delineating the two hands. These pieces show the influence of his teacher Frescobaldi as well as of Merulo; Froberger's organization of the pieces into contrasting rhapsodic and fugal sections, however, follows more the practice of Michelangelo Rossi. The other Italian genre in which Froberger composed is the canzona, or capriccio. Froberger's harpsichord suites published in the 1690s gave the impression that he "invented" the generic structure which would dominate eighteenth century keyboard music: a suite of bipartite dance movements in the same key, in the order Allemande - Courante - Sarabande - Gigue. This misconception, disproved by the presence of regular, but differing, orders in his own manuscripts, has long been the cornerstone of the composer's historical position. Nevertheless, Froberger did assimilate the French dance genres, grouping them in suites by key, and (especially in the Allemandes), incorporating some of the Italian improvisatory character into the dance structure. This yielded fuller-voiced pieces in a lute-derived style the French called style brisé. His other personal innovation in the dance suites was the substitution of the first dance by an affective miniature character piece with a descriptive title; these were often laments on the death of prominent court figures.