Lots of musicians and classical music fans make a point of visiting places where famous composers lived and worked. Mozart’s homes in Salzburg and Vienna are both big draws. Lots of people, especially organists, try to visit the churches in Germany where J.S. Bach worked. It’s something like going to the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, where Jim Morrison and other formerly famous folks are buried, but less creepy.
We were listening to our recording of one of the King’s College Choir’s Xmas albums and the Sweelinck Hodie Christus Natus Est came on. There’s a special place in my musical heart for this piece which I first sang as a first-year student under Deral Johnson at what was then The University of Western Ontario.
This was before the Faculty of Music moved on-campus so the rehearsals were still at the Silverwood Mansion, a healthy bus-ride from the main campus and right across the road from Western’s King’s College. It was, like so much of the other music I got to sing that year, a revelation, the pinacle of Netherland’s polyphony and only the second piece of Renaissance music in which I’d ever taken part.
I didn’t know anything about Sweelinck so we looked him up on the font of all knowledge, my iPad.
Sweelinck’s father had been the organist at the same church before him and his son followed him. This was in the late 16th Century when no one would be surprised to learn that butcher, baker or candlestick maker’s son would follow him in the family business. Apparently, it worked for musicians too.
Which church, you ask? The Oude Kerk (Old Church) on the Dam Square in Amsterdam.
And I Was There, not three months ago! We walked toward the Kerk while the carillion played Down by the Salley Gardens. We sang along, likely the only people there who could amongst the other tourists and the stoned and drunken mob of partiers.
I had no idea, at the time, who’d been the organist there 400 years ago but there you go. Een klein kerstcadeau.