From the 16th century until almost 1800, the music-loving Hanseatic city of Hamburg kept a virtuoso string ensemble of about eight members to perform at religious services and official ceremonies, the Ratsmusik (council musicians). Johann Schop led the group between 1621 and 1667. A student of the Englishman William Brade, he worked as a violinist and viol player at the courts of Wolfenbüttel, Copenhagen and Lüneburg before coming home to Hamburg. Apparently, the Danish king kept trying to lure him back to Copenhagen; Schop astutely played him against the Hamburg City Elders, ending up earning a huge salary.
The music included here comes mostly from the collection of ‘new Paduans, Galliards, Allemandes, Ballets, Courantes and Canzonas’ for three to six parts, which Schoop published in 1633. This is one of the most important publications of German consort music from the period, and shows fascinating influences both from Italian violin music and – especially – from the English viol repertoire, with quotations from Dowland and Holborne in evidence.
The (20th century) Hamburger Ratsmusik was founded in 1991 by viol player Simone Eckert to explore the music of the north German Baroque, which its performers have done with considerable success (their CD Lübeck Virtuosos has just been awarded the prestigious German Echo-Klassik prize). Their selection of Schop’s pieces is grouped in small ‘suites’, highlighting the composer’s inexhaustible fantasy. Eckert, who has made a speciality of the treble viol, leads the ensemble with an unerring sense of style, rhythmic vivacity and virtuosity in the intricate embellishments. The recording is close and clear, faithfully catching the group’s transparent textures.