The German Carmelite Johann Nenning (1615-1685), also known as Spiridion a Monte Carmelo, earned his reputation mainly through his musical publications: Musica Romana, Bamberg, 1665 (a collection of motets of various Roman composers), Musica Theo-Liturgica, Würzburg, 1668 (five-voices masses of his own composition) and the Nova Instructio pro pulsandis organis, Bamberg 1670-1674. Biographical information comes mainly from the title pages and dedications of these works, but also from articles in music dictionaries (from Kaspar Prinz, 16906 to Fétis, 1876 and Riemann, 1882), as well as from research by a few german historians in the beginning of the twentieth century7. The first extensive research about the Nova Instructio was lconducted by Bruce A. Lamott in his dissertation (Stanford, 1980)8. Important biographical data mentioned about Spiridion are mainly his birth in Neustadt an der Saale in 1615, his stay in Rome from 1643 to 1655 (during the Thirty Year War) where he probably acted as organist of the Collegium Germanicum, and his occupations in the Carmelite convent of Bamberg from 1655 to his death. There, a university was founded by the Jesuits in 1647, and the city could grow again after the disasters caused by the war. All the musical activities of Spiridion seem to be linked to the monastic milieu, although in Rome, after Frescobaldi’s death, Giacomo Carissimi attracted many German students such as J.K. Kerll and J.E. Kindermann and established a circle of musicians of various provenances.
The Nova Instructio consists of four engraved volumes: the first two were printed in Bamberg in 1670 and 1671 by J.J. Immel and J.G. Seyfert, whereas the last two parts, edited in Würzburg by J. Sallver a few years later (1676-77), are now lost. An entire manuscript copy of the four bands survives however in the Sächsische Landesbibliothek of Dresda (MB 4 f217)9. The rich frontispiece of the first band (see fig. 1) strongly resembles to the one of Frescobaldi’s Secondo Libro di Toccate, engraved by Nicolò Borbone in Rome about thirty years earlier (see fig. 2). This first allusion to Frescobaldi’s engraved publications gives a foretaste of the contents of the work, wherein the figure of the “monster of organists” (as Luigi Battiferri used to call him10) is omnipresent. The complete title appears as follows:
“ SPIRIDION a Monte Carmelo / New and hitherto unknown instruction / How one may not only completely attain in a short time, consummate skill in organ and keyboard-playing but also in the art of composition; thus easy and clear, so that whoever understands music and the keyboard and comprends well the first lesson (which can be grasped in only a measure or battuta) can thereafter by himself play diverse preludes, canzonas or fugues, toccatas, and thorough-bass in a few months without any difficulty, and can fully master and practice the art of composition / Divided in Four Parts / Highly necessary to all choirmasters, organists, and lovers of music, as well as monasteries which use the organ. / First Part Bamberg / Printed in the princely press by Johann Jacob Immel / In the year 1670.11”
The same text is taken for the frontispiece of the third and fourth volumes, with an additional sentence « […] in addition of that, how to master the art to compose sacred and secular motets ». This complement is notable in regard to the contents of the two last bands which include canonic patterns, which were very common in church music of the second half of the century. The title, in its style, seems designed for commercial needs; in any case, it presents exhaustiveness and approachability as central concepts. As already mentioned, the possible use of the handbook by autodidacts is a notable feature.
After a dedication (with a clear mention of the work’s primary destination for convents), the first volume contains a two-pages preface constituting almost the only textual content of the method. Eleven bilingual points in Latin and German offers the reader methodological advice and instructions for performance practice. The first points are personal and help the player to deal with the contents of the manual, while the second come directly from Frescobaldi’s Primo Libro di Toccate (Roma, 1615). First, Spiridion suggests choosing cadences from his anthology, starting from the easiest, and insists on transposition into all keys. This should not only be a tool for learning how to conclude musical phrases, but also a helpful exercise to develop fluent transposition of the basso continuo parts. One should keep in mind that transposition was probably much more necessary in the musical practice of the time than today. The next points enunciate further guidelines: how to connect single musical elements one to each other, how to take care of rhythmical issues in the juxtaposition of fragments, how to maintain variety by choosing different patterns, as well as very basic counterpoint rules such as the contrary motion principle. Regarding performance, the author warns the player not to perform passaggi too quickly and suggests stopping on the last note of them, exactly like Frescobaldi has explained in his Avvertimenti. What follows is a wide anthology of musical building-blocks: variations on bass motions called cadentiae, movements of both hands, often in parallel eighth-notes called passaggia, and short compositions such as canzoni and dances. The quality and complexity of the material are variable, as well as the stylistical appartenance. Besides Frescobaldi’s quotations, a significant part of the examples sound quite systematic and thus modern for the time. Some of them are poor and rudimentary compared to compositions of Frescobaldi and his contemporaries.
Solo organ music had a central role in the liturgy of daily offices, masses and vespers; its interventions consisted mainly of introit- and elevation-toccatas, alternatim verses and canzonas. Frescobaldi’s Fiori Musicali (1635) was considered as a model for that repertoire and inspired similar collections in Italy (Antonio Croce’s Frutti Musicali, 1642 and Giovanni Battista Fasolo’s Annuale, 1645). Towards the Alps, collections of versets (like Sebastian Anton Scherer’s Tabulatura 1664 and Johann Speth’s Ars Magna consoni et dissoni, 1693) were preferred to masses. In both countries, however, as church services were often held daily, improvisation probably constituted the reality of musical practice.
Some manuscripts from German-speaking areas are even directly linked to the Nova Instructio. For example, a source located in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris (Vm7 1817, Brossard collection12) contains some canzonettas of Spiridion as well as basic intonations who seem to come from his cadentiae. Likewise, in Vienna, a source of eight hundred organ verses (Minoritenkonvent Abt. XIV n°684), property of Pater Alexander Giessel (1694-1766), includes some of Spiridion’s cadentiae, as well as many compositions from Frescobaldi to Gottlieb Muffat.
The Nova Instructio deserves a special place within this context since it contains practically all the features to build an unlimited number of pieces for liturgical use. It is a real toolbox which, if used properly, could help to spare thousands of sheets of paper and liters of ink.