Several keyboard books have been preserved from the 16th , 17th and 18th centuries. Among others, Elisabeth Rogers (1656), Anna Maria van Eijl (1671), the Kluckhoff brothers (circa 1695), Magdalena D’Arrest (1716), Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1720) and Anna Magdalena Bach (1725).
These anthologies give a good insight into the daily musicianship of the time: repertoire, style, preference, quality.
One of the earliest known keyboard booklets is that of Susanna van Soldt (ca. 1599).
London British Museum, Additional 29485.
In 1961 a complete edition of this book appeared in the series Monumenta Musica Neerlandica. Part III. The Royal Society for Music History of The Netherlands.
This publication was edited by Alan Curtis and Sterling Jones.
In the foreword, Alan Curtis wrote that the family of Hans van Soldt lived in London around 1599. They had fled Antwerp for religious reasons. A few years later (1605) the family lived in Amsterdam.
Did they leave the keyboard book in London? Was it lost during the move?
The keyboard book by Susanna van Soldt not only gives us insight into repertoire, preference, style and quality but also in an important aspect of the performance practices of those days, at least as far as the psalm settings is concerned. It informs us about its average tempo.
The book contains a total of 33 longer and shorter keyboard pieces. 11 melodies from the Geneva Psalter (first half of the 16th century). The titles indicate that they sang these psalms in their homes in the Dutch rhymed version of Peter Datheen (ca. 1531-1588).
The psalm tunes in this booklet have been put in four-part settings.
The decorated cadence formula of the individual lines informs us – if tastefully played – about the tempo at which it was sung.
Expressed in metronome numbers: van Soldt (half note/minim) MM = ca. 65). This is quite different to what we are used to now. Today, the half note of the psalms in the church service is usually taken more quickly (MM = ca. 105).
You could wonder if this slower way of singing songs in the 16th and 17th centuries was only for religious songs or even for worldly songs.
Taking into account the settings of secular melodies and dances by Buxtehude, Scheidemann, Scheidt, Sweelinck and the English Virginalists , I think the latter.
It is another matter entirely whether you can bother a congregation with ideas and performance practices of centuries past.
It is not claimed here that all music from the 16th , 17th and 18th centuries should be performed much slower.