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Johann David HEINICHEN (1683 - 1729): "Dresden Vespers"

Ensemble Polyharmonique; Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra
Dir: Jaroslaw Thiel

rec: Nov 16 - 18, 2018, Bassum, Stiftskirche
Accent - ACC 24381 (© 2022) (67'31")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
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[in order of appearance] Dixit Dominus in F (S 44); Confitebor tibi Domine in G (S 32); Beatus vir in E flat (S 28); Laudate pueri in F (S 84); Laudate Dominum in F (S 83); Iste confessor in g minor (S 58a); Magnificat in B flat (S 93); Alma redemptoris mater in E flat (S 23); Litaniae de Sancto Xaverio in c minor (S 87)

[EP] Joowon Chung, Magdalena Harer, soprano; Piotr Olech, Alexander Schneider, alto; Johannes Gaubitz, Sören Richter, tenor; Matthias Lutze, Cornelius Uhle, bass
[WBO] Eduard Wesley, Noelia Melian, oboe; Györgyi Farkas, bassoon; Zbigniew Pilch, Violetta Szopa-Tomczyk, Pawel Stawarski, Izabela Kozak, Adam Pastuszka, Mikolaj Zgólka, Malgorzata Malke, Dominika Malecka, violin; Piotr Chrupek, Michal Mazur, Natalia Reichert, viola; Bartosz Kokoszka, Jakub Kosciukiewicz, cello; Janusz Musial, double bass; Toshinori Ozaki, lute; Marcin Szelest, organ

Johann David Heinichen is one of those composers who appeared on disc and concert programmes long after the beginning of the 'early music movement'. If I am not mistaken it was the set of concertos which were recorded by Reinhard Goebel with his ensemble Musica antiqua Köln which revealed the qualities of Heinichen as a composer of instrumental music. That recording was followed by others and these largely confined themselves to that part of his oeuvre. It was again Goebel who then turned the attention to Heinichen's vocal music, with recordings of his Lamentations of Jeremiah and a Passion oratorio. Since then some other vocal music has been recorded, and most of that concerns music for the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church, which may surprise, given that Heinichen was a Lutheran composer, who early in his career wrote cantatas for Lutheran services.

Heinichen was born in Krössuln near Weissenfels. Like his father he entered the Thomasschule in Leipzig where he received lessons at the keyboard from the then Thomaskantor, Johann Kuhnau. He was so impressed by the qualities of his pupil that he asked Heinichen to act as his assistant. Heinichen didn't plan a musical career, though: he studied law at Leipzig University and moved to Weissenfels to start a practice as lawyer. But Johann Philipp Krieger, then Kapellmeister at the court of Duke Johann Georg, encouraged him to compose music for festive occasions at the court. It was the beginning of a career in music: in 1709 he returned to Leipzig, composed several operas and played in the Collegium Musicum which was directed by Telemann. In 1710 Heinichen travelled to Venice, where he came into contact with several famous masters, such as Gasparini, Lotti and Vivaldi. In 1712 he paid a visit to Rome, and then returned to Venice.

It seems that he felt very much at home there and quickly made the Italian style his own. The fact that he was commissioned to compose operas attest to that; two from his pen were performed in Venice in 1713 to great success. In 1716 the Saxon Elector Frederic August (with the addition of II after his coronation in 1733) visited Venice and heard some of Heinichen's cantatas being performed. He expressed great enthusiasm and didn't hesitate to appoint Heinichen as Kapellmeister at his court in Dresden; he took up his job the next year.

The religious situation in Dresden was a bit complicated. Frederic August's father (known as Frederick August I) converted to Catholicism in 1697 in order to be elected King of Poland. That had no consequences for the Electorate Saxony, which remained firmly Lutheran, and where Catholics were a small minority. However, it did have consequences for religious practices at the court. The opera house at the Taschenberg was converted into the first Catholic court church after the Reformation. Frederick August (II) converted to Catholicism himself in 1712, which became only known five years later. In 1719 he married Archduchess Maria Josepha, daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I, and this only enhanced the Catholic influence in Dresden. The Electoral Princess took the role of patroness of the Catholic community. This included the promotion of Catholic sacred music.

The composition of music for the Protestant court chapel was the responsibility of Johann Christoph Schmidt, who is hardly known today. At first he was also responsible for the Catholic church music, but in 1717 he handed over that task to Heinichen. The latter was appointed Kapellmeister with the main task of composing operas, but he had to share that responsibility with Antonio Lotti, who composed the operas for Frederick August's wedding in 1719, whereas Heinichen wrote three serenatas. He was to compose an opera for carnival 1720, but a conflict between the two main protagonists, the castratos Senesino and Matteo Berselli, resulted in their dismission, and this resulted in the end of Italian opera in Dresden for some time. It was the appointment of Johann Adolf Hasse in 1730 which marked the return of opera.

As a result little was left for Heinichen, except the composition of music for the Catholic liturgy. This explains why his oeuvre includes a number of masses and other works in Latin, among them the Vesper music that is the subject of the disc under review. All of it was intended for the Feast of St Francis Xavier, who was venerated at the Dresden court. Francisco de Gassu y Javier (1506-1552) was one of the founding members of the Jesuit Order, who was beatified in 1619 and canonised in 1622, especially because of his missionary activities. The Jesuits at the Dresden court celebrated his feast as early as 1710, and the feast's importance was enhanced when Maria Josepha chose St Francis to be the patron of the Catholic House of Wettin.

The feast included a solemn mass in the morning and Vespers in the afternoon. The latter comprise five Psalms, the hymn Iste confessor, the Magnificat and a Marian antiphon, according to the liturgical season. In the 1720s Heinichen wrote thirty Psalms, eight Magnificat settings, eight different Vesper hymns and five Marian antiphons. These could be used in different combinations for the annual celebrations. These lasted a week, and every afternoon a setting of the Litaniae de Sancto Xaverio was performed. This text was based on that of the Litaniae Lauretanae. The invocations of the Virgin Mary are replaced by those of St Francis Xavier.

For this recording the performers have selected settings which are dated between 1721 and 1724. As there is no information with regard to the other elements of a Vesper service, it was impossible to put Heinichen's works into the proper liturgical setting. A notable feature of the pieces performed here is that they are relatively short. Only the Dixit Dominus and the Magnificat are divided into several sections, whereas in Laudate pueri, the middle section is a solo. In the other pieces the solo passages are fully integrated into the whole. The concision of these works does not leave much room for extended text expression. However, the dramatic verses in Dixit Dominus do not pass by unnoticed, and the passage on the fate of the rich and powerful in the Magnificat is also given special attention.

Anyone who has heard Heinichen's music - whether vocal or instrumental - will not be surprised about the quality of what is on offer here. I hope that further pieces from his sacred output will be recorded in due course. If that is going to be the case, one can only hope for performances that are as good as these. The Ensemble Polyharmonique is a very fine vocal ensemble of soloists. The solo passages are given excellent performances and the ensemble leaves nothing to be desired. I would have liked to know whether we have any indications as to how large the performing forces in the Catholic liturgy in Dresden were at Heinichen's time, but unfortunately that is not discussed in the liner-notes, which are very informative and put the music into its historical and religious context. The singing and playing is of the highest order, and I strongly recommend this excellent recording of music by a composer who is in no way inferior to the best of his time.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Polyharmonique
Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra


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