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Michael PRAETORIUS (1571 - 1621): "Es ist ein Ros"

Isabel Schicketanz, soprano; Jonathan Mayenschein, alto; Christopher Renz, tenor; Martin Schicketanz, bass
Dresdner Kammerchor; Instrumental ensemble
Dir: Hans-Christoph Rademann

rec: July 2021, Radeberg, Stadtkirche 'Zum heiligen Namen Gottes'
Accentus Music - ACC30505 (© 2021) (61'30")
[review: digital download]
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

Michael PRAETORIUS: Angelus ad pastores ait a 8 [1]; Der Morgenstern ist aufgedrungen a 4 [4]; Es ist ein Ros entsprungen a 4 [7]; Jubilate Domino a 9 [1]; Magnificat super Angelus ad pastores ait a 5 [8]; Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland a 4 [3]; Puer natus in Bethlehem a 3, 7 & 11 [9]; Quem pastores laudavere a 7 & 11 [10]; Resonet in laudibus a 7 [5]; Veni redemptor gentium a 2, 4, 5 & 7 (Deo patri sit gloria) [6]; Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her a 8 [2]; Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern a 10 [5]; Melchior VULPIUS (1570-1615): Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, canon à 4

Sources: [1] Musarum Sioniarum motectae et psalmi latini, 1607; [2] Musae Sioniae ... geistliche Concert Gesänge ... vierdter Theil, 1607; [3] Musae Sioniae ... geistlicher deutscher ... üblicher Lieder und Psalmen ... fünffter Theil, 1607; [4] Musae Sioniae ... deutscher geistlicher ... üblicher Psalmen und Lieder .... sechster Theil, 1609; [5] Eulogodia Sionia, 1611; [6] Hymnodia Sionia, 1611; [7] Polyhymnia caduceatrix et panegyrica, 1611; [8] Megalynodia Sionia, 1611; [9] Polyhymnia caduceatrix et panegyrica, 1619; [10] Puericinium ... darinnen 14 teutsche Kirchenlieder und andere Concert-Gesänge, 1621

Sandra Bernhardt, Birgit Jacobi-Kircheis, Laura Keil, Magdalena Kircheis, Katharina Salden, Albertine Selunka, soprano; Anna-Lena Grahl, Anne Hartmann, Anna-Maria Tietze, contralto; Jaro Kirchgessner, alto; Tobias Mäthger, Yonah Raupers, Carl Rowek, Richard Christian Stier, tenor; Dirk Döbrich, Georg Preißler, Carl-Benedikt Schlegel, Konrad Schöbel, bass
Friederike Otto, cornett; Sebastian Krause, Julia Nagel, Masafumi Sakamoto, Fernando Günther, sackbut; Matthias Müller, violone; Stefan Maass, theorbo; Johannes Fiedler, organ

Michael Praetorius may be the only composer, whose birth and death can be commemorated in the same year. Although we are not entirely sure when he was born, the general opinion is that it was in 1571. He died fifty years later, in 1621, possibly even on his birthday. The size of his extant oeuvre is astonishing, considering that he lived only 50 years. And then we have not even included the parts of his oeuvre that are lost.

Praetorius was born in Creuzburg an der Werra, near Eisenach, where his father, who had studied with Martin Luther, worked as a pastor. As he did belong to the strict Lutherans he regularly lost his job and had to move. Two years after Michael's birth he had to move again, this time to Torgau. Here Praetorius senior became a colleague of Johann Walter, one of the main composers of hymns, at the Lateinschule. His successor, Michael Voigt, was Michael junior's first musical teacher. He matriculated at the University of Frankfurt an der Oder in 1582, where he became acquainted with Bartolomäus Gesius, another composer of hymns.

In 1595 he entered the service of Duke Heinrich Julius of Brunswick-Wolffenbuttel as organist. His reputation was rising steadily, and in 1604 he was appointed Kapellmeister. Around 1610 he published a large number of collections of music. When his employer died his successor allowed him to work elsewhere for some time. He was in Dresden, where he met Schütz. He also worked in Magdeburg, Halle, Sondershausen and Kassel, and he visited Leipzig, Nuremberg and Bayreuth. It is probably due to overwork that his health deteriorated, which led to his death. His high reputation is reflected by the fortune he left, which was largely to be used to set up a foundation for the poor. This is only a short overview of his life; the booklet of the disc under review here includes a more extensive biography.

Outside Germany Praetorius is probably not known as well as he deserves to be. However, one piece from his pen has become known across the world: his setting of Es ist ein Ros entsprungen. As this song is one of the most famous pieces for Christmastide anyway, it was a good idea to use it as the title of a disc, which on the one hand is a tribute to Praetorius (this disc was released in 2021) and on the other hand a programme of music for Advent and Christmas.

Praetorius's oeuvre is not only very large, is it also differentiated with regard to composition techniques and scorings. The present disc offers a survey of music for Christmastide which reflects that variety.

The programme opens with a piece in Latin. Here we find several features of Praetorius's way of composing. He often made use of the technique of cori spezzati, which had been developed in Venice. Praetorius never visited Italy himself, but thanks to his correspondence with colleagues across Europe, he was very well aware of what was going on elsewhere. This piece also includes some marked specimens of text illustration. The first line says: "Jubilate Domino omnis terra". The opening words are sung by various groups of voices, but then they all come together on the words "omnis terra". The imitation of wind instruments on the line "in buccinis et sono tubae" is unmistakable.

We then get a first glance at the song Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, but then in the form of a four-part canon by Praetorius's contemporary Melchior Vulpius. The melody he uses is largely independent from the original song, although there are some melodic hints at it.

Next are two of the most famous Advent hymns: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland and Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her. The former is an example of a straightforward note against note setting for four voices. It is nice that it is performed here in its entirety, as too often only a few stanzas are sung. The line-up is varied: from one voice with organ accompaniment to four voices with instruments. Vom Himmel hoch is a large-scale sacred concerto for eight voices in two choirs, in which the voices imitate each other. Here some parts are played by instruments, substituting some of the voices.

A programme of music for Christmastide can hardly do without a setting of the Magnificat, even though strictly speaking it belongs to another stage of the ecclesiastical year. The setting included here is interesting for several reasons. First, as the title indicates, it uses material of a pre-existing piece, in this case the sequence Angelus ad pastores ait. This is a technique common in the Renaissance, and used especially for masses, but also for other liturgical works. Second, this is an example of a practice which became tradition in Germany, and was still very much alive in Bach's time: the interpolation of Christmas songs. In Bach's Magnificat in E flat (the version performed at Christmas) several laude are included, and that is the case here as well. As in Bach's setting, these are partly in Latin and partly in German. However, there is one notable difference: in Bach's setting the entire text of the Magnificat is included. That is not the case here: the Christmas songs are more than just interpolations; they in fact replace parts of the Magnificat text. 'Quia respexit', for instance, is omitted here. The work also ends with a further Christmas song: the doxology is followed by 'Parvulus nobis nascitur'.

The following item is then Praetorius's four part setting of Es ist ein Ros entsprungen. It is performed here in a straightforward manner: first in a purely instrumental version, then sung by the choir with instruments playing colla voce. I have to make a few editorial notes here. First: we get three stanzas. Praetorius's printed edition has only the first and second. The third included here (Das Blümelein so kleine) did not exist in his time. It was rather written by the German pastor and hymnologist Friedrich Layriz (1808-1859). From a historical point of view its inclusion here is hard to defend. Second, the second stanza ends with the words "und blieb doch reine Magd" (and remained pure virgin). It is notable that in the printed edition this last line was left open. It seems that at the time it was common practice not to write out or to print lines that were to be repeated. This may well indicate - and that seems to be the general opinion - that the last line of the first stanza ("wohl zu der halben Nacht" - when half spent was the night) has to be repeated here. The odd thing is that it is quoted in this version in the liner-notes.

The ensuing setting of the Latin Christmas song Quem pastores laudavere, originally dating from the 15th century, is very different: the scoring for seven and eleven voices respectively reflects the joy its text expresses. It is again an example of a mixture of German and Latin. It is notable that this piece is included in a collection published under the title Puericinium, in which the upper parts are intended for boy singers who have the capabilities to sing in the modern concertante style. It seems likely that in Praetorius' time, the more demanding soprano parts were sung either by skilled boys or by adult 'natural' sopranos (Diskantisten).

Angelus ad pastores ait brings us back to the stile antico, as this is a piece in pure traditional counterpoint, but then in two choirs. Resonet in laudibus is for seven voices, and the excitement expressed in this text (Let praises resound with joyous acclaim: To Sion's faithful the child born of Mary has appeared) is effectively depicted by voices imitating each other. Puer natus in Bethlehem is an exuberant concerto for three, seven and eleven voices. The whole ensemble is involved in the ritornellos: "Sing, rejoice, triumph for our Lord the King of Glory."

Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (Philipp Nicolai, 1597) is one of the best-known hymns sung during Christmastide, although it was originally not intended as such. It was rather a spiritual wedding song of a mystical character, in which Jesus is the bridegroom. It is here performed in Praetorius's setting for ten voices. Each section opens with a passage for solo voices, after which the entire ensemble sings the same words. The programme closes with a kind of doxology (but with a somewhat different text) which is taken from another piece for Advent and Christmas, Veni redemptor gentium.

This disc was meant to pay tribute to Michael Praetorius, who probably may be labelled a 'forgotten master'. There is no doubt that he was a master of his art. His music never fails to impress, and this disc is a perfect testimony of that. That is also due to the performers. The singing and playing is excellent from start to finish, and the contrasts between the pieces - from the introverted to the exuberant - come off perfectly. The instrumentalists deliver a substantial contribution to the impact of these performances. It is regrettable that the booklet omits translations of the lyrics. This disc is also a most enjoyable addition to the catalogue of discs for Advent and Christmas. The way the programme has been put together guarantees quite some variety, and I am sure that anyone who purchases this disc will return to it and play it more than once during Christmastide.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Christopher Renz
Martin Schicketanz
Dresdner Kammerchor

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