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Johann Philipp Sack (1722 - 1763): "Lieder"

Kai Wessel, alto a; Christoph Hammer, fortepiano

rec: Nov 2001, Dormagen (Ger), Kulturhalle
Assai - 222 302 (68'50")

Johann Friedrich Agricola: Die furchtsame Olympia [1] a; Carl Heinrich Graun: Die Rose [2] a; Christian Gottfried Krause: Emire [2] a; Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg: An die Deutschen [2] a; Tamburin I, II [2]; Christoph Nichelmann: Die Nacht [1] a; Johann Philipp Sack: An den Schlaf [2] a; An die Brüder und Schwestern [9] a; An die Nachtigall [3] a; An Sußchen [2] a; Bild einer vornehmen Dame in B. [7] a; Blonde [2] a; Chloris [1] a; Das Glück der Freundschaft [4] a; Herr! höre mich aus meiner Höhle [5] a; Klagen eines unglücklichen Liebhabers (1. Ode: Denk' ich hinaus, den schrecklichen Gedanken; 2. Ode: Warum dringt durch die schwarze Nacht; 3. Ode: Nicht verzweiflungsvoll, oder des süßesten Glücks ungewiß) [6] a; Lied eines Jünglings an die Liebe [7] a; Lottchen [2] a; Menuet in E flat [10]; Menuet in A [10]; Polonaise in C [11]; Polonaise in D [8]; Polonaise in E flat [10]; Polonaise in A [10]; Warnung [8] a; Christian Friedrich Schale: Allegretto con variazioni [11]

(Sources: [1] Berlinische Oden und Lieder, I. Theil, Leipzig 1756; [2] id, II. Theil, Leipzig 1759; [3] id, III. Theil, Leipzig 1763; [4] Geistliche, moralische und weltliche Oden, Berlin 1758; [5] Geistliche Oden in Melodien gesetzt, Berlin 1758; [6] Kleine Clavierstücke nebst einigen Oden von verschiedenen Tonkünstlern aus Berlin, Berlin 1760; [7] Kritische Briefe über die Tonkunst, Bd XVIII, Berlin 1760; [8] Musikalisches Allerley, Berlin 1761; [9] Neue Lieder zum Singen beim Clavier, Berlin 1756; [10] Raccolta delle più nuove composizioni di clavicembalo, 1. Bd., Leipzig 1756; [11] id, 2. Bd., Leipzig 1757)

When the term 'German Lied' is used, it is mainly referring to the song for voice with pianoforte accompaniment as it was composed in the romantic era. When the interest in 'early music' developed, the German strophic songs of the 17th century were discovered. Composers like Adam and Johann Philipp Krieger, Andreas Hammerschmidt and Johann Nauwach composed a large number of songs for solo voice with basso continuo. The period between the 17th and the 19th century was either completely ignored or considered a period in which no songs of any importance were composed. This situation is partly due to a lack of knowledge of the songs of the 18th century, but also to an assessment of music which overlooks the historical context, which is characterised by specific aesthetical ideals.

During the second half of the 17th century the strophic songs in Germany were put into the sidelines by the increasing popularity of Italian opera and chamber cantata. At the beginning of the 18th century most composers thought it beneath their dignity to compose songs for voice and accompaniment. But in the wake of the spreading of the ideals of the Enlightenment attempts were made to recreate the strophic song. Some collections of poems on music were published, but they met general criticism, partly because of the doubtful quality of the poetry.
Georg Philipp Telemann, always keen on meeting popular demands for music, aimed at demonstrating how strophic songs should be composed, when he published his 24 Oden in 1741. But he admitted that composing these songs was not easy at all. One of the problems was to ensure a reasonable connection between words and music in all stanzas.
Another problem was to meet the ideal of the advocates of this kind of songs: they should be 'natural' and easy enough to be sung by accomplished amateurs. How to write a song that is both simple and expressive at the same time? Some of the songs of Johann Philipp Sack recorded here give evidence of the problem facing composers, since they are often not that easy to sing, in particular because of the range of the voice required and things like leaps in the vocal line.

Sack was born on 11 November 1722 in Harzgerode, in the Land Anhalt. In 1742 we find him in Magdeburg, where he became a teacher at the orphanage. In 1747 Sack was teaching catechism at the Cathedral choir school in Berlin. He was the co-founder of the Musikübende Gesellschaft, a society which sponsored concerts; he received a reputation as an accompished keyboard player and composer. In 1756 he was appointed cathedral organist, a post he held until his death in 1763.
In Berlin Sack stood in contact with some of the most important artist of his time: composers like Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the Graun brothers, Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg, Johann Philipp Kirnberger and Carl Theodor Fasch (son of Johann Friedrich). Some of them were composing songs on texts by some of the most prolific poets of the time, like Friedrich Wilhelm Zachariä, Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim, Friedrich von Hagedorn and Christian Gottlob Lieberkühn. In his liner notes, Kai Wessel states that there is enough reason to mention this circle of composers and poets as the first Berlin Lied School, a term usually associated with later composers like Johann Friedrich Reichardt and Johann Rudolf Zumsteeg.

The character of the poems is dominatingly anacreaontic, as is the case with the 24 Oden by Telemann. Therefore in the poems set to music by Sack we find mythological figures, like Philomel and Chloris (Chloris). But there are also references to people from Berlin society (Lottchen, Bild einer vornehmen Dame in B.). There are poems with a moralistic content, like Das Glück der Freundschaft and songs about nature (An die Nachtigall) and everyday life (An den Schlaf). This recording also brings songs by some of Sack's contemporaries. The disc ends with an ironic song by Marpurg, in which the Germans are urged to be proud of their own composers Telemann, Hasse, Graun and Händel and be more interested in music and poetry.
The programme of songs on this disc is interspersed by short keyboard pieces, in particular menuets and polonaises, forms which were composed in large numbers in the middle of the 18th century. Variations were also very popular at the time. Schale's Allegretto con variazioni is just one specimen of this genre.

This disc is a real treasure, not because it consists of masterworks. It will take some time and effort to really appreciate these songs and keyboard pieces for what they are worth. But it fills a gap in our knowledge of music history in that it shows how the German Lied with keyboard accompaniment developed in the 18th century into the Lied as it has become famous with the oeuvre of Schubert.
Kai Wessel has closely studied the music by Sack. In the booklet the publication of a complete edition of his works is announced for 2003, edited by Kai Wessel. In this recording he demonstrates his familiarity with and commitment to this repertoire. In his performance he gives ample attention to the texts and communicates the character of every piece carefully. The use of a copy of a Silbermann fortepiano, built in 1749, contributes considerably to the creation of the right atmosphere in the songs and is exactly the right instrument for the keyboard pieces which are clearly written for Kenner und Liebhaber.
The booklet contains an essay on the music and its cultural context by Kai Wessel in German, English and French. Regrettably the lyrics have not been translated.

This disc proves once again that the most interesting recordings are often released by small record labels which have kept a keen sense of adventure which has mostly vanished from the offices of the 'majors'.

Johan van Veen (© 2004)

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