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Leopold I: "Paradisi Gloria - Sacred music"

Cappella Murensis; Les Cornets Noirs
Dir: Johannes Strobl

rec: August 6 - 8, 2015, Muri, Abteikirche
Audite - 97.540 (© 2016) (75'37")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Missa pro defunctis (W 11); Motetto de septem doloribus Beatae Mariae Virginis (Vertatur in luctum cythara nostra) (W 40); Stabat mater (W 47); Tres Lectiones I. Nocturni pro defunctis piae Claudiae Felici lugens maestusque Leopoldus posuit et musicis legibus distinxit (W 33)

[CM] Lia Andres*, Alice Borciani*, Ulrike Hofbauer, Monika Mauch, Penelope Monroe*, Caroline Rilliet*, soprano; Roman Melish*, Alex Potter, Victor de Souza Soares*, alto; Cory Knight*, Hans Jörg Mammel, Richard Resch*, tenor; Lisandro Abadie, Ismael Arróniz*, Valerio Zanolli*, bass [* ripienists]
[LCN] Bork-Frithjof Smith, cornett; Gebhard David, cornett, cornetto muto; Simen van Mechelen, Detlef Reimers, Fernando Günther, sackbut; Brian Franklin, Brigitte Gasser, Christoph Prendl, Patrick Sepec, viola da gamba; Mathias Müller, violone; Matthias Spaeter, archlute; Johannes Strobl, organ

During the 17th and 18th centuries the imperial court in Vienna was one of the main centres of music in Europe. The Habsburg emperors employed some of the best performers and composers of their time, mostly from Italy. This was not only a way to show their political power, but the emperors were great lovers of music and part of their education was learning to play an instrument. Leopold I, who is the composer of the music on the present disc, played the keyboard, the violin and the recorder. He was not the only Habsburg emperor who wrote music of his own. His father, Ferdinand III, and his son, Charles VI, did the same; some of the former's output has been preserved, but nothing of the latter's.

That is different in the case of Leopold. He wrote sepolcri (dramatic works which were performed on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday), oratorios, operas, incidental music and many arias for operas by other composers, which were performed at the court. The present disc focuses on his sacred music. The two first compositions on this disc are intended for Lent, more specifically for the feast day of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrated on the Friday before Palm Sunday: Stabat mater and the Motetto de Septem Doloribus Beatae Mariae Virginis. Apparently this was an important feast for the imperial court, as Leopold also composed an oratorio for this occasion, L'amor della redentione. It dates from 1677 and was performed almost every year since. The Stabat mater served as the sequence and the motet as an offertory for the Mass of that day.

In the four-part Stabat mater every section has a different vocal and/or instrumental scoring. Most verses are sung by a solo voice, some are for two or three voices, and every fifth section is for the tutti. The instrumental ensemble includes strings and wind. The string ensemble is a consort of viols; this was rather old-fashioned at the time on the continent, but was still in existence at the imperial court as late as around 1700. The wind ensemble comprises cornetts and sackbuts, again a relic of the renaissance and early baroque periods. The work is dominated by homophony, but the closing Amen is a fugue.

The motet is for five voices; the text is free poetry. On the internet this text is exclusively connected to this particular composition; therefore it seems likely that it was especially written for Leopold. Its content is strongly connected to the Stabat mater as it also looks at the Passion of Jesus from the perspective of his mother. Like in the Stabat mater the text is divided over the various solo voices, in alternation with tutti episodes. The central section is on the text "Lachrymantem et dolentem piis fletibus comitemur, maestis vocibus prosequamur": "We accompany her who weeps and suffers with devote laments and follow her with sorrowful voices". This section is dominated by a chromatic descending figures.

The remaining two works are of a personal character in that they were both written for the funeral of Leopold's spouses. In 1666 he had married Margaret Theresa, eldest daughter of King Philip IV of Spain. From this marriage, which by all accounts was happy (partly thanks to common interests, including music), four children were born; only one survived infancy. During her last pregnancy she fell ill and in March 1673 she died. At the funeral in the Augustinerkirche no fewer than three Requiems were performed, among them Leopold's own Missa pro defunctis. It comprises the Introit, Kyrie, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei and the Communion. It is scored for three five-part choirs: one comprises vocal forces (solo and tutti), the second strings, and the third wind. The Introit is preceded by a sonata and so are the Sanctus and the Communion. In this recording the vocal parts are sung by the soloists; no ripienists are involved.

About half a year after the death of Margaret Theresa Leopold remarried. His wife was Claudia Felicitas, eldest daughter of Ferdinand Charles, Archduke of Further Austria and Count of Tyrol. She gave birth to two daughters, who both died in childhood. Less than three years after her marriage Claudia Felicitas died of tuberculosis. At this occasion Leopold composed the Tres Lectiones I. Nocturni pro defunctis. They were again performed in 1705 at Leopold's own funeral and every year thereafter on the anniversary of his death. Every Lectio is a setting of texts from the Book of Job: chapter 7, vs 16-21 and chapter 10, vs1-7 and 8-12 respectively. Each Lectio is followed by a responsory. The first is again on a text from Job, the famous passage also used in Handel's Messiah: "I know that my Redeemer liveth". The second refers to Lazarus and includes references to the text of the Requiem. The last is about the last Judgement. The scoring is for five voices, viols and two mute cornetts. The vocal parts are an alternation of soli and tutti and every lesson is preceded by a short instrumental introduction.

Leopold may have been a dilettante, as non-professional composers from the highest echelons of society often called themselves, this disc shows that he should be taken seriously. He clearly was a gifted composer, and these four pieces are worthwhile parts of the sacred repertoire written and performed at the imperial court in Vienna. The performances are pretty much ideal. The Italian pronunciation of Latin seems a mistake to me. I also probably would have liked the addition of ripienists in the Missa pro defunctis, but this is a very minor issue. The singers and players deliver technically immaculate and expressive interpretations. I would like to hear more from Leopold's oeuvre.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Les Cornets Noirs

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