musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Heinrich FINCK (1444/45 - 1527): Missa super Ave praeclara

Josquin Capella
Dir: Meinolf Brüser

rec: August 13 - 15, 2007, Walberberg, St. Albert
CPO - 555 066-2 (© 2016) (59'48)
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Hab's ie getan a 4; Ich stund an einem Morgen a 4; Magnificat 8. toni a 5; Missa super Ave praeclara a 5-6; O Domine Jesu Christe a 4-6; Veni sancte spiritus a 7

Sabine Lutzenberger, Miriam Andersén, soprano; Ulrike Andersen, contralto; Paul Kirby, Andreas Hirtreiter, tenor; Guido Heidloff, baritone; Willem Ceuleers, Joel Frederiksen, bass

The discography of sacred music from the renaissance period is large and versatile, and includes compositions from across Europe. However, discs devoted to music by Heinrich Finck are very rare; in fact, to my knowledge there is only one, recorded by Stimmwerck. Finck's name also doesn't appear that often in anthologies. In his own time his fame seems to have been confined to the German-speaking world. Little is known about his life; it is assumed that he was born in Bamberg in Bavaria. Most information comes from his great-nephew Hermann Finck, but it has to be taken with some caution as he did not know Heinrich personally.

According to Hermann Heinrich sang as a choirboy in Poland. He could be identical with the 'Henricus Finck de Bamberga Bavaria', who matriculated at Leipzig University in 1482. He returned several times to Poland, partly due to his failure to find a position somewhere in Germany. In 1510 he entered the service of the ducal chapel in Stuttgart, but that didn't last long: in 1514 the chapel was disbanded. Apparently he moved to Bavaria, and in 1519 he was composed to the chapter of Salzburg Cathedral. He spent the last years of his life in a convent in Vienna.

This seems to be the biography of a composer who did not make the headlines and was a marginal figure in music life of his time. However, Lothar Hoffmann-Erbrecht, in his article on Finck in New Grove, states that he was quite important to his contemporaries and later generations: "[The] 16th century could not resist the peculiar fascination and exotic charm of this bold and masterly style." He observes a change in style, due to his long life. "His mass for three voices, much of which is composed without a cantus firmus, is an early work. Its difficult contrapuntal lines, frequent melismas and canon and sequence technique make great demands on singers." The Missa super Ave praeclara is probably a late work. It is a parody mass, based on a sequence, whose opening motif is used as the framework which holds the work together. It is scored for five voices, but in the Credo Finck adds a sixth voice. Considering the playing time of this disc it is a mystery to me why we don't get the complete mass here. The Agnus Dei is entirely omitted, as are Pleni sunt coeli and Osanna in the Sanctus.

The second work in the programme is the Magnificat 8. toni for five voices. This is an alternatim composition; the even verses are sung in plainchant. The cantus firmus is mostly in the upper voice, but sometimes moves to one of the other parts. Veni sancte spiritus is an antiphon for Whitsuntide, but was performed in Stuttgart at the wedding of Duke Ulrich and Sabine von Bayern. The reason may have been one of the phrases: "Fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love".

O Domine Jesu Christe is Finck's largest motet; in this performance it takes more than twelve minutes. It is a devotional motet for Passiontide and consists of seven sections, which all open with the same words: "O Domine Jesu Christi", followed by a veneration of the Cross. They are for four voices, but in the seventh section Finck adds two voices which sing a different text: "O Passio Dei magna" - "O great Passion of God, O deep wounds, O wondrous blood, O bitter death, O divine dignity, help me to achieve eternal bliss".

The disc ends with two secular works on German texts, in the tradition of the Tenorlied, of which in particular Ludwig Senfl was an exponent. They are in four parts and strophic. Ich stund an einem Morgen was a very popular text, which was set by several composers in Finck's time.

The line-up in all the pieces is one voice per part. That is probably not the only option; one can imagine that in the case of a wedding more singers may have been involved. However, it guarantees optimum transparency, which allows the listener to follow the individual lines and to understand the text. That is also due to the singers, who blend perfectly but also have enough presence on their own. The singing is excellent, and from that perspective this disc is most welcome, especially because Finck is so badly represented on disc. That makes it all the more disappointing that the Missa super Ave praeclara is incomplete here. I also would have preferred more difference in the performance of the secular songs in comparison with the sacred items. They should have been recorded in a different venue, with a more intimate acoustic. Especially Ich stund an einem Morgen may have been sung at a slightly higher speed and have been more playful. To my ears the songs are a bit too serious in these performances.

Even so, lovers of renaissance music should not miss this disc, nor the one by Stimmwerck. They are substantial contributions to our picture of the European musical landscape at the time around 1500.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Josquin Capella

CD Reviews