musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Music from 16th-century Germany

[I] Sebastian OCHSENKUN (1521 - 1574): "Heidelberger Tabulaturbuch"
Dorothee Mields, sopranoa; Jan Kobow, tenorb; Niklas Trüstedtc, Matthias Müllerd, viola da gamba; Andreas Arend, lutee
rec: Jan 7 - 10, 2019, Schloss Ettlingen (Asamsaal)
CPO - 555 267-2 (© 2021) (60'08")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

anon: Si pur ti guardo; Thomas CRECQUILLON (c1507-1557): Ung gay bergiereabcd; Caspar GLANNER (1515-1577): All ding auff erd zergencklich ist; Nicolas GOMBERT (c1495-c1560): Sancta Mariae; JOSQUIN DESPREZ (c1450/55-1521): Inviolata integracde; Steffan MAHU (c1485-c1541): Ich armes keützlein kleine; Jean MOUTON (bef1459-1522): De profundis clamavie; Impetum impetorumabcd / e; Caspar OTHMAYR (1515-1553): Glück mit der zeyt; Gregor PETSCHIN (c1500-1547): Herr das du mich so gestürtzet hastbcde; O Herr nit ferr sey dein genad; Ludwig SENFL (c1490-1543): Sih Pauren knecht laß Tröslein stahn; Steffan ZIRLER (c1518-1568): Bewar mich Herr

[II] Caspar OTHMAYR (1515 - 1553): "Gift & Gegengift - Virtues & Vices in Renaissance Songs"
Franz Vitzthum, alto; Dryades Consort
rec: Sept 29 - Oct 2, 2020, Grenzach (D), Evangelische Kirche
Christophorus - CHR 77455 (© 2021) (73'36")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: D
Cover & track-list

[in order of appearance] [Prologue: Praecipua humanae naturae vitia] Caspar OTHMAYR: Magna semper aerumnarum acies/Nulla calamitas sola; Octo sunt passiones; [Gula - Prudentia] anon: Trag Bier her (Fuga a 4 vocum aequalium); Si bibero; [Concupiscentia - Temperantia] Lorenz LEMLIN (c1495-after 1549): Der Gutzgauch auf dem Zaune saß; Caspar OTHMAYR: Ich hört' ein Fräulein klagen; Si turpis et carnalis, Antidotum contra carnalem concupiscentiam; Jacobus BARBIREAU (c1455-1491): Een frölic wesen; Paul HOFHAIMER (1459-1537): Tröstlicher Lieb; [Avaritia - Charitas] Ludwig SENFLCaspar OTHMAYR: Avaritia a vincitur, Antidotum contra avaritiam; Vom Himmel hoch; [Reflexio] Caspar OTHMAYR: Non secus atque olim, Epitaphium Guilielmi Brayttengraseri; [Adversitas/Tristitia - Spes] Heinrich ISAAC (c1450-1517): Fortuna desperata; Caspar OTHMAYR: Der Mon der steht am höchsten; Paul HOFHAIMER: On Freud verzehr ich manchen Tag; Heinrich ISAAC: Bruder Conrad super fortuna; [Ira - Mansuetudo] Caspar OTHMAYR: Non somnos requies/Mein Tag mit Unruhe; Si te ira exstimulat, Antidotum contra iram; Paul HOFHAIMER: Carmen in re 'Unschuldiger Ritter'; [Acedia - Patientia] Caspar OTHMAYR: Ich armes Käuzlein kleine; Si accidia infestaris, Antidotum contra accidiam; Tribulatio operatur; [Vana gloria - Modestia/Superbia - Humilitas] Caspar OTHMAYR; Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein; anon: Peccavi; Ludwig SENFL: Was ist die Welt; [Epilogue] Caspar OTHMAYR: Mein himmlischer Vater/In manus tuas, Verba ultima D. Martini Luteri

Giovanni Baviera, voice, viola da gamba; Silvia Tecardi, Elizabeth Rumsey, viola d'arco, viola da gamba; Leonardo Bortolotto, viola da gamba

[III] "La la hö hö - Sixteenth-century viol music for the richest man of the world"
Linarol Consort
rec: Feb 11 - 13, 2020, Treowen (Monmouthshire, UK)
Inventa - INV1005 (© 2021) (67'26")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Petrus ALAMIRE (c1470-1536): Tanndernac a 4; anon: Plus oultre pretens; Vil glück und haÿl; Ways nit; Antoine BRUMEL (c1460-1512/13): Tanndernac a 3; Paul HOFHAIMER (1459-1537): Fro bin ich dein (das erst, das ander, das dritt); On frewdt verzer ich; Heinrich ISAAC (c1450-1517): Brüder Conrat super Fortuna; Gueretzsch; La la hö hö; Las Rauschen; Zart liebster frucht; JOSQUIN DESPREZ (c1450/55-1521): Entre iesuis; Plus mils regres; Adam RENER (c1485-c1520): Achs ainigs ain; Jetzt hat volbracht; Pierre de LA RUE (c1452-1518): Ain frölich wesen; Carmen; Carmen; Iam sauche (two settings); Tous les regres; Ludwig SENFL (c1486-1543): Albrecht mirs schwer und gros laÿd; Alles regres; Carmen; Carmen; Dem ewigen got; In lieb und freid hab ich mein bscheid

David Hatcher, Asako Morikawa, Alison Kinder, Claire Horácek, viola da gamba

The lute was one of the main instruments in the renaissance period. It was the favourite instrument for the accompaniment of singers in secular music, and was also part of instrumental ensembles. Lutenists also played solo, mostly their own music, which they may often have improvised, but also vocal music by other composers. In order to be able to play them, they intabulated them, which means that the parts of a piece were written down in a system that uses letters, numbers or other signs. There were different kinds of tablature, but "[their] basic principle was to guide the fingers of the player’s left hand over the lattice, formed by courses and frets crossing at right angles, on the fingerboard", as New Grove puts it.

The first of the three discs reviewed here is devoted to a collection of intabulations by Sebastian Ochsenkun, a German lutenist, who for most of his life was in the service of Prince Elector Ottheinrich of the Palatinate. His employer experienced the tribulations of the religious conflicts of his time. In 1542 he converted to Lutheranism, and in 1546 the troops of emperor Charles V occupied his residence, Neuburg an der Donau, as part of the War of the Schmalkaldic League. As he was despised by the emperor, he went into exile in Weinheim. In 1544 he had gone bankrupt, as he was a patron of the arts, on which he spent lavish sums of money, which exhausted his financial reserves. Ottheinrich returned to Neuburg in 1552.

Ochsenkun was from Nuremberg, where he had been the pupil of Hans Vogel, who was probably lutenist at the Munich court. In 1543/44 Ochsenkun entered the service of Ottheinrich and stayed with him until his death. In 1558 he published his Tabulaturbuch in Heidelberg; in his introduction Ochsenkun mentioned his employer as the initiator of the publication. The collection includes intabulations of vocal pieces of three categories: Latin motets, German psalms and songs and Italian and French pieces. Among the composers are several household names, such as Josquin Desprez, Ludwig Senfl, Nicolas Gombert and Jean Mouton, but also little-known masters: Gregor Petschin, Steffan Mahu and Steffan Zirler. Many pieces in the collection are unica, meaning that they are not known from other sources.

Two features of the Tabulaturbuch are notable. The first is that whereas many tablatures include only a few voices of a piece, Ochsenkun transcribed all the voices into tablature. Andreas Arend, in his liner-notes, states: "The author (...) assigns each voice a line of its own. As logical as this seems from today's perspective, it then remained the exception. The meticulous care with which he operated in his work has the traits of a compendium and supports the lute as a complete and self-contained musical universe."

The second is that Ochsenkun in the case of the German items puts the text next to the song. This allows for a performance with the participation of a singer, which is practised in this recording. This is in line with what Ochsenkun states in his preface: that the intabulations are suited for having "a voice sing to them".

Arend characterises Ochsenkun as "a musician who with his aspiration to quality and systematic planning is able to generate far-reaching impulses even beyond his times and his instrument". This is no mean praise, and one may wonder why he has been given so little attention. This may well be the first disc entirely devoted to his work, and it is a true monument for this important musician.

The performances do him ample justice. The programme has been put together in such a way that the various genres are represented, and also the different ways the pieces can be performed. Arend has collected the right people around him, including two singers who have a vast experience in German music of the renaissance and baroque periods, whose voices blend perfectly, both with each other and with the instruments. Arend is a very fine lutenist, who plays the solo items in a speechlike manner, with all the voices being clearly audible.

One of the pieces from Ochsenkun's Tabulaturbuch, recorded by Arend and his colleagues, is from the pen of Caspar Othmayr. That is one connection to the second disc reviewed here, which focuses on a particular part of Othmayr's oeuvre. A second connection is Steffan Zirler, whose sacred song Bewar mich Herr closes the CPO programme. Zirler was part of a circle of composers known as the 'Heidelberg Liedmeister', to which Othmayr also belonged.

He is one of the lesser-known composers from 16th-century Germany, but has gained some reputation as one of the main collaborators to the repertoire of Lutheran church music. He was from Amberg, the second princely seat in the Palatinate, along with Heidelberg. Othmayr studied at Heidelberg University and became Master of Arts in 1536. In 1543 he was appointed headmaster of the Lateinschule of Heilsbronn monastery. Attempts to find other posts which would improve his financial situation, failed, mainly because of manipulations from rivals.

Othmayr has left an oeuvre of around 230 works, in the main genres of the time, with the exception of the mass. A substantial part is of a pedagogical nature, and that goes for instance for a collection of bicinia: two part settings of Lutheran hymns. The disc of the Dryades Consort focuses on another of his pedagogical works, the Tricinia in pias. Part of it is about the praecipua humanae naturae vitia - the "most important vices of human nature". 30 three-part pieces are intended as 'antidotes' to eight capital human vices. The texts are taken from the Christian monk John of Damascus (675/76-749), translated into Latin by Willibald Pirkheimer (1470-1530). In this recording the performers opted to make a contrast between the vices and the antidotes. This explains that the programme includes quite a number of pieces by other composers. The chapter devoted to concupiscentia (desire) and temperantia (temperance), for instance, comprises five pieces: two songs on German texts by Lorenz Lemlin and Othmayr, the 'antidote' by the latter, an instrumental piece by Jakob Barbireau and a German song by Paul Hofhaimer. In some cases the choice of music raises questions. The second chapter is about gula (gluttony) vs prudentia (prudence), and it includes just two pieces: the anonymus Trag Bier her, which is a drinking song. Si bibero may be intended as the 'antidote', but this is an instrumental piece - or a vocal piece performed instrumentally - and as the text is not included in the booklet, its meaning remains a mystery.

In addition to Othmayr's 'antidotes', we also get some other pieces from his pen, not only secular items in German, as the one mentioned above, but also sacred works. Among them are two of the Bicinia sacra; notable is that in Vom Himmel hoch Othmayr omits the generally-known melody, in contrast to Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein. The closing item, Mein himmlischer Vater/In manus tuas is a setting of the last words of Martin Luther before his death. It attests to Othmayr's Lutheran convictions.

More than half of the pieces included here appear on disc for the first time. A number of them are from Othmayr's pen, which shows that he has not been given that much attention. He certainly deserves better, even though the short items included here only allow a glimpse of what his output is about. It would be interesting to delve further into his musical legacy. There is still much to discover as far as German music of the 16th century is concerned. This disc - and the one devoted to Ochsenkun - are substantial contributions to our knowledge of the musical landscape of this part of Europe. The Othmayr disc is also musically entirely convincing. Franz Vitzthum delivers excellent performances of the vocal items, and the playing of the Dryades Consort is first class. It is a shame that the booklet does omit English translations of the lyrics. However, this should not discourage those who don't understand German, to add this fine disc to their collection.

The last disc focuses on a genre that was very popular at the Renaissance: music for a consort of instruments. It is mostly English repertoire that is performed by consorts of our time, but basically all music of the time can be performed by such an ensemble, including vocal music. The programme recorded by the Linarol Consort attests to that.

The pieces included in the programme are taken from one source, preserved at the National Library of Austria, with the reference Vienna Ms. 18-810. It comprises 86 pieces in five parts. The manuscript is hand-written by a single, probably professional, scribe. It may have been Lukas Wagenrieder, one of the main copyists of Ludwig Senfl, one of the composers who is prominently represented in the manuscript. He was in Munich after 1523, and the watermarks in the paper used for the manuscript also attests to Munich as the place of its origin. As some pieces can be dated in 1533 and 1534, it is assumed that the compilation was completed in 1535. It is not known for whom it was put together, but it may well have been the Fugger dynasty in Augsburg, as it was once part of the family's library.

The Fuggers were one of the wealthies and therefore most influential families in southern Germany in the 16th century. They were of middle-class origin but entered the ranks of the aristocracy thanks to their wealth. As merchants and bankers they were "as tough as nails", as one commentator stated. They were not afraid to use their wealth for political purposes, as Emperor Charles V experienced. When a change of law was considered which would have had a negative effect on their business activities, Jakob Fugger reminded the emperor: "It is well-known that Your Imperial Majesty could not have acquired the Roman crown without my help..." And that was the end of discussion.

The close connections between the Fuggers and the emperors is reflected by the content of the manuscript. More than half of the compositions are by composers who worked at the court of Maximilian I: Heinrich Isaac, Ludwig Senfl and Paul Hofhaimer. Thirty pieces are unica, and eighteen of them are from the pen of Senfl.

Some pieces from this source have been recorded before. The bFive Recorder Consort included some of them in a programme devoted to music written for the Fugger family. One of them is the only composition from the pen of Petrus Alamire, who has become known as one of the most skilled music scribes of his time, to whom we owe many of the works by composers of the Franco-Flemish school. It seems that most pieces performed by the Linarol Consort are new to the catalogue.

The ensemble's name is derived from Francesco Linarol, patriarch of a Venetian dynasty of luthiers. Only one viol of his making has survived, and this has been the inspiration for the consort of viols that the Linarol Consort is using, made by Richard Jones. It is a fine set of viols indeed, and perfectly suited for the performance of the pieces from the manuscript that is the focus of this disc. The playing is outstanding throughout, and the variety within the programme comes off perfectly. This disc is another token of the quality of the music written during the first half of the 16th century in southern Germany and Austria, which is still not known and appreciated enough. This and the other two discs reviewed here, should change that.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Andreas Arend
Jan Kobow
Franz Vitzthum
Dryades Consort
Linarol Consort

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