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Wolfgang Carl BRIEGEL (1626 - 1712): Zwölff Madrigalische Trost-Gesänge

Ensemble Polyharmonique; Klaus Eichhorn, organa
Dir: Alexander Schneider

rec: June 23 - 26, 2020, Markt Nordheim, Kirche St. Georg
CPO - 555 449-2 (© 2022) (62'12")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/(D)
Cover, track-list & booklet

Ach Herr lehre doch mich a 6; Ach lieben Christen seid getrost a 6; Ach wie gar nichts a 6; Der Gerechte a 6; Du aber Daniel a 5; Es ist ein Elend a 6; Ich habe dich ein klein Augenblick verlassen a 6; Si bona suscepimus a 5; Valet will ich dir geben a 5; Wahrlich ich sage euch a 6; Wer Gott vertraut a 6; Wir sind getrost a 6
Fuga 1. toni; Fuga 2. toni; Fuga 3. toni; Fuga 4. toni; Fuga 5. toni; Fuga 6. toni; Fuga 7. toni; Fuga 8. toni

Magdalene Harer, Joowon Chung, soprano; Alexander Schneider, alto; Johannes Gaubitz, Sören Richter, tenor; Matthias Lutze, bass; Juliane Laake, violone

In 1712 Christoph Graupner was appointed Kapellmeister at the court of Ernst Ludwig, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt. He succeeded Wolfgang Carl Briegel, who had died that year and had occupied that post since 1671. Whereas in recent times the music of Graupner has received much interest, to date the oeuvre of his predecessor is badly represented on disc. Once in a while a piece by Briegel may be included in an anthology, but the disc to be reviewed here may well be the very first that is entirely devoted to him.

Briegel was born in Königsberg, near Coburg in Bavaria, and attended the grammar school at Nuremberg. Through Johann Erasmus Kindermann and some others he became acquainted with the Italian style. He studied four years at Altdorf University and then was appointed organist at St Johannis in Schweinfurt. In 1650 he entered the service of Duke Ernst the Pious at his court in Gotha. He first acted as Kantor and music teacher of the Duke's children, and then was given the post of Kapellmeister. In 1657 the Duke's family was hit by a major tragedy: three of his four children fell victim to an outbreak of smallpox. Only the eldest, whom Briegel esteemed for her "great inclination, fine understanding and qualities in vocal as well as in instrumental music", survived. When she married Ludwig VI, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt in 1666, she wanted Briegel to follow her to Darmstadt, but her father did not want to let him go. In 1670 Duke Ernst surrendered, and the next year Briegel moved to Darmstadt. As a token of his appreciation for his former employer, he offered him the collection of motets that is the subject of the present disc

The fact that Ernst was already an old and frail man may have inspired Briegel to set texts about the end of life. Among them are several that were often set by composers at the time, such as Der Gerechte, ob er gleich zu zeitlich stirbt (But the good man, even if he dies an untimely death, will be at rest) and "Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herren sterben" (Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord). The latter is a verse from Revelation, and is included in Du aber, Daniel. This motet also has a funeral chorale as cantus firmus in the upper voice: "So fahr ich hin zu Jesu Christ" (I go then from here to Jesus Christ), the fifth stanza of Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist (Nikolaus Herman, 1562). Other texts are taken from the book of Job (Si bona suscepimus - "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?"), which is the only piece in the collection on a Latin text, the Book of Psalms (Ach Herr, lehre doch mich - "Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days") and Paul's second letter to the Corinthians (Wir sind getrost allezeit - "Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord"). The latter piece is an example of a text that intends to comfort the readers, reflecting the title of this motet collection.

The programme also opens with such a piece: Wer Gott vertraut - "Who trusts in God has laid his foundation well in heaven and on earth". This is a free arrangement of a hymn by Joachim Magdeburg (1572). The melody is ignored, and in Valet will ich dir geben (Valerius Herberger, 1613) it turns only up now and then. Another piece of comfort is Ach, lieben Christen, seyd getrost: "Ah, dear Christians take comfort; Why do you so despair?" Its last section says: "Whether we wake or sleep we belong to the Lord; we have been baptised in Christ who can protect us from Satan". In Ach, wie gar nichts, man is reminded of the vanity of life. Here another hymn is included: Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig ("Ah, how fleeting, ah, how futile is the life of mortals"). Although this collection was not intended as a cycle, there are strong similarities with Heinrich Schütz's Musicalische Exequien.

The motets are mostly a mixture of polyphony and homophony. The collection includes a basso continuo part, but this seems optional rather than obligatory. This is not unlike Schütz's Geistliche Chor-Music. It is notable that several pieces include passages in which the ensemble is split into upper and lower voices, suggesting a kind of polychorality (for instance in Ich habe dich ein klein Augenblick verlassen). This can also be linked to Briegel's dramatic instincts, as he demonstrated in his music for the stage - all of which is unfortunately lost - and his dialogue cantatas, which he published in three volumes from 1660 to 1681. Text illustration was very much part of the style of the time. Briegel does not miss the opportunity to illustrate the content of the closing line of Wer Gott vertraut with harmonic means: "You are my consolation in mortal peril and pain." Ach Herr, lehre doch mich includes some which are probably hard to grasp for those who don't understand German.

There is not only a link in content to Schütz, but also in Briegel's use of polyphony. His skills in this department are demonstrated in the eight fugues for organ, which are included here.

This production should convince anyone that the oeuvre of Briegel is well worth being performed. He was a man of reputation, as the circulation of his works show. That is easy to understand if one listens to these motets and the organ fugues. The Ensemble Polyharmonique is focussing on lesser-known repertoire, and here it presents itself as the ideal advocate of Briegel's music. The singers pay utmost attention to the text and emphasize the connection between text and music. These pieces have a strongly declamatory character and that comes off perfectly. The voices blend very well and the intonation is immaculate. It is great that these pieces are available at the Petrucci Music Library (*), as they are perfecty suited to be sung by vocal ensembles of the kind we have here. The contributions of Klaus Eichhorn are a nice bonus; the organ is a historical instrument restored to its original state recently, and well suited for the performances of Briegel's fugues, under the experienced hands of Eichhorn.

(*) I recommend reading the introduction to this edition, written by Gregory S. Johnston, who is also the author of the liner-notes in the booklet to this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Polyharmonique

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