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Gottfried Heinrich STÖLZEL (1690 - 1749): "Two Serenatas"

Dorothee Mields, soprano; Elisabeth Graf, contralto; Knut Schoch, tenor; Ekkehard Abele, bass
Telemannisches Collegium Michaelstein
Dir: Ludger Rémy

rec: August 28 - Sept 4, 2004, Ditfurt, Kirche St. Bonifatius
CPO - 777 094-2 (2 CDs) (© 2007) (1.43'19")

Alles, was sonst lieblich heißet; Seid willkommen, schöne Stunden

Robert Vanryne, Christoph Wolf, trumpet; Ludwig Kurze, timpani; Benedek Csalog, Dorothee Müller, transverse flute; Onno Verschoor, Katharina Bäuml, oboe; Conny Fiedler, Anne Schumann, Christine Trinks, Jochen Grüner, Thordes Hohbach, Erik Sieglerschmidt, violin; Klaus Voigt, Klaus Bona, viola; Steffen Hoffmann, cello; Monika Schwamberger, cello, viola da gamba; Christian Walter, bassoon; Carsten Hundt, double bass; Ludger Rémy, harpsichord; Sebastian Knebel, organ

For a long time Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel was mainly known as the probable composer of the song Bist du bei mir which Johann Sebastian Bach included in his Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach. Very few of his other compositions were known. In his time he was held in high esteem: the theorist Johann Mattheson ranked him among the "learned and great masters" of his time. And in 1739 he was elected a member of Lorenz Christoph Mizler's Societät der Musikalischen Wissenschaften. Mizler even placed him above Bach in his list of leading German composers.

The two compositions on this disc belong to the genre of the serenata, which is generally speaking a composition written in honour of a royal or aristocratic person. We know many pieces of this kind, written by the likes of Johann Sebastian Bach, Henry Purcell and Alessandro Scarlatti. The subject matter and the musical style of these serenatas can strongly vary. Sometimes the subject is mythological, and has no direct connection to the person for whom the serenata was written. But there are also many in which he or she is specifically praised and his or her positive character traits are pointed out at great length. The two serenatas by Stölzel on these two discs represent two kinds of serenatas.

The reason why they have been written and when they were performed isn't exactly known. Seid willkommen, schöne Stunden is assumed to be written for a name day or a birthday of Duke Friedrich II of Sachsen-Gotha. At this court Stölzel was Kapellmeister from 1720 until his death. According to a contemporary source he must have written a large amount of music, including many occasional pieces, for this court, but most of them have been lost. In fact, this particular piece is the only occasional work written for the court of Sachsen-Gotha which has survived. It is partly due to Stölzel's successor as Kapellmeister, Georg Benda, that so many of his compositions are lost.

The longest piece in this recording, Alles, was sonst lieblich heißet, was very likely performed at the birthday of Prince Günther I of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen in August 1736. Stölzel was closely connected to this court. In 1715 he had applied for the position of Kapellmeister, but Günther's father had elected Johann Balthasar Freislich instead, much to the dismay of most members of the court chapel. In 1720, the very same year Stölzel began his duties in Sachsen-Gotha, Günther I succeeded his father, and being an intellectual and a great lover of music and the arts, he very much regretted the fact that Stölzel was not available anymore to act as Kapellmeister. In order to take profit of Stölzel's great talent he asked him to write sacred and secular music for the court. In fact Stölzel acted as a kind of 'shadow Kapellmeister', and it is largely thanks to the care with which his music was treated in Schwarzburg-Sondershausen that a considerable part of Stölzel's musical output has come down to us.

Stölzel often wrote the texts for his sacred and secular compositions himself. In his autobiography, included in Johann Mattheson's Grundlage einer Ehren-Pforte, he embraced the principle that "the poetic profession is at all times linked" to the "proper exercise of the musical profession". For him poetry and musical composition were part of the same creative process. Whether he is also the author of the two serenatas in this recording cannot be established, but it is quite possible.

The shortest piece is an example of a pastoral, in German a Schäferspiel. It is about Amoene (soprano) and Philander (alto) who love each other, and Myrtillo (bass) who tries to win Amoene's heart. Strephan (tenor) then comes to their rescue and makes Myrtillo see the errors of his ways and recognize that Amoene and Philander are meant for each other. The name of the addressee of this piece is nowhere mentioned. Interesting, and evidence of Stölzel's originality is that this serenata is not concluded with a chorus. After a short duet of the two lovers Myrtillo sings a recitative in which he expresses his regret and wishes them well, and then the work is concluded with an instrumental movement, a gigue scored for the full orchestra, including trumpets and timpani.

The first disc is entirely devoted to Alles, was sonst lieblich heißet. This is a serenata of the kind one could call 'laudatory'. At the start is doesn't look that way. After a Sinfonia for the full orchestra, which includes a pair of trumpets, the four singers are representing themselves, as it were, claiming that they are the most important of all voices. The soprano begins by saying there is no match for her, as "in tenderness and height I go far above all voices", but the others disagree, and the bass, for instance, states the soprano would be nothing without his foundation and support. This dialogue between the voices takes place through recitatives and arias, and is concluded by the soprano, saying: "this dispute is itself the origin of sweet unity: if your delightful song had no difference in high and low, where would it be, the euphony drawing heart and ears to it?" The voices then sing duets, the soprano with the tenor and the alto with the bass, as to demonstrate that "no consonance can arise unless sundered voices are wed".
But this dialogue then turns out to be the prelude to a eulogy on the virtues of Prince Günther, as "the sweetest strains of the most delightful tunes don't approach Virtue's melodious sound". The soprano's recitative says it all: "O most highly perfect Harmony that is found here. Most Serene Highness, your noble life unites the beloved choir of virtues in the most beautiful harmony and sings its wonderfully beautiful melody to the world. Therefore, for this reason, universal glory remains yours". The soprano then declares her supremacy again, as she represents piety as the highest virtue, and the pious Prince's heart "steers toward every height and thinks of the heavenly more than of the earthly". The alto, tenor and bass are also representing virtues of Prince Günther, the latter praising him as "the foundation stone", on which his well-being will ever increase.

Like I said many of this kind of serenatas were written in the baroque era. It is a testimony to the creativity of their composers that so many of them are of excellent quality, despite their often bootlicking texts. The overall quality of the text of this piece is above average, and if it was indeed written by Stölzel himself it shows that he was a skilled poet as well. To this text Stölzel has written excellent music.

The arias are well written for the voices, Stölzel doesn't miss opportunities for word-painting, and there is a lot of variety in the instrumentation. In one of her arias the soprano says that Philomela sings to her glory, and both the violins and the singer then imitate the singing of a bird. Descending figures dominate the aria of the bass in which he states that music couldn't prevail without his foundation, just like the sky would be in danger of falling without the support of Atlas. When the soprano sings the glory of the Prince, a trumpet is heard - the instrument traditionally associated with royalty and nobility. Very beautiful is the alto aria in which "your grace's bright light" is compared with the sun's "light and bliss after the dark and dreary night". The instruments play colla parte with the voice, producing a magical effect, and this aria - unlike the others without a dacapo section - is concluded by a short solo of the flute.

In comparison the pastoral is simpler - in accordance with the convention. The arias are less demanding, there is less variation in instrumentation and there is less opportunity for word painting. But this relative simplicity has its charm too, especially as Stölzel has written some fine music. The alto aria in which Philander reminds Amoene of their love is particularly delightful because of the obbligato part for the flute.

Over the last years I have heard a number of recordings with vocal music by Stölzel. The more of his music I'm hearing the more I am convinced Stölzel belongs to the very best composers of the German baroque. I rate him as high as Bach, Telemann, Graupner and Fasch. It is a great shame so many of his works have disappeared, in particular his dramatic works. But we should be thankful for what has survived, and for the fact that some musicians are willing to explore his music and perform and record it. The most prominent among them is Ludger Rémy, who is responsible for most recent recordings of Stölzel's music. And he has always been able to attract first-rate singers and players to make sure Stölzel's works receive the best possible interpretations. It isn't any different this time. All four singers give splendid performances, in particular in the arias. They capture their character very well, and the blending of the voices with the instruments is immaculate. I had liked them to sing the recitatives with a little more rhythmic freedom, though. The instrumental ensemble is colourful and the effects Stölzel makes use of are realised very well. The individual members of the ensemble show their great skills in the obbligato parts in the arias.

This recording of serenatas by Stölzel is a winner in every respect. One should be very greatful to Ludger Rémy for bringing this music to the attention of today's audiences. I hope he will continue to explore Stölzel's oeuvre which for sure contains many more treasures.

Johan van Veen (© 2008)

Relevant links:

Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel
Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel

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