musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714 - 1788): "Hamburgische Festmusiken - Cantatas for Inaugurations"

Himlische Cantorey; Les Amis de Philippe
Dir: Ludger Rémy

rec: Oct 13 - 16, 2004, Bremen, Radio Bremen (Studio)
CPO - 777 108-2 (© 2006) (73'27")

Amen! Lob und Preis und Stärke (H 834 / Wq 226); Einführung für Pastor Joh. Christoph Friderici an St. Petri (Der Herr lebet) (H 821g / Wq 251); Einführung für Pastor Joh. Jacob Schäffer an St. Nikolai (Herr, Gott, du bist unsere Zuflucht) (H 821m / Wq 253); Leite mich nach deinem Willen (H 835 / Wq 227); Mein Heiland, meine Zuversicht (H 830 / Wq 221)

[HC] Julia Kleiter, Veronika Winter, soprano; Ulrike Andersen, contralto; Henning Voss, alto; Henning Kaiser, Jan Kobow, tenor; Ralf Grobe, Sebastian Noack, bass

It was only when Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was appointed Musikdirektor in Hamburg that he started to compose a large amount of religious music. This, of course, was part of his job, but the fact that he had applied for this job is an indication that he didn't see any problem in writing music for the church and for specific occasions. It has taken a long time before the religious repertoire of Emanuel has been taken seriously, and it still doesn't belong to the core of religious music performed by today's choirs and orchestras. In his programme notes Ludger Rémy confesses that - considering the quality and depth of Emanuel's sacred works - he didn't understand the neglect of or negative view on this repertoire. "When I set out to write this text, I discovered the reason why: the compositions involved are 'occasional works', so we read, musical ephemera, forgettable and insignificant. The texts referring to a specific occasion, having to do with 'current events', also do their part here". He points out that the very term 'occasional works' has a negative connotation, and then rightly adds: "But are not all cantatas (even those by Johann Sebastian Bach) first and foremost just that: occasional works?"

That the compositions recorded here have remained unknown and largely unnoticed has also to do with the fact that they were never printed. That is a fate they share with many sacred music by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, as he himself wrote: "I have composed a rather large number of vocal pieces for the church and various festivities, but none of these has been published".

The two main works on this disc are so-called 'inauguration cantatas'. The musicologist Heinrich Miesner (1929) wrote: "It as not until Neumeister had been appointed to the St. Jacobi in 1715 that the musical portion for deacons and preachers was designed in the same way as for the induction of a Hauptpastor (...), which, as always, ocurred with large numbers of the public in attendance." Telemann had developed a form for these inaugural cantatas which Emanuel took over. Apparently Bach's compositions met with great approval. "The great popularity enjoyed by the induction compositions precisely in Hamburg can be recognized from a sentence from the Acta of 1789: 'The extraordinary compositions of the ordination and induction of the preachers (...) can by the way be maintained without changes'."

Carl Philipp Emanuel has written 18 such works, and these consist of two parts, performed before and after the sermon. They scoring was mostly sumptuous, including trumpets and timpani, which were only used in the first part, the second part being more intimate in character. That certainly has to do with the fact that in the second part the preacher's late predecessor was commemorated. The composer was supposed to be paid for his work, and Bach asked very high prices for his cantatas. Several cases have been documented where the preacher wasn't willing to pay such a high price.

The cantata Herr, Gott, du bist unsere Zuflucht was written in 1785 for the inauguration of deacon Johann Jacob Schäffer in St. Nikolai. The author of the text is unknown. But as the texts of the inaugural cantatas sometimes were written by the person to be inducted himself it is possible that the deacon wrote the text. As the text is somewhat philosophical in character and makes little use of Biblical idiom one may conclude Herr Schäffer was a supporter of the Enlightenment.
The main subject of the cantata is that God is '"from eternity to eternity" and that "a thousand years are for you (God) as the day that passed yesterday and a night watch". There are several references to the Day of Judgement here, for instance in the tenor aria 'Wenn einst vor deinem Schelten' - with the character indication 'feurig' (with fire) - whose features are fast ascending and descending figures. In the bass aria 'Schon hör ich die Posaune schallen' (Already I hear the trumpets sounding) the use of a trumpet is inevitable. It is returning in the chorale which closes the first part as it enters at the third line: "Die Posaune Gottes klingt" (The trumpet of God sounds).
The more intimate character of the second part is reflected by the bass aria 'Sehr, Gottes Klarheit füllt sein Haus' (behold, God's brightness fills this house), with the indication 'mäßig langsam' (moderately slowly). Its two sections contrast strongly; in the second half the words "heil'ge Stille" (holy quiet) is followed by a pause. The aria 'Zeige dich der Herde Blicken' (Show yourself to the herd's gazing) in which the tenor is accompanied by two transverse flutes, an obbligato bassoon and strings says: "If you swear to graze us truly, then we'll gladly share joys and sorrows with you". Here there is a strong contrast between "joys" and "sorrows" ("Freuden" - "Leiden").

The text of the other inaugural cantata is different. It was written by 'candidate' Lütke, and probably reflects the views of Pastor Johann Christoph Friderici, who was known as a representative of Lutheran orthodoxy. He was inaugurated in St. Peter in 1775. In the text much more attention is given to the true faith, as the alto recitative 'Gesegnet sei uns denn der Mann' says: "Blessed be the man who teaches us God's laws, who many, God, converts to you; who, when our heart fears your judgment, refreshes us with his consoling words; who, when our foot is sinking to ruin, warns us, punishes, and quickly guides us back (...)". The Word of God is the central element in this cantata, as show the bass aria 'Das Wort des Höchsten' (The word of the Most High also strengthens amid thunderstorms) and the chorale 'Herr unser Hort!' (Lord, our stronghold! Give us this word, for you have given it to us. Let it be my portion, let it be my salvation and power for eternal life). And therefore the new preacher is especially hailed as new teacher of the congregation. The hymns used in this cantata are also more traditional than those in the first inaugural cantata.

In addition to these two cantatas three short choruses are performed. Leite mich nach deinem Willen is scored for four voices with an orchestra of two horns, two oboes, strings and bc and written for Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia. The other two were originally solo songs with keyboard accompaniment and were later reworked for four voices and orchestra for liturgical purposes. Mein Heiland, meine Zuversicht is characterised by strong dissonances and dynamic contrasts.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach once wrote that it also depends on the execution whether a work is good or bad. Not all music gives its true character away by reading the score. Therefore a performance like this can lead to a real appreciation which wouldn't result from studying the score. Fortunately the interpretation by the Himlische Cantorey and Les Amis de Philippe is of the highest order. The sound of the tutti is very impressive and the harmony and dynamics are immaculately realised. In addition the performances of the solo parts which is divided among the members of the Himlische Cantorey is ideal: the whole range of emotions in the arias and recitatives is expressed exceptionally well. This production should convince anyone not spoilt by prejudice that Carl Philipp Emanuel's sacred music is well worth performing. May many recordings of this repertoire follow.

Johan van Veen (© 2008)

CD Reviews