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Hieronymus PRAETORIUS (1560 - 1629): "Organ Works"

Friedhelm Flamme, organ

rec: August 1 - 4, 2007, Tangermünde, St. Stephanskirche
CPO - 777 345-2 (2 CDs) (© 2012) (1.33'45")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Agnus Dei; Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam; Gloria in excelsis Deo/Et in terra summum; In exitu Israel de Aegypto; Kyrie summum; Lucis Creator optime; Magnificat 1. toni; Magnificat 2. toni; Magnificat 3. toni; Magnificat 4. toni; Magnificat 5. toni; Magnificat 6. toni; Magnificat 7. toni; Magnificat 8. toni; Magnificat germanice; Sanctus summum; Sequentia: Sancti Spiritus adsit nobis gratia; Veni Creator Spiritus; Veni Redemptor Gentium; Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist

In the 16th and 17th centuries organists were highly valued in North-Germany. They played a key role at the music scene in the various towns and cities and belonged to the highest-paid musicians of their time. They had some of the largest and most splendid organs at their disposal, and that certainly goes for Hamburg. It was one of the main centres of organ building in Europe; the names of several organ builders are still famous, such as Scherer, Fritsche, Stellwagen and Schnitger.

During the last quarter of the 16th and the first half of the 17th century the members of the Praetorius family were the dominating figures in Hamburg. Jakob Praetorius was organist of St. Jakobi until his death in 1586. He was then succeeded by Hieronymus, who had already been his father's substitute from 1582. Three of Hieronymus's sons also became organists: Jakob, who occupied this position in St Petri; Johann who was organist of St Nikolai, and Michael. The latter died at a young age in 1624 in Antwerp where he probably was a pupil of John Bull.

Hieronymus Praetorius has become mainly known as an organist, but the largest part of his output comprises vocal music. He was well acquainted with the Venetian polychoral style, and he was one of the first in North-Germany to compose music for two to four choirs. The largest part of his vocal oeuvre is on Latin texts, and this bears witness to the fact that Luther didn't favour a complete breakaway from a long tradition of singing music in Latin during the liturgy. We also know from Bach's time in Leipzig that parts of the mass, especially the Kyrie and Gloria, could be sung in Latin. This explains that most organ works by Praetorius are based on Latin chants, and were written for the alternatim practice.

The main source for his organ works is the so-called Visby Tablature, named after the largest city at the Swedish island Gotland where the tablature is preserved. It was put together by Jakob Praetorius's pupil Berendt Petri. Only for the eight Magnificats and the chorale fantasias Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam and Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist the authorship is indicated. The other works recorded here are attributed to Hieronymus Praetorius on the basis of a stylistic analysis.

The Magnificats comprise three verses; only those in the 7th and 8th tone have four. In some Praetorius offers two alternative versions for one verse. The texture is always the same: the first verse has the cantus firmus in the tenor, the second in the descant, and the third in the bass. In the first verse the cantus firmus is most clearly exposed, whereas in the other two the material is treated much more freely. In three Magnificats we find an indication that the descant part has to be played on a separate manual. This was to become common practice in the many chorale arrangements which were produced during the 17th and 18th centuries. The two chorale fantasias by Praetorius also bear witness to this practice. In the Magnificat 7. toni Praetorius includes the chorale Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein.

The other pieces based on Latin chants are part of the morning and evening service respectively. Considering that most of the works on these discs were intended for alternatim performance it would have been interesting to hear them in this form. In the case of the Magnificats a performance of the organ verses only isn't that much of a problem because they are quite long and can stand on their own. It is far less satisfying in, for instance, Gloria in excelsis Deo/Et in terra summum as here the individual verses are much shorter; the last takes about 15 seconds. As a result this work loses some of its coherence.

That said, there is every reason to be thankful for this recording which is part of CPO's highly interesting series devoted to organ works of the North German baroque. Friedhelm Flamme has developed into a specialist in this kind of repertoire and once again delivers fine performances. The organ is well suited to the music: it was built by the Hamburg organ builder Scherer, and therefore of the kind Hieronymus Praetorius was acquainted with. It was partly reconstructed in the early 1990s by Alexander Schuke Orgelbau in Potsdam. About half of the original pipes have been preserved; the rest could be reconstructed. The pitch is a=486', the tuning meantone after (Michael) Praetorius.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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