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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): Ich hoffete aufs Licht - "Funeral Music for Emperor Karl VII."

Gabriele Hierdeis, Annegret Kleindopf, soprano; Dmitry Egorov, alto; Ulrike Andersen, contralto; Georg Poplutz, Benjamin Kirchner, tenor; Nils Cooper, Stephan Schreckenberger, bass
La Stagione Frankfurt
Dir: Michael Schneider

rec: March 20, 2010 (live), Magdeburg, Konzerthalle Georg Philipp Telemann
CPO - 777 603-2 (© 2011) (62'53")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E

In recent years a considerable number of vocal works by Georg Philipp Telemann have been rediscovered, performed and recorded. So far one category has largely escaped attention: the funeral music which is represented in his oeuvre with 23 compositions, catalogued under the number 4. Unfortunately many of them have been lost or have survived in fragments. Only 13 have come down to us complete. One of them is the music Telemann composed at the occasion of the death of Charles VII, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, in 1745.

This happened in the midst of a turbulent time in European history. Since 1744 The major powers were involved in the Second Silesian War which was part of the Austrian War of Succession (1740-1748). It was only three years before his death that Charles had been crowned emperor, in 1742. His death had an immediate effect on Hamburg. It had the status of free imperial city and therefore stood under the emperor's direct rule. Its position was not unchallenged as it was under permanent threat of Denmark. Obviously this had everything to do with the city's position as part of the Hanseatic League and its prosperity.

Obviously the death of the emperor caused the city council great concern and made them proclaim a four-week period of state mourning. No organ playing, church music or any other musical performances were allowed and all means of entertainment were prohibited. On Sunday 14 March a funeral music for Charles VII was to be performed in all five main churches of the city. The pastor of the St.-Katharinen-Kirche, Johann Joachim Daniel Zimmermann, was asked to write the libretto, and Telemann, in his position as music director of Hamburg, was to set his text to music. The fact that the music should be performed in all churches on the same day caused considerable problems. For the liturgical music Telemann had only limited forces at his disposal: eight singers and 18 players. On other occasions these were moving around from one church to another on consecutive Sundays. On this occasion Telemann had to divide them over the five churches. In order to make all performances possible he took two measures. The first was to attract additional musicians from elsewhere: Altona, Wilster and Schwerin. Secondly, this funeral music is scored for two voices: one part is for a high voice (soprano, tenor), the other part for a low voice (alto, bass). For all recitatives, accompagnati and arias Telemann prescribed either cantus (soprano) or alto. As in the first aria he specifies the scoring as soprano or tenor one may conclude that he leaves it to the performer to decide which voice should be used for every individual section of the work.

The libretto is a compilation of biblical passages, stanzas from hymns and free poetry. The works opens with a dictum - a quotation from the Bible -, taken from the book of Job (30, vs 26): "I hoped in the light, and darkness comes". The first part is largely a lament on the death of the emperor and an expression of fear about the possible consequences. The virtues of Charles VII are also pointed out. In the second part God is asked for help. At the same time trust in God is expressed, for instance with a stanza from the hymn Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt: "He who hopes in God and trusts in him will never come to harm". This is connected with a prayer for the new emperor who is going to be elected.

Once again it is hard not to be impressed by the creativity of the composer in setting this libretto to music. The instrumental scoring is relatively limited, with two trumpets, timpani, strings and bc. The inclusion of trumpets may surprise, in particular as they participate in the first part of the cantata which focuses on lamenting about the emperor's death. But they play with mutes all the time, and this has a spellbinding effect. The expressive highlight of the first part is the alto aria 'Lasst uns Klagen' (Let us lament). In the last line of the A part - "ach, verblichner Kayser, ach!" (oh, departed emperor, oh) - the tutti join at the word "ach". In the second part the dictum 'My harp has become a lament, and my pipe a mournful tune' (Job 30, vs 31) is full of dissonants and chromaticism. The orchestra depicts the winds in the bass aria 'Aber, wie Winde die Stoppeln zerstreuen' (But, just as winds scatter the stubble). The most moving part is the soprano aria 'Wir knieen, o Versöhner, hier': "We kneel, O Reconciler, here, before your Father and before you; you yourself and through you we ask for peace, oh, for peace". It is followed by a simple setting of three lines from Martin Luther's German Litany. The closing chorus is of the same intensity: "O you people of the German seed, call with lament, call each day: God! Grant peace to your land, happiness and health to every estate, amen, amen!"

Telemann has found a perfect way to give voice to the emotions, the fear and the longing for a lasting peace of the citizens of Hamburg. The interpreters manage to make this audible, or even felt, through their performance. There are no weak links in the line-up of singers: everyone of them explores the content of their parts to the full. In the tutti their voices blend perfectly. The orchestral score is realised with great sensitivity and expresses the emotions just as well as the singers.
The size of the vocal and instrumental ensemble is probably more according to normal practice on festive occasions than to the practice on 17 March 1745. This can be justified by the fact that on 29 April of that year the funeral music was repeated in a public performance. Here the ensemble would certainly have been larger than what Telemann had at his disposal on that particular Sunday.

This disc is another monument for a composer who never ceases to surprise, please or touch.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

La Stagione Frankfurt

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