musica Dei donum

CD reviews

MORITZ, Landgrave of Hesse (1572 - 1632): "Sacred & Secular Works"

Weser-Renaissance Bremen
Dir: Manfred Cordes

rec: Oct 30 - Nov 2, 2010, Zierenberg, Stadtkirche
CPO - 777 661-2 (© 2014) (71'13")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/(D)
Cover & track-list

Affectus cordis vitiosi a 6; Amor et io si pien di meraviglia a 4; Andreas simplex piscator a 5; Aventuroso si piu d'altro terreno a 4; Balleta; Benedetto sia 'l giorno a 4; Caecus is est a 6; Cantate Domino a 8; Concussam ventis a 6; Courrente de Mad. la premiere Fille d'Hessena; Discipulis tribus a 6; Eia age, laetemur a 8; Fuga a 4 in a minor; Ich ruffe zu dem Herren a 12; In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr a 5; Kom heyliger Geist Herre Gott a 4; Landtgraves Almana; Lobe den Herren a 12; Paduana del molto valeroso Sigr. Gasparo Widemarchero - Gagliarda del Sopradetto; Pavana della Signora Elisabetha d'Hassia a 5; Pavana Malinconia a 5; Perch'al viso d'amor a 4; Quam bona, quam suavis a 8; Se 'l pensier che mi strugge a 4; Sey Lob, Ehr, Preiß und Herrlichkeit a 4; Una candida cerba a 4; Unser Vatter a 4; Ut lanis ovium a 6; Zu Gott dem Herren a 4

Maria Skiba, Ana Jobrant Dalnäs, soprano; David Erler, alto; Jan Van Elsacker, Mirko Ludwig, tenor; Kees Jan de Koning, bass; Frithjof Smith, cornett; Simen Van Mechelen, Cas Gevers, sackbut; Birgit Bahr, dulcian; Irina Kisselova, violin; Christian Heim, viola da gamba; Margit Schultheiß, harp; Joachim Held, lute (soloa); Thomas Ihlenfeldt, chitarrone; Detlef Bratschke, organ

The name of Moritz, Landgrave of Hesse, is inextricably linked with two composers: Heinrich Schütz and John Dowland. In every account of these composers' lives and careers his name crops up. He played a crucial role in Schütz's development as a composer, whereas Dowland played at his court in Kassel for a little less than half a year in 1594/95. It is little known that Moritz was also active as a composer, although now and then instrumental pieces are included in recordings of music from his time. This disc is the first entirely devoted to his compositional output, and probably also the first which includes vocal pieces from his pen.

Moritz was a man of the renaissance, and had all the characteristics of an uomo universale. He was interested in science and art, knew Greek and Latin and spoke several modern languages fluently. His broad orientation was the result of an excellent education under the guidance of his father, Willhelm IV, nicknamed 'The Wise'. Moritz was also given a nickname, 'Der Gelehrte' - the Learned. In 1587 he took his degree at the University of Marburg which had been founded by his grandfather.

When he succeeded his father as landgrave he established his own educational institution which soon gained more than regional importance. This was helpful in extending his network as some of the students from elsewhere were employed for some time at his court before they left. Kassel was a specially important place for Calvinists. Moritz' grandfather had turned the landgraviate into a heartland of Protestantism. Wilhelm IV had close contacts with French Huguenots and corresponded with the leading Calvinist theologian Theodore de Bèze. Under Moritz the Calvinist orientation became even stronger and some of its followers sought refuge in Kassel.

Music was especially important to Moritz. He received his musical education from Georg Otto who was Hofkapellmeister since 1586. Under Moritz the chapel was continuously extended, also with foreign musicians. John Dowland was only one of many artists from outside the region who worked for some time at his court. In 1598 Moritz passed through Weissenfels where he heard Heinrich Schütz sing while visiting the inn of his father Christoph. Moritz was so impressed that he wanted Heinrich to enter his service as a choirboy. This happened in 1599. Schütz attended the school in Kassel which Moritz had founded and became a pupil of Georg Otto. Moritz came increasingly under the influence of Italian music and this inspired him to send Schütz to Venice, to become a pupil of Giovanni Gabrieli. This had a lasting influence on Schütz's development as a composer. After his return Schütz served Moritz for a couple of years, but after two years he moved to the court in Dresden. Moritz let him go, unwillingly, but without any hard feelings. At that time his chapel had been extended to 28 members, both singers and instrumentalists.

The English author and musician Henry Peacham visited Kassel on his travels. In his The Compleat Gentleman (enlarged edition 1627) he wrote about Moritz: "But above others who carries away the palm for excellency, not only in music, but in whatsoever is to be wished in a brave Prince, is the yet living Maurice Landgrave of Hessen, of whose own compositions I have seen eight or ten several sets of motets, and solemn music, set purposely for his own chapel; where for the great honour of some festival and many times for his recreation only he is his own organist". At his court the latest music was performed, but as a composer Moritz was rather conservative. He never made use of the basso continuo, with the exception of his setting of Psalm 150, which closes the present disc. His admiration for the Venetian style explains that several of his compositions make use of the technique of cori spezzati. The present disc includes various pieces for eight and twelve voices. Even in the six-part Caecus is est he splits the ensemble into a high and a low section. Considering the presence of many instruments at his court it is plausible to perform the vocal works with instruments which either support the voices or - in the polychoral pieces - replace some of them.

A specific part of his oeuvre are the strophic songs. In 1562 Ambrosius Lobwasser, although a Lutheran, had translated the Huguenot Psalter into German, with related melodies. He did so out of literary interest, but as soon as the collection was printed it found wide dissemination across Germany and Switzerland. Moritz composed melodies of his own to these versified psalms. An example is Zu Gott dem Herren. Hymns in the Lutheran tradition are In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr and Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott, whose text is partly from Luther's pen.

The second half of this disc is devoted to secular music. It includes various madrigals on texts by Petrarca. These are clearly inspired by the oeuvre of Italian composers of the late 16th century, but in regard to text illustration - often referred to as madrigalisms - Moritz is rather modest. Among the instrumental works are pieces for lute solo and for an ensemble of instruments, mostly dances.

Historically speaking this disc is very important as it reveals a part of Moritz' activities which is barely known. Its significance is not confined to that, because it also gives us some insight into the artistic climate of his time. Moritz was not the only aristocrat who excelled in various disciplines and created the atmosphere in which musicians and other artists could blossom. From a musical point of view one should not compare his music to the oeuvre of the best composers of his time. Even so, its quality is quite respectable, and there is every reason to welcome this selection. Weser-Renaissance is the ideal advocate: Manfred Cordes always manages to attract the right people for his projects, and that leads to fully idiomatic and compelling interpretations.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Weser-Renaissance Bremen

CD Reviews