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Johann STEFFENS (c1560 - 1616): "Die Musik und ein guter Wein - Madrigale & Balletti" (Music and good wine - Madrigals & ballets)

Himlische Cantorey; Hamburger Ratsmusik
Dir: Simone Eckert

rec: Feb 17 - 19, 2011, Eckernförde, St. Nikolai
CPO - 777 664-2 (© 2013) (67'45")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Bei guten Wein traurig zu sein; Der Kuckuck auf dem Zaune saß; Der Kuckuck hat sich zu Tod gefalln; [Der ander Teil] Der Kuckuck mit seinem Schalle; Die Musik und ein guter Wein; Frisch fröhlich wolln wir singen; Im Maien hört man die Hähnen krähen; Laßt uns zusammen in Gottes Namen singen; Kann auch der Liebe Band; Mein Lust und Freud in Traurigkeit; Midas, der große Rustephil; Mit Lust tät ich spazieren; Musik von alters her ist geehrt; Nun tret herbei ein jeder frei; Orpheus die Harfen schlug so fein; Paduana & Galliard I in d minor; Paduana & Galliard II in G/g minor; Paduana & Galliard XII in A/a minor; Paduana & Galliard XIV in A/a minor; Paduana & Galliard XVIII in A/a minor; Wer leben will ohn Schmerz; Wir armen Karthäuser

[1] div, Ander Theil außerlesener Paduanen und Galliarden, 1609; [2] Johann Steffens, Newe teutsche weltliche Madrigalia und Balletten, 1619

[HC] Veronika Winter, Ina Siedlaczek, soprano; Hennig Voss, alto; Jan Kobow, tenor; Ekkehard Abele, bass
[HR] Simone Eckert, Hermann Hickethier, Barbara Hofmann, Irmelin Heiseke, Christian Zincke, viola da gamba; Ulrich Wedemeier, lute, theorbo, guitar

German music from the 17th century is regularly performed and recorded. Over the years I have reviewed many such recordings on this site. However, thise mostly concerned sacred works and instrumental music, including keyboard works. In comparison the number of reviews of secular music is limited. That is partly due to my preferences, but secular music is also far less often performed and recorded. The present disc focuses on a genre of vocal music which doesn't receive that much attention.

The decades around 1600 constitute a period in German music which is only partially explored. It is telling that the oeuvre of one of the most important composers of that time, Hans-Leo Hassler, is largely ignored. It is probably the interest in his contemporary Lassus which is the reason for this neglect. This observation is quite relevant for the disc reviewed here, because Hassler composed many madrigals on German text, and Steffens' compositions of this kind are strongly influenced by these.

Steffens was born around 1560 in Itzehoe in Holstein and was educated as an organist. In 1592 he became assistent to Jost Funcke, organist of the Johanniskirche in Lüneburg. When the latter died in 1593 Steffens succeeded him; he kept this post until his death. In this position he was one of the predecessors of the famous Georg Böhm. Organists were important people in northern Germany at the time, and often played a key role in music life in town. That was also the case with Steffens. The composition of German madrigals and ballets can be explained from his role in various events in Lüneburg, such as the banquets connected to the salt trade. Lüneburg owed its prosperity to the production and trade of salt. "The Voorbate, banquets held when the salt dividends were set, were important musical events outside the church. This number-one social event was celebrated every three years in the Remter, the abbey refectory. All those who were of rank and name (...) were treated to a sumptuous banquet. The town musicians and the church music societies performed on these occasions, and the organist himself accompanied the soloists and the ensembles on the positive organ. (...) Johann Steffens may have performed his instrumental music and secular madrigals on such occasions", Simone Eckert writes in the booklet.

Steffens is known to have published two collections of madrigals, in 1599 and 1619 respectively. The former collection which included pieces for four to eight voices has been lost. The madrigals performed by the Himlische Cantorey and the Hamburger Ratsmusik are from the second collection; they are all scored for five voices. They are rooted in the stile antico in which all the parts are of equal importance. They are performed here with one voice per part; some are sung a cappella, in others the voices are supported by the viols. Beim guten Wein traurig zu sein and Nun tret herbei ein jeder frei is sung by Jan Kobow alone, with the other parts performed by the viol consort and by bass viol and lute respectively. The texts are about the usual subjects such as love and wine, but there are also some more serious items, such as Musik von alters ist geehrt (Music has been honoured from time immemorial) which is reflected by the more sophisticated music. On the other hand, Wir armen Kartäuser (We poor Carthusians) has a satyrical character. The programme opens with Laßt uns zusammen in Gottes Namen singen (Let's sing together in God's name) with the second part Drum trinkt ohn Sorgen (So drink without worries), which shows that there was no watershed between the sacred and the profane. The texts are mostly anonymous, but there are also some which go back to the 16th century.

The German madrigals represent a genre which is hardly explored as yet. Whether one would like to hear more of such pieces is a matter of taste. As far as this disc is concerned I was more interested in the instrumental works which reflect the influence of English consort music. That was especially due to the presence of William Brade in northern Germany. One of the main genres in English consort music is the combination of a pavan and a galliard. This was embraced by German composers who wrote such pairs of their own or added the 'missing' movement to single pavans or galliards by English composers. The Paduana & Galliard X in d minor and the Paduana & Galliard XIV in A/a minor by Steffens fall into the latter category. The galliards are from the pen of Robert Bateman, a composer who assumedly worked at the Continent, although there is no documentary evidence for that. The two galliards which are the basis for Steffens' own compositions are in five parts, but in his article on Bateman in New Grove Andrew Ashbee states that it cannot be assumed that he himself was responsible for these five-part versions. If he was not, then we may assume that Steffens not only added a pavan of his own, but also composed additional parts to Bateman's galliards. (It is rather odd that the former is analysed in the liner-notes, but has not been recorded.) The Paduana II in G/g minor is notable for being based on a motif from Dowland's Lachrimae antiquae which is used as a kind of cantus firmus. The Paduana XVIII in A/a minor is dominated by chromaticism.

The largest part of Johann Steffens' output has been lost. The five pairs of pavans and galliards played here are his only extant instrumental works. Apart from the collection of madrigals of 1619 and a couple of sacred pieces no vocal music is known. His activities as an organist are documented by four organ works. It is nice that with this disc his name is put on the musical map of early 17th-century Germany. With this production Hamburger Ratsmusik lives up to its reputation of bringing obscure repertoire to our attention. The performance of the instrumental works could hardly be any better. How to perform the madrigals is not easy to say. Some may find these performances a bit too 'serious', but this way they are probably better up to repeated listening than if they were given more playful accounts. There is always the danger of exaggeration in this kind of repertoire, but the performers here have resisted the temptation to make too much of it.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Himlische Cantorey
Hamburger Ratsmusik

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