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Andreas HAMMERSCHMIDT (1611/12 - 1675): "Sacred Works"

Dir: Manfred Cordes

rec: Sept 26 & Oct 2, 2001, Blankenburg, Bartholomäuskirche
CPO - 999 846-2 (© 2003) (75'06")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Anima mea liquefacta est [1]; Christ lag in Todesbanden [2]; Da pacem Domine [1]; De profundis clamavi [1]; Ein jegliches hat seine Zeit [2]; Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ [2]; Herr, ich habe lieb die Stätte deines Hauses [2]; Herr unser Herrscher [2]; Herzlich lieb hab ich dich [2]; Inter brachia Salvatoris mei [1]; Nun danket alle Gott [2]; Nun lob mein Seel den Herren [2]; O Domine, quia ego servus tuus sum [1]; Paratum cor meum [1]; Vom Himmel hoch [2]; Wenn der Herr die Gefangenen [1]

Sources: [1] Motettae unius et duarum vocum, 1649; [2] Kirchen- und Tafelmusik, 1662

Susanne Rydén, Nele Gramß, soprano; Ralf Popken, alto; Harry van Berne, tenor; Harry van der Kamp, bass; Veronika Skuplik, Andreas Preuß, violin; Elfriede Stahmer, viola; Barbara Messmer, viola da gamba; Jenny Westman, viola da gamba, violone; William Wroth, Geerten Rooze, trumpet; Cas Gevers, Yuji Fujimoto, Manfred Cordes, Ina Starke, sackbut; Thomas Ihlenfeldt, chitarrone; Jörg Jacobi, organ

Andreas Hammerschmidt was one of the main composers of religious music in Germany in the mid-17th century. Today he is overshadowed by the towering figure of Heinrich Schütz, whom he greatly admired and who once wrote a laudatory poem for one of Hammerschmidt’s publications of music.

The date of his birth isn’t known for sure. He was born in Brüx in Bohemia, where his family belonged to the Protestant community. During the Thirty Years War Bohemia became Catholic again, and Hammerschmidt’s father decided to move to Freiberg in Saxony.
Very little is known about his musical education. Some quite important musicians and composers were active in Freiberg in the time Hammerschmidt lived there, like Christoph Demantius and Stephan Otto, but there is no firm evidence that he was their pupil, even though he certainly knew them.

In 1635 Hammerschmidt was appointed organist at the Petrikirche. The year after he published his first collection of music, Erster Fleiss, containing a number of instrumental suites.
In 1639 he moved to Zittau, where he became the organist of the Johanniskirche. It was his last position, and there he composed the largest part of his oeuvre. The position of organist was increasingly important, as he was responsible for composing and performing all church music and directing the soloists from the school choir and the instrumental ensemble of town musicians. In the early years in Zittau, though, Hammerschmidt – like so many of his colleagues in Germany – had to deal with the disastrous effects of the Thirty Years War.
His activities as composer and performer not only made him a man of reputation, but also brought him considerable wealth. In the early 1670’s he suffered from ill health. He died 1675; his tombstone calls him the Orpheus of Zittau.

Although Hammerschmidt was first and foremost active as an organist, no organ music by him has survived. But he composed a large number of vocal works, most of them in the Italian concertato style.
This recording contains pieces from two collections. The Motettae unius et duorum vocum of 1649 contain 20 sacred concertos for one or two voices with basso continuo, 18 of them on a Latin text. The Kirchen- und Tafelmusik of 1662 is a collection of 12 sacred concertos for 2 to 5 voices, 2 to 6 obbligato instruments and basso continuo, as well as 10 concertos for solo voice with instruments.
Most pieces of both collections are on biblical texts, the majority of them from the Old Testament, with a preference for the Book of Psalms. Not always the whole Psalm is composed; Hammerschmidt sometimes chooses a number of verses. The concertos of 1662 also contain a number of pieces on chorale melodies which were well known in the Protestant churches in Germany, like Vom Himmel hoch and Nun lob mein Seel den Herren.

Hammerschmidt’s works recorded here are a demonstration of his inventiveness in setting texts to music. Alternation between duple and triple meters is frequently used to divide a piece into sections. Some elements of the text are emphasized by repeating them. Hammerschmidt also uses textual elements as a kind of 'motto'. For instance, in two of the five stanzas of Luther's Easter hymn Christ lag in Todesbanden which are sung here this practice is applied. In the second the words "das macht alles unser Sünd" (our sin was the entire cause) is constantly repeated, in the fourth the motto is "ein wunderlicher Krieg" (a wonderful war). And in the last piece on this CD, the Christmas hymn Vom Himmel hoch, the words "gute neue Mär" (glad tidings) from the first stanza are repeated throughout the whole piece.

As one would expect in German religious music the text is vividly illustrated in the music. In Anima mea liquefacta est a long melisma is used to express languishing love ("amore langueo"), the rhetorical figure of exclamatio appears a couple of times in De profundis clamavi. And in Inter brachio Salvatoris mei the word "exaltabo" (I will praise) is repeated two times, every time at a higher pitch.
In Psalm 126 (Wenn der Herr die Gefangenen Zion erlösen wird) and the concerto Ein jegliches hat seine Zeit on a text from Ecclesiastes the contrasts in the text are imaginatively elaborated.

I am happy to be able to recommend this recording wholeheartedly. First of all, Hammerschmidt’s music isn’t well represented on CD. And considering the quality of his music and his historical importance this recording is most welcome.
The performance is generally outstanding, by first class singers and players. The two sopranos have quite contrasting voices, but blend well in the ensemble pieces. And all singers master the German language which is a prerequisite for a convincing performance of this kind of music.

I was wondering about the scoring of Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ. According to the booklet it is for alto, 2 trumpets, 4 trombones and b.c. But the solo part is sung by alto and tenor unisono. Perhaps the thought behind it is that the alto’s voice wasn’t strong enough to keep the balance with the wind instruments, in particular since the solo part is quite low and the low register is not the strength of those male altos, who don’t use their chest register.
In this piece bells are used on the Kyrie eleis with which every stanza ends. I could do without that, but I don't have any problems with it. The addition of chirping on the words "die Vogel unter dem Himmel" (the birds of the sky) in the first piece of this recording (Psalm 8) is rather kitschy.

The extensive liner notes are very informative. But the strict factual information leaves something to be desired. The first five stanzas of Luther’s hymn Christ lag in Todesbanden are performed. But who made a choice: Hammerschmidt or the performers? The booklet doesn’t tell.
And why does it say that stanzas 2 – 7 of Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ are by Luther, when only two stanzas are performed? The specification of the texts used by Hammerschmidt isn’t always correct either: ‘Paratum cor meum’ doesn’t use the verses 3 to 6 of Psalm 108, but verses 2 to 5.

But these are only minor criticisms of a recording I have thoroughly enjoyed and which I shall listen to regularly.

Johan van Veen (© 2003)

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