musica Dei donum
Gottfried August Homilius: 'Sehet, welch eine Liebe - Motets'
Dir.: Frieder Bernius
rec: February 2004, Reutlingen-Gönningen, Evangelische Kirche
Carus - 83.210 (58'53")
Da es nun Abend ward a 8 (HoWV V.35);
Die mit Tränen säen a 4 (HoWV V.11);
Die richtig für sich gewandelt haben (I) a 4 (HoWV V.37);
Herr, lehre uns bedenken a 4 (HoWV V.44);
Herr, wenn Trübsal da ist a 4 (HoWV V.15);
Ihr sollt nicht sorgen und sagen a 4 (HoWV V.19);
Machet die Tore weit a 8 (HoWV V.25);
Ob jemand sündiget a 4 (HoWV V.26);
Sehet, welch eine Liebe a 4 (HoWV V.48);
Seid fröhlich in Hoffnung a 8 (HoWV V.49);
Selig sind die Toten a 4 (HoWV V.50);
Siehe, das ist Gottes Lamm a 8 (HoWV V.51);
So gehst du nun, mein Jesu, hin a 4 (HoWV V.53);
Unser Leben währet siebenzig Jahr a 4 (HoWV V.55);
Unser Vater in dem Himmel a 4 (HoWV V.27);
Was hast du, Mensch a 8 (HoWV V.28);
Wünschet Jerusalem Glück (II) a 8 (HoWV V.34)
In the first half of the 17th century the motet was one of the main genres of liturgical music in Protestant Germany. Many composers including Heinrich Schütz wrote pieces to be used in service. But in the second half of the century relatively few motets were written. In the 18th century the motet remained an organic part of the liturgy however. Mostly compositions from the 16th or early 17th century were used.
In the first half of the 18th century we see a gradual renaissance of the motet. Georg Philipp Telemann, for instance, wrote a number of them which could be used in service. Bach's motets, though, were not written for liturgical use, but for special occasions, like funerals.
A composer who wrote a considerable number of motets was Gottfried August Homilius. He was born in Rosenthal in Saxony, and received his main musical education in Dresden, where he obtained a position as organist. In 1735 he went to Leipzig to study law. It must be during this time that he became a pupil of Johann Sebastian Bach. In 1742 Homilius secured the position of organist at the Frauenkirche in Dresden. In 1755 he succeeded Theodor Christian Reinhold as cantor of the Kreuzkirche and musical director of the three principal churches in Dresden, a position he held until his death.
Today Homilius is mainly known among organists because of his many chorale preludes. But he also composed at least ten oratorios and about two hundred cantatas. And then there are the more than sixty motets, which were hardly ever performed until a complete edition was published in 2000. Most motets on this disc are recorded here for the first time.
The motets by Homilius reflect their liturgical purpose. Most of them are rather short, and all of them - at least those recorded here - are on texts from the Bible, either the New Testament or the Book of Psalms. The inclusion of chorales in about half of the motets on this disc also reflects their liturgical use. In the liner notes, Uwe Wolf characterises the use of chorales as a way to make a connection between 'art' and 'rite'.
These motets are written in the musical language of the period broadly falling between baroque and classicism. They are often homophonic, although Homilius does make use of counterpoint now and then. But they are also strongly connected to the past, both in the use of chorales and the writing for double choir.
There is quite a lot of variety here. Some of the motets contain elements of dialogue. In the first of the programme, Da es nun Abend ward (Matthew 20, 8), the basses play a solo role on the third line where the lord of the vineyard is quoted as saying: "call the workers and give them their pay". And in Ihr sollt nicht sorgen und sagen (Matthew 6, 31-32) the basses state "you should not worry and say", after which the other three voices sing "what are we to eat?"
The same kind of procedure is followed in Machet die Tore weit (Psalm 24, 7-10): choir I sings "Who is the King of Glory?" and choir II answers: "It is the Lord, strong and mighty".
In Was hast du, Mensch Homilius makes use of the two choirs to mark the central line in the motet: on the words "was rühmest du dich denn" (why do you boast) the two choirs join, sometimes singing unisono.
In Die mit Tränen säen (Psalm 126, 5-6), the contrast between the first two lines (They who sow with tears / will reap with joy), is underlined by the use of sighing figures in the first line and a melisma on the word "Freuden" (joy) in the second.
Words or phrases are singled out in several ways, by joining two choirs as in Was hast du, Mensch, or repetition of words like 'Glück' in Wünschet Jerusalem Glück, or by setting words to long-held notes, like 'ruhen' in Selig sind die Toten and 'Arbeit' in Unser Leben währet siebenzig Jahr. Very effective is the illustration of the last lines of that motet: "For all flees quickly away as on swift wings".
In the booklet Frieder Bernius tells how he became acquainted with these motets, and how much he was impressed while studying them. Having heard this recording I can fully understand this. These motets are outstanding compositions, and a very important addition to the choral repertoire of the 18th century.
The impressive quality of the compositions goes along with an equally impressive performance by the Kammerchor Stuttgart. The clarity of the choral sound, the immaculate phrasing and articulation, perfect intonation and the fine shaping of the musical lines as well as the way the text is treated - these characteristics make this definitely one of the finest choral releases of recent times. I strongly recommend this disc and express the hope that Frieder Bernius and his outstanding choir will give us the joy to hear more of Homilius's motets.
Johan van Veen (© 2005)
Gottfried August Homilius