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Gottfried August HOMILIUS (1714 - 1785): "Habe deine Lust an dem Herrn - Motetten II"

sirventes berlin
Dir: Stefan Schuck

rec: Oct 7 - 9 & Nov 16, 2013, Berlin-Oberschöneweide, Christuskirche
Carus - 83.266 (© 2014) (54'06")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/(D)
Cover & track-list

Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot a 4 (HoWV V.3); Dennoch bleib ich stets an dir a 4 (HoWV V.6); Der Herr ist meine Stärke a 4 (HoWV V.7); Deo dicamus gratias a 6 (HoWV IV.2); Die Elenden sollen essen a 6 (HoWV V.10); Die richtig für sich gewandelt haben (II) a 4 (HoWV V.38); Domine ad adiuvandum me a 6 (HoWV IV.1); Habe deine Lust an dem Herrn a 4 (HoWV V.42); Ich will den Herrn loben a 4 (HoWV V.17); Kommt her und sehet an die Wunder Gottes a 4 (HoWV V.21); Lasset euch begnügen a 4 (HoWV V.23); Magnificat a 4 in C (HoWV IV.3); Mir hast du Arbeit gemacht a 4 (HoWV V.47); Siehe, des Herrn Auge siehet a 4 (HoWV V.52); Wo ist ein solcher Gott a 8 in 2 cori (HoWV V.32)

The motet was one of the main genres of sacred music in the renaissance. In the baroque period it lost its position. German composers of the first half of the 17th century still composed motets, although their character changed in that elements of the modern concertato style as it had emerged in Italy were incorporated. Towards the end of the century the motet almost disappeared, largely under the influence of the growing attraction of the cantata which in the first half of the 18th century embraced elements of opera in its sequence of recitatives and arias.

Some composers still wrote motets, such as Georg Philipp Telemann and Johann Sebastian Bach. But many of these - and certainly almost all of Bach's motets - were written for special occasions, in particular funerals. The motet was still a fixed part of the Lutheran liturgy, but in most churches old collections of motets were in use, dating from the early 17th century. In the second half of the 18th century an increasing number of composers turned towards the genre of the motet, such as Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Johann Philipp Kirnberger, Johann Friedrich Doles and Johann Adam Hiller. The latter published five volumes with motets which bears witness to the growing popularity of the genre.

The motets of this time include traditional and modern elements. One the one hand they paid homage to the art of counterpoint as it had come down to them from the past, including Johann Sebastian Bach, the teacher of several of them. On the other hand they attempted "to demonstrate their skills in the modern style, with simple but inventive and moving melodies and harmonies" (Hermann Max). One of the most prolific and versatile composers 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.

He composed a number of cantatas and oratorios which were performed well into the 19th century. In comparison his motets have remained largely unknown until our time. In his collections Hiller included six of his motets, and these have become relatively well-known and were reprinted in the 19th and 20th centuries. This is certainly largely due to the emergence of choral societies, not only of professional singers but also of amateurs. The style of motets from Homilius' time, including his own, must have fit them as "[the] music is not intended to convince through its compositional refinement, but to speak directly to the heart, to reach the knowledgeable as well as the ordinary members of church congregations", Uwe Wolf states in his liner-notes. That said, some motets are quite demanding, such as Dennoch bleib ich stets an dir, with its almost instrumental figures, ending with a brilliant fugue.

Homilius' motets come in various textures. Some are settings of biblical passages, in particular from the Book of Psalms. In other motets a biblical text is combined with a free text, often a chorale, treated as a cantus firmus, sung by the upper voices (Mir hast du Arbeit gemacht, with a chorale on the melody of O Traurigkeit, o Herzeleid) or sometimes in the tenor (Siehe, des Herrn Auge siehet; the chorale is on the melody of Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz). A variant of the latter is the funeral motet Die richtig für sich gewandelt haben which is a combination of a biblical text, two chorales and an 'aria'. This form is part of a tradition in Germany which was used, for instance, by various members of the Bach family; the most famous example is Johann Sebastian's motet Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied. It shows the mixture of old and modern elements in Homilius' motets. That also goes for the use of the form of the fugue in several motets, for instance Der Herr ist meine Stärke and Die Elenden sollen essen.

A specially notable element in Homilius' motets is text expression. There are various examples of a direct connection between text and music. In Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot Homilius makes the contrast in the text clearly audible through the opposition of solo and tutti. "When thou seest the naked" (solo) is followed by the order "cover him", which is sung by the tutti. Some striking examples can be found in the Magnificat in C. "Fecit potentiam" (he hath sheweth strength) is sung unisono, underlining the Lord's power. On "deposuit potentes" the voices enter successively, suggesting that the Lord puts down the mighty from their seats, one by one. "Esurientes" (the hungry) is sung by a solo voice in a short passage with chromaticism. This Magnificat as well as Domine ad adiuvandum me and Deo dicamus gratias bear witness to the fact that Latin was still very much part of the Lutheran liturgy, as we know also from the oeuvre of Bach.

Since the start of this century Carus explores the oeuvre of Homilius with the publication of scores and the release of discs. In 2004 a first disc with motets was released, performed by the Kammerchor Stuttgart, directed by Frieder Bernius. It delivered impressive performances, and I expressed the hope that they would record more. Instead we get a disc with the vocal ensemble sirventes berlin, an ensemble I had never heard of. But I have not been disappointed. This disc once again demonstrates the impressive quality of Homilius' motets which received outstanding performances ny this vocal ensemble. The sometimes demanding rhythms come off very well, and the sound has the right amount of transparency. The cantus firmus in the tenor of Siehe, des Herrn Auge siehet is clearly audible, and the delivery is generally excellent. The solo episodes are nicely sung by members of the ensemble which comprises 22 singers, slightly less than the Kammerchor Stuttgart.

With these two discs about half of Homilius' output in the genre of the motets is available on disc. I very much hope that we have not to wait another ten years before the rest of his motets will be recorded.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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