musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Martin Luther and his music

[I] "Mitten im Leben 1517" (In the midst of life 1517)
Calmus Ensemble; Lautten Compagney Berlin
Dir: Wolfgang Katschner
rec: Sept 19 - 22, 2016, Leipzig-Gundorf, Ev-Luth. Kirche
Carus - 83.477 (© 2016) (76'31")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Bummelierst du mir [9]; Wir zogen in das Feld [9]; Jobst VOM BRANDT (1517-1570): Lass rauschen, Sichele, rauschen [12]; Heinrich ISAAC (c1450-1517) / Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen [7] / Nun ruhen alle Wälder (BWV 392) [16]; JOSQUIN DESPREZ (c1455-1521): Missa L'homme armé (Agnus Dei); Scaramella va alla guerra [2]; Sit nomen Domini; Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594): Matona mia cara [15]; Nun grüß dich Gott, mein Mündlein rot [13]; Martin LUTHER (1483-1546): Mitten wir im Leben sind (arr. Bo Wiget) [3]; Vater unser im Himmelreich (arr. Sebastian Krause) [8]; Hans NEWSIDLER (c1508-1563) / Melchior NEWSIDLER (c1531-c1591): Wascha mesa [6] - Passa è mezo Lamillanesca [14] - Wascha mesa: Nachtanz [6]; Ludwig SENFL (c1490-1543): Ach Elslein, liebes Elselein (arr. Juan M.V. Garcia) [4]; Das Gläut zu Speyer [10]; Es hett ein Biedermann ein Weib [5]; Mir ist ein rot Goldfingerlein [12]; Thomas STOLTZER (c1480-1526): Herr, wie lang willt du mein so gar vergessen; trad: All mein Gedanken, die ich hab (arr. Sebastian Krause) [1]; Ach bittrer Winter (arr. Wolfgang Katschner); Gesegn dich Laub (arr. Ludwig Böhme); O Tannenbaum (arr. Ludwig Böhme); So treiben wir den Winter aus (arr. Ludwig Böhme); Johann WALTER (1496-1570): Beati immaculati in via; Stephan ZIRLER (c1518-1568): Ich will fürthin gut päpstlich sein [11]

Sources: [1] Lochamer Liederbuch, 1452-1460 [ms]; [2] Ottaviano Petrucci, ed., Harmonice musices odhecaton, 1501; [3] Ein Enchiridion oder Handbüchlein, 1524; [4] Johann Ott, ed., Hundert vndainundzweintzig newe Lieder, 1534; [5] div, Reuterliedlein und Gassenhawerlein, 1535; [6] Johannes Petreius, ed., Ein newgeordnet kuenstlich Lautenbuch, 1536; [7] Georg Forster, ed., Frische teutsche Liedlein, I, 1539; [8] Valten Schumann, ed., Geistliche lieder auffs new gebessert vnd gemehrt ..., 1539; [9] Georg Forster, ed., Frische teutsche Liedlein, II, 1540; [10] Johannes Petreius, ed., Guter seltzamer und kuenstreicher teutscher Gesang..., 1544; Georg Forster, ed., [11] Frische teutsche Liedlein, IV, 1556; [12] Frische teutsche Liedlein, V, 1556; [13] Orlandus Lassus, 24 Cantiones, lieder, chansons, et madrigali, 1573; [14] Bernhart Jobin, ed., Teütsch Lautenbuch, 1574; [15] Orlandus Lassus, Libro de villanelle, moresche, et altre canzoni, 1581; [16] Johann Philipp Kirnberger/Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, eds., Joh. Seb. Bachs vierstimmige Choral-gesänge, 1784-87

[CE] Anja Pöche, soprano; Sebastian Krause, alto; Tobias Pöche, tenor; Ludwig Böhme, baritone; Manuel Helmeke, bass
[LCB] Martin Ripper, recorder; Friederike Otto, cornett; Andreas Pfaff, violin; Ulrike Becker, viola da gamba; Alexander Brungert, sackbut; Hans-Werner Apel, lute, guitar, colascione; Wolfgang Katschner, lute

[II] "Luther tanzt" (Luther dances)
The Playfords
rec: Sept 28 - Oct 2, 2015, Waldheim, St. Nikolai Kirche
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88985305282 (© 2016) (63'42")
Liner-notes: E/P; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: [Herzlich tut mich erfreuen] [6]; Ich weiß mir ein' edle Kaiserin [5]; [Ist Gott für mich, so trete]; Le Rossignol [15]; Nun will der Lenz uns grüßen [18]; Jean-Baptiste BESARD (c1567-c1625): Ma belle si ton âme [11]; Fabritio CAROSO (1526/31-after 1605): [Von Gott will ich nicht lassen]; Eustache DU CAURROY: Fantasies 30 & 29 sur Une jeune fillette [14]; Georg FORSTER (c1510-1568): Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her [4]; Michael FRANCK (1609-1667) / Johann CRÜGER (1598-1662): Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig [16]; Bartholomäus GESIUS (1562-1613): Er ist der Morgensterne [12]; Andreas GRYPHIUS (1616-1664): Es ist alles eitel [17] Hans-Leo HASSLER (1564-1612): Mein Gmüt ist mir verwirret [10]; Nikolaus HERMAN (c1480-1571): Steht auf, ihr lieben Kinderlein [7] Heinrich ISAAC: Innsbruck ich muss dich lassen / O Welt, ich muss dich lassen [3] Martin LUTHER: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott [2] Jacob REGNART (1540-1599): Venus, du und dein Kind [8] Johann STEUERLEIN (1546-1613): Mit lieb bin ich umbfangen / [Wie lieblich ist der Maien] [9]; Melchior VULPIUS (1570-1615): Die beste Zeit im Jahr ist mein [13] Johann WALTER: Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin [1]; Nun freut euch lieben Christen g'mein [1]

Sources: [1] Johann Walter, Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn, 1524; [2] Martin Luther, Geistliche lieder auffs new gebessert zu Wittemberg, 1533; [3] Georg Forster, ed., Frische teutsche Liedlein, I, 1539; [4] Georg Forster, Newe deudsche geistliche Gesenge für die gemeinen Schulen, 1544; [5] Johann Ott, ed., Hundert und fünfftzehen guter und newer Liedlein, 1544; [6] Georg Rhau, ed., Bicinia gallica, latina, germanica ... Tomus primus, 1545; [7] Nikolaus Herman, Die Sonntags Evangelia uber das gantze Jahr in Gesänge verfasset, 1560; [8] Jacob Regnart, Kurtzweilige Teutsche Liedlein, 1574; [9] Johann Steuerlein, Weltliche Gesänge, 1575; [10] Hans-Leo Hassler, Lustgarten neuer teutscher Gesäng, Balletti, Gagliarden und Intraden, 1601; [11] Jean-Baptiste Besard, Thesaurus Harmonicus, 1603; [12] Bartholomäus Gesius, Frankfurter Gesangbuch, 1605; [13] Melchior Vulpius, Ein schön geistlich Gesangbuch..., 1609; [14] Eustache du Caurroy, 42 Fantasies à III, IV, V et VI parties, 1610; [15] Jane Pickering's Lute Book, 1616; [16] Michael Franck, Die Eitelkeit, Falschheit und Unbeständigkeit der Welt..., 1652; [17] Andreas Gryphius, Freuden und Trauer-Spiele auch Oden und Sonnette..., 1658; [18] Sammlung von Volksgesängen für den Männerchor. Liederbuch für Schule, Haus und Verein, II. Band, 1886

Björn Werner, voice; Annegret Fischer, recorder; Benjamin Dreßler, viola da gamba; Erik Warkenthin, lute, chitarrone, guitar; Nora Thiele, percussion

At the time I am writing this review we are in the midst of the commemoration of 500 years Reformation. This has resulted in various discs with repertoire which in one way or another can be connected to Martin Luther, who initiated a movement which had many lasting effects, not only in the field of religion, but also in politics, society, science, the arts and music.

The latter was of special importance to Luther. By all accounts he had a good singing voice, could play the lute and had a more than common knowledge of music theory. He also saw music as an important part of faith. "With indescribable power, Christ descends into the depths of the singing heart and ascends again from the depths of the singing hearts." That is the reason why he gave much attention to the role of music in the liturgy. He wanted the congregation to sing and the faithful to sing at home. To that end he encouraged poets to write texts and composers to set them to music in such a way that they were easy to memorize. He himself set the example. He wrote some texts himself, adapted traditional texts, and also used traditional melodies which the faithful already were familiar with. However, it took some time before the congregation started to sing those hymns itself. Initially those hymns were sung by schoolboys. In the early 17th century several collections of hymns - in Latin and in German - were published which were especially intended for schools. In the oeuvre of Heinrich Schütz we also find several pieces written for use in schools.

Hymns in the Lutheran tradition have had a huge influence in the course of music history. They play a major role in the oeuvre of many composers of the 17th and 18th centuries, among them giants like Bach and Telemann. Today they may not take such an important place in art music anymore, but many hymns are still sung - mostly in modernized versions and in translations - in churches across the globe.

The two discs reviewed here carry us back to Luther's own time. The title of the Carus disc refers to the year which is generally considered the starting point of the Reformation. Both discs include sacred and secular repertoire. However, in the disc of The Playfords the first category dominates, whereas the programme at the Carus disc secular music takes most place. The approach of both is comparable. In the booklet to their disc The Playfords point out that they are "children of our time". This means that sometimes the texts are modernized. The Calmus Ensemble and Lautten Compagney go some steps further. A substantial part of the programme consists of pieces which have been arranged in modern idioms. Wolfgang Katschner, in the liner-notes to the Carus disc, states that " 500 years have passed since that time, and therefore much seems alien and distant to us. Our CD is intended as a contribution to overcoming this distance and bringing the Renaissance Age into our present time." I am always suspicious of such undertakings and the results usually confirm my fears. That is the case here as well.

Let me start with the Carus disc. It brings a mixture of secular and sacred music, but most of the programme is secular. There is nothing wrong with that, because Luther did not only value sacred music, but music in itself which he saw as a creation of God. "Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us." It also makes much sense to include several pieces by Josquin: he was the composer Luther admired most. Also relevant is the inclusion of pieces by Ludwig Senfl, whom Luther asked to write a motet for him. The two met each other, and although there is no firm evidence that Senfl converted to the Lutheran faith, he must have felt much sympathy for the Reformer. Vater unser is one of the most famous pieces from Luther's own pen; another one is Mitten wir im Leben sind. Heinrich Isaac's Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen is an example of a secular song which was later used for a sacred text. Thomas Stoltzer is responsible for the first motets on German texts; Herr, wie lange willst du mein so gar vergessen is a setting of Psalm 13. In everyday life and in music there was no clear watershed between the Lutheran and the Catholic camp. But that doesn't mean that the religious conflict didn't find its expression in music. Johann Walter's motet Beati immaculati in via is for six voices which all sing different texts, four in canon, and two with political lyrics in praise of Luther and the Elector of Saxony respectively. It is immediately followed by Ich will fürthin gut päpstlich sein by Stephan Zirler: "I will forthwith be truly popish, despising Luther's doctrine".

This could have been a good recording if the performers had been more consistent, both in their programmatic concept and in regard to performance practice. The title suggests that the programme aims at carrying is to the time of Luther. From that angle the inclusion of modern arrangements is rather odd. Leaving this aside: whereas in the case of hymns the performance of modern versions can be useful, as they are part of an ongoing tradition, that is not the case with most of the secular items, probably with the exception of a few which are ranked among the traditional. But the performers seem to believe that arranging ancient music in modern idioms brings it closer to audiences of today. I can't speak for others but for me it works in the opposite direction. It rather alienates me from these old songs. Moreover, the performers take a rather liberal approach to historical performance practice, for instance by including a colascione, an instrument unknown to Luther's Germany. I also have my doubts about the use of a cornett in secular music which was intended for performance in the intimate surroundings of private homes. In Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen stanzas from the secular and sacred (Nun ruhen alle Wälder) are mixed which is very odd.

The next disc includes mostly hymns, many of which are still widely known. O Welt ich muss dich lassen is a sacred version of Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen, about a century older than Nun ruhen alle Wälder which was included at the Carus disc. Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g'mein is one of the best-known Christmas hymns, with a text by Luther and a melody by Walter. Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her is performed in two versions: with the original melody - a traditional dance song - and the new melody from Luther's pen. Obviously Ein feste Burg could not be omitted. One of the interesting aspects of the programme is that it shows that many sacred songs made use of pre-existing material, often secular and in a number of cases instrumental dances.

Like the Carus disc this could have been a very enjoyable recording. Unfortunately there is much wrong with it. The text is sometimes modernized, which has the same alienating effect as the arrangements at the Carus disc. The arrangements here more or less stay within the boundaries of the time but are often not really convincing. But what puts me off most is that often these hymns are sung in kind of modern folk music manner which seems to me completely out of touch with the time in which these hymns were created. Their style and the style of singing are a complete mismatch. From a perspective of historical performance practice this disc can't be taken seriously.

In short, both discs are very disappointing and highly annoying. If you really value this repertoire, stay away from them.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Calmus Ensemble
Lautten Compagney Berlin
The Playfords

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