musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Florilegium Portense - Motets & Hymns"

Vocal Concert Dresden; Cappella Sagittariana Dresden
Dir: Peter Kopp

rec: March 3 - 6, 2018, Dresden, Lukaskirche
Carus - 83.492 (© 2018) (59'54")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: D
Cover, track-list & booklet
Parts Florilegium Portense, 1618
Parts Florilegii Musici Portensis, 1621

Agostino AGAZZARI (1578-1640): Tristis est anima mea a 8 [4/5/11]; Erhard BODENSCHATZ (1576-1636): Quam pulchra es amica mea a 5 [1/5]; Arcangelo BORSARI (c1560-1617): Sit nomen Domini benedictum a 8 [4/14]; Sethus CALVISIUS (1556-1615): Deus sator mortalium a 4 [2]; Iam lucis orto sidere a 4 [2]; Praeter rerum seriem (Parode ad Josquini) a 6 [1]; Te lucis ante terminum a 4 [2]; Melchior FRANCK (c1579-1639): Herr, wenn ich nur dich hab a 8 [4/12]; Giovanni GABRIELI (1557-1612): Jubilate Deo omnis terra a 8 (C 136) [4/14]; Adam GUMPELZHAIMER (1559-1625): Ecce quam bonum et quam jucundum a 8 [4/5/9]; Jacobus HANDL-GALLUS (1550-1591): Ecce quomodo moritur justus a 4 [1/3/5/7]; Hans Leo HASSLER (1564-1612): Si bona suscepimus de manu Domini a 8 [4/10]; Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594): Confitebor tibi Domine a 8 [3/6]; Andreas PEVERNAGE (1542/43-1591): Cor mundum crea in me Deus a 6 [1/3/5]; Hieronymus PRAETORIUS (1560-1629): Benedicam Dominum in omni tempore a 6 [3/8]; Michael PRAETORIUS (1571-1621): Das alte Jahr vergangen ist a 8 [3/13]; Giovanni Battista STEFFANINI (1574-1630): Christus resurgens ex mortuis a 5 [4/5/14]

Sources: [German editions] Erhard Bodenschatz, ed., [1] Florilegium selectissimarum cantionum, 1603; [2] Florilegium selectissimorum hymnorum, 1606/1622/1624/1687/1713/1747/1777; [3] Florilegium Portense, 1618; [4] Florilegii Musici Portensis, 1621; [5] Johann Friedrich Leibnitz, Leipziger Kirchen-Andachten Ander Theil: Oder Sonderbares Gesangbuch, 1694
[original editions] [6] Orlandus Lassus, Thesaurus musicus, 1564; [7] Jacobus Handl-Gallus, Sacrae tomus, musici operas, 1587; [8] Hieronymus Praetorius, Cantiones sacrae, 1599; [9] Adam Gumpelzhaimer, Sacrorum concentuum, liber primus, 1601; [10] Hans Leo Hassler, Sacri Concentus, 1601; [11] Agostino Agazzari, Sacrarum cantionum, liber primus, 1602; [12] Melchior Franck, Sacrae Melodiae, tomus secundus, 1604; [13] Michael Praetorius, Musae Sioniae, I, 1605; [14] K. Kiefer, ed., Promptuarii musici, sacras harmonias sive motetas, 1613

[VCD] Katja Fischer, Claudia Forberger, Ute Maria Grosse, Susanne Krause, Christine Matschke, Katharina Salden, Nicola Zöllner, soprano; Kerstin Döring, Romy Herde, Dorothea Kaiser, Martin Schreyer, contralto; Stephan Keucher, Markus Klose, Jan Lang, Christian Lutz, tenor; Timo Hannig, Dag Hornschild, Christoph Koop, Kjell Nürnberger, Josef Stedtler, bass
[CSD] Miroslav Kuzl, cornett; Ercole Nisini, sackbut; Robert-Christian Schuster, dulcian; Angelika Grünert, viola; Norbert Schuster, violone; Lukas Henning, theorbe; Sebastian Knebel, organ

The Lutheran Reformation had far-reaching consequences in liturgical matters. Martin Luther wanted the faithful to sing in the vernacular, in church and at home, and the result was a large repertoire of hymns. However, Luther did not want to abolish the role of the choir in worship, nor the use of Latin. This explains why in the first half of the 17th century a number of editions with motets, many of them on a Latin text, were published in Electoral Saxony. One of them gave this disc its title: this recording was made to commemorate its publication in 1618. However, the programme also includes pieces from earlier and later editions.

The man responsible for these editions was Erhard Bodenschatz (1576-1636); they were the result of his activities as Kantor of the Fürstenschule in Schulpforta. However, the foundation for these collections of motets was laid by his predecessor, Sethus Calvisius (1556-1615), who from 1594 until his death was Thomaskantor in Leipzig. Here he undoubtedly made use of the collections he and Bodenschatz had put together. They found a wide dissemination in Saxony and neigbouring countries. Especially the edition of 1621 was reprinted many times, and one of Calvisius' successors, Johann Sebastian Bach, purchased several copies as late as 1729. At his time the motets were sung during worship, but were also used for pedagogical purposes. It was one of his successors, Johann Adam Hiller, who discarded it from the repertoire around 1790, calling it "Latin singsong which Master Bodenschatz dragged together". However, in other places these motets were still sung in the 19th century.

Three features of the motets from these editions need to be mentioned. The first is that most of them, as I already noted, are in Latin. The second is that the composers are from across Europe, and a number of them are representatives of the Franco-Flemish school. This means that the majority of the motets was written for the Catholic liturgy. This did not cause any problems. In musical matters there was no watershed between the various confessions. Moreover, many motets are settings of biblical texts, and especially from the Book of Psalms, and therefore perfectly fitted in the Lutheran liturgy. Only those pieces which explicitly referred to doctrines of the Catholic Church, to which Luther objected, were omitted.

A third feature is that most of the motets are written in the stile antico. But as the traditional polyphony continued to play an important role in sacred music during the 17th and 18th centuries, there was no urgency to replace them by motets in a more modern idiom. Moreover, the form of the motet had become obsolete towards the end of the 17th century as it was overshadowed by the cantata, a result of the growing influence of the Italian style. Most of the motets written by members of the Bach dynasty and by Telemann were intended for special occasions, such as funerals. It was only the generation after Bach which again wrote motets for common worship. Examples are Gottfried August Homilius and Johann Friedrich Doles.

That is not to say that there was no stylistic development within the editions. The present disc includes several specimens of pieces in a more up-to-date idiom. For instance, in his motet Herr, wenn ich nur dich hab, Melchior Franck makes use of madrigalisms, and there is also some marked text expression in Tristis est anima mea by Agostino Agazzari. In addition, the performance of motets in the old style was adapted to modern fashions. It is telling that whereas the first editions consisted of up to eight partbooks, the prints of 1618 and 1621 included a ninth partbook with a basso continuo part (Basis Generalis).

When Calvisius was Kantor of the Fürstenschule in Schulpforta he introduced the singing of motets before and after meals, adapted to the time of the ecclesiastical year, not only for the glory of God, but also for pedagogical reasons. The enthusiastic reception and wide dissemination of the motet editions indicate that they were used in various places and under various conditions. From that perspective there is more than one way to perform them, and in this recording the performers have tried to take that into account.

Obviously a performance by a choir of boys and men would be most authentic. Today it is generally accepted that adult women take their place. I personally regret that, but that's just the way it is. "The selection for this recording on the occasion of the anniversary 400 years after publication [of the 1618 edition] was made with the objective of portraying the editions mentioned in a representative ratio of German and Latin motets, large and small scored works by regional and international composers in a variation of vocal and instrumental ensembles", Christoph Koop writes in his liner-notes. As one will see in the list of motets, by far the most are in Latin, but this probably reflects the ratio in the editions. My doubts concern the line-up. The majority of the pieces is performed with instruments, playing colla voce. This was common practice in chapels and larger churches, although certainly not all the music was performed that way. However, the performance practice in smaller churches and in schools was undoubtedly much more modest. Especially the singing of motets before and after a meal was almost certainly a capella. From that angle the choices made here are a little one-sided.

Otherwise the performers have taken into account the way the motets were performed at the time. I already mentioned the addition of basso continuo parts to the motets. This explains why in some motets the choir is accompanied by a chordal instrument (organ, theorbo - the latter's participation ist debatable), sometimes with a violone, in the way of a basso continuo, even though those motets were written before the basso continuo was invented. It is also correct that the Latin texts are pronounced in the German manner, even in those pieces written by Italian composers.

The singing by the Vocal Concert Dresden is very good. They have a vast experience in this kind of music. The programme also includes some homophonic and relatively simple settings, and here the voices blend perfectly. Some items are performed by solo voices, and here I noticed some weaknesses; sometimes the singing is marred by a slight but nervous vibrato. The playing of the instruments is excellent.

Overall, this disc offers a good opportunity to become acquainted with an aspect of German music life which is relatively little-known. It is a useful complement to an earlier disc of the ensemble amarcord.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Vocal Concert Dresden
Cappella Sagittariana Dresden

CD Reviews