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Heinrich FINCK (1444 - 1527): Sacred and Secular Music


rec: 2005, Bamberg, Studio of Cavalli Records
Cavalli Records - CCD 325 (© 2005) (65'06")

Ach herzigs Herz; Audi filia; Auf gut Gelück; Deo dicamus regi potenti (Natalis Domini cantica); Ecce virgo; Habs je getan; Mein herzigs G; Missa Dominicalis; O schönes Weib; Rorate coeli; Veni redemptor dominum; Von hin scheid ich

Franz Vitzthum, alto; Gerhard Hölzle, Klaus Wenk, tenor; Marcus Schmidl, bass

The 15th and 16th centuries were dominated by composers from the Low Countries, generally called the 'Franco-Flemish school'. Their style was imitated by composers from other regions. Most recordings of sacred music of the renaissance concentrate on composers which are part of that mainstream. But not everyone was part of it. In particular in Germany some composers followed their own path, and Heinrich Finck is one of them. Not that much is known about him, and some information has come down to us through his great-nephew Hermann Finck in his Practica Musica (1556). But as he didn’t know Heinrich personally and relied on what others had told him, there is no guarantee that his account of Heinrich's life and career is correct.

He was born in Bamberg in Bavaria, probably in a wealthy middle class family. If Hermann Finck is correct Heinrich was living in his youth in Poland and entered the service of the king. In 1482 he matriculated at the university of Leipzig. He must have been held in high esteem, as he was called bonus cantor, a designation usually given to a musician of fame. It seems he returned to Poland, which he left again in 1492, being a poor man, according to a letter he wrote. He travelled to find a proper job, but to no avail. Around 1500 he was staying in Lithuania, and then in Poland again until 1510. He worked in Stuttgart for some time, then in Bavaria, after which he moved to Salzburg, and spent the last years of his life in Vienna.

Almost none of Finck's compositions from before 1500 have survived. Likewise many of his works from the last 20 years of his life have disappeared. What has been left is enough, though, to follow the changes in his style of composing during his long life. Although not connected to composers from the Franco-Flemish school that style was so dominant that the Missa Dominicalis performed on this disc shows its influence. It is a cantus firmus setting of the Ordinary, in which the plainchant melodies are always present, although treated in different ways.

This disc presents a profile of Finck's output. Apart from the Mass it brings a hymn for the Vespers and the Propers for the Mass on Annunciation. The hymn is written in alternatim style: the verses are sung alternately in plainchant and polyphonically. Remarkable is the opening phrase of the Introitus Rorate coeli: a strong ascending line sung by the upper voice – an eloquent rhetorical gesture.

The songs on German texts are an important part of Finck's oeuvre. They were among the small number of compositions which were published, although posthumously. They belong to the genre sometimes referred to as Tenorlieder. A polyphonic web is woven around a melody sung in the tenor. This genre was very popular in (Southern) Germany, and Ludwig Senfl was especially famous for this kind of music, but Finck's songs are certainly not to be neglected. It seems the texts were partly written by Finck himself.

The German vocal ensemble Stimmwerck was founded in 2001 in Munich with the objective to perform in particular music by lesser-known composers. This disc is the first in a series with music by composers active in Germany. The sound of the ensemble is crisp and clear, and the balance between the voices is very good. In particular the upper voice is stretched to the limits, but Franz Vitzthum holds his ground impressively.

The pronunciation of the Latin texts is stricty German and in the German songs the ensemble has also looked for a historical approach. "Stimmwerck presents here a CD on which a reconstructed pronunciation of early New High German is employed. It is based on the orally preserved pronunciation of Southern German, which however in the nineteenth century, during the course of the standardization of the German language, also experienced a certain standardization." This underlines how difficult it is to figure out how exactly the texts were pronounced in early times. But any attempt to come closer to it is worth the effort. One can only agree with Andreas Pfisterer and Gerhard Hölzle, who write in the booklet that "the use of modern-day pronunciation would in any case distort the historical tonal image".

Stimmwerck has started a very interesting and important project and this first disc is promising. I recommend it to anyone who wants to enhance his knowledge of the music of the renaissance era and anyone just interested in good music alike.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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