musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Leonhard LECHNER (c1553 - 1606): "Geistliche Festmusik (1582) - Festive Mass & Motets"

ensemble officium; Ensemble Gabinetto Armonicoa
Dir: Wilfried Rombach

rec: August 4 & Nov 2, 2011, Mössingen, Peter und Pauls-Kirche; June 15 - 16, 2012, Reutlingen-Gönningen, Ev. Kirche
Christophorus - CHR 77367 (© 2013) (63'45")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translation: D
Cover & track-list

Andrea GABRIELI (1532/33-1586): Praeludium 2. tonus [4]; Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594): Domine, Dominus noster a 6a [2]; Leonhard LECHNER: In convertendo a 6 [1] ; Kronborg motets a 6 (In Laudem Regii Fontis: Fontem perpetuis; In Connexum Regiarum Literarum: Quam bene conveniunt; In Symbola Regis et Reginae: Mein Hoffnung zu Gott); Laudate Dominum a 15a; Memor esto verbi tui a 6 [1]; Missa super Domine, Dominus noster a 6a; O fons vitae - Sitio Domine a 6 [1]; Paratum cor meum a 6 [1]; Quid chaos a 24

Sources: [1] Leonhard Lechner, Motectae sacrae ... addita est in fine motecta< 1575; [2] Orlandus Lassus, Moduli, 1577; [3] Leonhard Lechner, Liber missarum ... adjunctis aliquot introitibus in praecipua festa, ab Adventu Domini usque ad festum Sanctissimae Trinitatis, 1584; [4] Bernhard Schmid, ed, Tabulatur Buch, 1608

[Ensemble Gabinetto Armonico] Anna Schall, Núria Sanromà Gabàs, cornett; Matthias Sprinz, Robert Schlegl, Christoph Scheerer, sackbut; Mechthild Alpers, dulcian; Sabine Kreuzberger, viola da gamba; Carsten Lorenz, organ (solob)

One of the features of the stile nuovo which emerged in Italy in the early 17th century was the close connection between text and music. However, this was not entirely new. It was a tendency which is reflected in the music written by some of the last representatives of the stile antico, in particular in Germany. Among them Lassus has to be mentioned first, but also composers of the next generation, such as Hans-Leo Hassler and Leonhard Lechner. Their oeuvre is not fully explored yet. In the case of Hassler that isn't that surprising as his output is huge. The list of Lechner's compositions is much shorter; it seems that in particular a large part of his oeuvre from the last twenty years of his life has been lost. Very little of his extant output has been recorded. Therefore this disc is an important addition to the catalogue, and it shows that Lechner was an excellent composer.

He was born in South-Tirol. His first activities are documented for 1570 when he worked at the court of Landshut. It seems very likely that in his early years he had been active as a choirboy in the court chapel in Munich, when Lassus was Kapellmeister there. Although it seems unlikely there was a teacher-pupil relationship, Lassus's influence is obvious in Lechner's works. The latter explicitly referred to Lassus as one of his sources of inspiration. This explains that Lechner took Lassus's motet Domine, Dominus noster as the cantus firmus of a mass which was included in a book with masses and other liturgical music printed in 1584. It was written for a special occasion, the wedding of the Augsburg patrician Sebald Welser to the daughter of a Nuremberg councillor on 15 January 1582. Since at least 1575 Lechner was an assistant teacher at the St Lorenz school, which was the largest grammar school in Nuremberg. The town council granted him the title of archimusicus and his salary was raised to the same level as that of the Kantor, because he was considered an outstanding musician and composer. That is reflected by the commissions to write music for special occasions like the above-mentioned wedding.

The connection between text and music in Lassus's motet is also clearly discernable in Lechner's mass, for instance in his use of rhythm. The mass also shows that Lechner was very well acquainted with the music which was written in Venice at his time. That comes even more to the fore in the second work which was part of the wedding celebrations, the motet Quid chaos, scored for 24 voices in three choirs, following the cori spezzati technique practised in Venice. The text was written by Paul Melissus Schede, a prominent German poet who was appointed as poeta laureatus by Emperor Ferdinand I and who was in Nuremberg between 1580 and 1584. It has the character of a dialogue between Amor, Chaos, God and the people. Amor asks why Chaos is creating disorder. Chaos answers that this is not his fault: mankind is wicked. God confirms this: mankind has moved away from the path of justice. Amor replies by asking why then he should stay: this is no place for love. He asks God to take him away. The people beg him to stay - there is a good spot for him with those who are joined by friendship and marriage. This refers to the couple whose wedding was celebrated. Obviously the roles of the various persons are not sung by solo voices as would become common practice in the 17th century. It seems that they are not even given to different choirs. Even so, Lechner manages to create a clear dialogue character, for instance by varying the number of voices. Quite effective in the last section is the repetition of the word "remane" (stay).

It is not known whether instruments were involved in the performances during the wedding celebrations. However, it seems quite likely: instruments playing colla voce was quite common at the time and a wedding was an obvious occasion for the participation of instruments. Therefore the decision to use them in the mass is plausible. The motet is performed with voices alone, probably in the interest of the audibility of the text.

Among Lechner's earliest works are the motets from a collection of 1575; four of these are performed here. These are more restrained in the depiction of the text. However, as in the mass they are dominated by homophony which results in a better communication of the text. They also reflect Lechner's apparent preference of a larger number of voices as they are all in six parts.

The collection of 1584 was dedicated to Count Eitelfriedrich IV von Hohenzollern-Hechingen, who had appointed him Kapellmeister the year before. However, this commitment didn't last long. The Count was a vehement supporter of the Counter-Reformation and an opponent of "the seductive and accursed heresies of the Lutherans and Calvinists". Lechner was a convinced Lutheran who had converted to Protestantism when he was 18 years old. Rather than ask for permission to leave he sneaked out and fled to Tübingen which was part of Württemberg. He was warmly welcomed here and found the protection of Duke Ludwig of Württemberg. He entered his chapel in Stuttgart, first as a singer, soon as assistant to the Hofkapellmeister. He was appointed in the latter position in 1595; he held it until his death. One of his latest works is Laudate Dominum which was written in 1604 for the wedding of Duke Johann Georg of Sachsen and Princess Sibylle Elisabeth of Württemberg in Dresden in 1604. It is scored for 15 voices and also reflects the Venetian style. Here instruments again participate in the performance.

The so-called Kronborg-motets are also occasional compositions. The texts were once again written by Paul Melissus Schede, and were set to music by Lechner at the occasion of the erection of the Neptune fountain in the royal Kronborg Castle on the Danish island Seeland. The fountain was built by a Nuremberg bronze caster and fountain builder and was - after a long delay - erected in 1583. Especially notable is the first of the three motets in which the splashing of the fountains is vividly illustrated depicted. The next motet honours the royal couple by emphasizing the initials of their names. The third motet is a poem on their mottos.

This disc offers an interesting survey of the various genres within Lechner's sacred oeuvre. We have early motets, a mass and pieces in polychoral style. It shows that he was a versatile composer. The fact that many of his compositions were included in anthologies proves that he was a composer of high reputation. The music on this disc confirms his qualities. These are well conveyed here. Wilfried Rombach has not only made a good choice from Lechner's oeuvre, he also delivers outstanding and compelling performances. The text is mostly clearly audible, and the connection between text and music is well exposed. The polychoral pieces were written to make a great impression on the audience, and they certainly do here. The instruments lend additional colour to the performances.

This disc deserves a warm welcome and one can only hope that more of Lechner's oeuvre will be examined and performed.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

ensemble officium

CD Reviews