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"Verleih uns Frieden - Musik zum Dreißigjährigen Krieg (Grant us Peace - Music for the Thirty Years' War)"

Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble
Dir: Arno Paduch

rec: August 28 - 31, 2017, Nordstemmen (D), St. Peter & Paul-Kirche Rössing
Christophorus - CHR 77424 (© 2018) (76'03")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Marcus Dietrich BRANDISIUS (17th C): Victoria Sveco-Saxonica (Fortes heroes pugnabant); Andreas DÜBEN (c1597-1662): Pugna triumphanis (Bonum certamen certavi); Christoph HARANT VON POLSCHITZ & WESERITZ (1564-1621): Qui confidunt in Domino; Johann HILDEBRAND (1614-1684): Ach Gott! Wir haben's nicht gewußt, was Krieg für eine Plage ist; Paul SCHÄFFER (c1580-c1645): Venite exultemus (Actus gratulatoris); Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672): Da pacem Domine (SWV 465); Syncharma musicum (En novus elysiis) (SWV 49); Teutoniam dudum belli (SWV 338); Verleih uns Frieden - Gib unsern Fürsten (SWV 372/373); Johann SIXT VON LERCHENFELS (c1555-1629): Da pacem Domine; Te Deum laudamus; Matthias WECKMANN (c1619-1674): Wie liegt die Stadt so wüste; Nicolaus WEISBECK (c1575-c1640): Machet die Tore weit (Votiva Oeolica acclamatio);

Veronika Winter, Verena Gropper, Marie Luise Werneburg, soprano; Johanna Krell, contralto; Beat Duddeck, alto; Georg Poplutz, Nils Giebelhausen, tenor; Dirk Schmidt, Dominik Wörner, Georg Josef Thauern, bass
Arno Paduch, Friederike Otto, Susanne Benedikte Meyer, cornett; Kristina Filhaut, Nora Hansen, Ursula Bruckdorfer, sackbut; Volker Mühlberg, Irina Kisselova, violin; Ursula Kessl, Bodo Lönartz, viola; Barbara Hofmann, violone; Andreas Düker, theorbo; Jürgen Banholzer, organ

The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) had a very damaging effect on the state of the arts in Germany. The most famous German composer of the 17th century, Heinrich Schütz, described its effect this way: "Among the other free arts the noble art of music has not only suffered great decline in our beloved fatherland as a result of the ever-present dangers of war; in many places it has been wholly destroyed, lying amid the ruins and chaos for all to behold". The war had taken away most of the financial resources which otherwise would have been spent to art, and musicians had died as a direct or indirect effect of the war.

In 1998 Weser-Renaissance recorded a programme to mark the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, which brought the war to an end (CPO, 1999). This year (2018) the outbreak of the war is commemorated. As far as I know this fact has been given little attention by ensembles; the present disc is the only one which has been specifically been recorded to mark this event. The origins of the Thirty Years War and the way it developed is outlined in the liner-notes by Arno Paduch. It shows that it was a quite complicated affair, in which religion, politics and personal ambitions all played their roles. At first the effects of the war were limited, but things turned for the worse, when Sweden intervened and as a result other major European powers got involved.

Obviously the war is reflected in the music written at the time. In some cases a piece is directly connected to a particular event. For instance, Machet die Tore weit, a setting of verses from Martin Luther's translation of Psalm 24, was written by Nicolaus Weisbeck at the occasion of the arrival of Johann Georg I, Electoral Prince of Dresden, at a convention in Mühlhausen in March 1620, in an attempt to create a Lutheran/Catholic alliance. At the time Weisbeck was Kantor of the Marienkirche at Mühlhausen. His oeuvre is rather small, and apparently he stuck to the stile antico; this motet is for six voices, and in the performance on this disc the singers are accompanied by the organ. The convention resulted in military actions, among them the battle of the White Mountain in November 1620. At this occasion Johann Sixt von Lerchenfels composed the two pieces included here. Te Deum laudamus and Da pacem Domine are both in the stile antico and scored for four voices; again the singers are supported by the organ. They were printed in 1626 and dedicated to Emperor Ferdinand II.

A crucial part in the emergence of the war was the revolt of Protestant Bohemians against Ferdinand. In June 1621 a number of Protestant noblemen were hanged in Prague. One of them was Christoph Harant von Polschitz und Weseritz, who was also a poet and a composer. To mark this event Paduch included a composition from his pen, the 6-part motet Qui confidunt in Domino, which he composed during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1598. Paul Schäffer, instrumentalist in the service of the city of Breslau, composed Venite exultemus in honour of the Elector Johann Georg, who on 3 November that year, as the emperor's representative, accepted the homage of the Silesian Diet at Breslau. It is assumed that Heinrich Schütz's Syncharma musicum was performed at the same occasion, but that is impossible to prove. His Teutoniam dudum belli is also associated with this event, but Paduch suggests it may have been written at the occasion of one of the peace agreements in the subsequent decades.

Schütz and Weckmann are the only well-known composers included in the programme. Most of the others are hardly known, or not at all. The latter goes, for instance, for Marcus Dietrich Brandisius, who is not included in New Grove. He was a student in Leipzig and pupil of the Thomaskantor Johann Hermann Schein. In Fortes heroes pugnabant he depicts the battle at Breitenfeld near Leipzig. In a way it is reminiscent of Claude Janequin's chanson La guerre: the six stanzas end with the same line: "Trarararara / Bombombom, bidibidibom". Very different in character is the solo song Ach Gott! Wir haben's nicht gewusst, was Krieg für eine Plage ist by Johann Hildebrand, an organist and poet. The piece is from a collection of laments, seemingly inspired by the atrocities of the war. "O God! We did not know what plague is a war! Now we are experiencing all too closely that war is the mother of all plagues". Hildebrand is clearly influenced by Schütz in this setting for solo voice and basso continuo (here played at the chitarrone).

Weckmann's sacred concerto Wie liegt die Stadt so wüste was written after the war, but "the sight of the devastated , depopulated regions he travelled through on his journeys between Dresden and Hamburg must have had a decisive influence on the origin of this composition", Paduch writes. However, it is generally assumed that this piece was written at the occasion of the plague in Hamburg in 1663. As it has been recorded quite a number of times before I would have liked to hear different music instead. However, considering the number of pieces by little-known composers we probably should not complain.

It was certainly a good idea to end the programme with two motets from Schütz's collection Geistliche Chor-Music. It was published in 1648, the year of the Peace of Westphalia, and the two motets sum up what many Germans may have thought as they suffered the effects of the war: "Grant us peace graciously, Lord God, in our time; there is indeed no othr who could fight for us than you, our God, alone" - "Give our rulers and all lawgivers peace and good government, that under them we might lead a quiet and peaceful life in all blessedness and honour. Amen." Schütz knew from own experience all too well what damage a war could do.

It is a bit disappointing that so little attention has been paid to the start of the Thirty Years War. From that perspective we have to welcome this disc. The inclusion of so many unknown pieces speaks also in its favour, although not every piece is of the highest quality. That said, I feel that the performances don't always do them full justice. One factor is the acoustic: the programme has been recorded in a church, but either its acoustic is very dry or the recording technique has played its part here. I would have liked a bit more space around the musicians. That probably would have had a positive influence on the ensemble, because the blending of the voices is not the best. This is not a fixed ensemble, and that could be partly responsible for a lack of ensemble. The direct recording plays its part here too. I am not questioning the quality of the singers or the players: these are all experienced in this kind of repertoire, and with the likes of Veronika Winter, Georg Poplutz (excellent in Hildebrand's song) and Dominik Wörner we have really top-class singers. But for various reasons the programme doesn't come really off the ground.

This is certainly a very interesting recording, but musically it leaves me a bit unsatisfied.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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