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Philipp Friedrich BÖDDECKER (1607 - 1683): "Sacra Partitura - Solomotetten & Sonaten"

I Sonatori

rec: Oct 22 - 24, 2018, Bremen, Studio Radio Bremen
Christophorus - CHR 77433 (© 2019) (66'49")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: (D)
Cover, track-list & booklet

Philipp Friedrich BÖDDECKER: Christ lag in Todesbanden [2]; Deus, Deus meus [2]; Haec est Dies [2]; Laudate Dominum [2]; Magnificat [2]; Natus est Jesus [2]; O Vatter aller Frommen [2]; Sonata sopra La Monica [2]; Sonata Violino solo [2]; Veni Salvator [2]; Samuel Friedrich CAPRICORNUS (1628-1665): Sonata in e minor (arr I Sonatori); Johann Ulrich STEIGLEDER (1593-1635): Daß Vatter unser (Variations 4, 19, 28, 40) [1]

[1] Johann Ulrich Steigleder, Tabulatur Bbuch Daß vatter unser, 1627; [2] Philipp Friedrich Böddecker, Sacra Partitura, 1651

Knut Schoch, tenor; Christa Kittel, violin; Barbara Messmer, viola da gamba; Ursula Bruckdorfer, dulcian; Isolde Kittel-Zerer, organ

Philipp Friedrich Böddecker is one of those composers scholars like to label 'minor masters'. More often than not this does not tell us anything about their importance and reputation in their own time. That is also the case with Böddecker.

His career took place in the southern part of Germany. He was born in Hagenau in the Alsace, but moved to Stuttgart at an early age, as in 1618 his father Joachim became director of collegiate music. He was also his first teacher, but Böddecker also received lessons from the collegiate organist Johann Ulrich Steigleder. In addition to the organ, he learned to play the bassoon. His first post was that of singing teacher and organist in Buchsweiler (Alsace); after that he moved to Darmstadt, where he worked as bassoonist at the court. In 1632 he was invited to become organist of the Barfüsser Kirche in Frankfurt, but as his employer did not want him to go - a clear sign of appreciation - he only took up the post in 1638. In 1643 he returned to the Alsace, as he became organist of Strasbourg Cathedral; five years later he was also appointed organist and music director of the University. From 1652 until his death he was organist at the Collegiate Church. It seems that he had set his eyes on the post of Kapellmeister at the court, and when in 1657 this position was given to Samuel Capricornus, the result was a long and embittered conflict with his rival.

The oeuvre of Böddecker is rather small. Only two printed editions have come down to us. They were both printed in Strasbourg in 1650 and 1651 respectively - well before his time in Stuttgart. The first, called Melos irenicum, is a large-scale setting of the Te Deum. The second, which is the subject of the present disc, bears the title Sacra Partitura. It includes twelve sacred concertos and two sonatas. The concertos are of the type we know from Heinrich Schütz's collections of Kleine Geistliche Konzerte. They are scored for solo voice and basso continuo. There were two reasons for this. Pieces in such scorings were commercially attractive, as many chapels had a lack of singers due to the effects of the Thirty Years' War, and this scoring offered the opportunity to fully explore the possibilities of the Italian monodic style, especially with regard to a declamatory delivery of the text and a close connection between text and music. It is telling that four of the twelve sacred concertos in this collection are adaptations of pieces by two Italian composers: Claudio Monteverdi and Gasparo Casati. These concertos have been omitted here, but the eight remaining concertos bear plenty of witness to the influence of the monodic style in Böddecker's oeuvre.

That goes especially for the pieces on Latin texts. In the Magnificat, which opens the programme, one may expect the inclusion of the plainchant melody. It appears only at the opening and closing of the piece, but otherwise this piece is entirely free. Haec est Dies is a setting of verses from Psalm 118, Laudate Dominum is a composition on the text of Psalm 117, whereas verses from Psalm 22 are set in Deus meus. Veni Salvator hominum (Come, Saviour of mankind) is a piece for Advent and includes traces of Luther's Advent hymn Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland. The best-known vocal work by Böddecker is Natus est Jesus. A free setting of the Latin text is interrupted by the German Christmas carol Joseph, lieber Joseph mein. Christ lag in Todesbanden is based on Luther's Easter hymn, and O Vatter aller Frommen is an adaptation of the Lord's Prayer; it is sung on the melody of Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn. In both pieces the melody is treated with much freedom.

The two sonatas also included in Sacra Partitura are better known than the sacred concertos. Especially the Sonata sopra La Monica is regularly played, as the repertoire for solo bassoon of the 17th century is not that large. Moreover, it is a series of variations on one of the most popular tunes of the 16th and 17th centuries, known in several countries under different titles, such as Une jeune fillette in France and Von Gott will ich nicht lassen in Germany. This could well be the first performance which follows Böddecker's suggestion that the violin plays the tune throughout the piece. Böddecker seems not to have been a violinist, but his Sonata Violino solo is a fully idiomatic piece, and technically demanding because of the use of double stopping. Like the bassoon sonata it bears witness to the widespread practice of diminution.

The programme is completed with instrumental pieces by two composers connected in very different ways to Böddecker. I already referred to Capricornus; with its scoring for violin, four viole da gamba and basso continuo, his Sonata in e minor is a typical specimen of the German instrumental style of the 17th century, in which lower strings were given much weight. It has been adapted here for violin and basso continuo. Steigleder was Böddecker's teacher, and therefore it makes sense to include him here. He has become best-known for his Tabulatur Buch, printed in Strasbourg in 1627. It comprises 40 variations on Vater unser im Himmelreich, Martin Luther's German versification of the Lord's Prayer. Four of these are selected, embracing Böddecker's sacred concerto O Vatter aller Frommen. They are performed here by the instrumental ensemble.

It is nice that through the inclusion of these instrumental pieces Böddecker is put into his historical context. On the other hand, I would have liked to hear the concertos by Monteverdi and Casati, especially as Böddecker has not left them unaltered. As Gundela Bobeth states in her liner-notes, he "notes his own modifications and adapts them when necessary for utilisation in Protestant church services". Reason enough to include them, and to hear how such pieces were adapted. I am not sure, though, whether I would like to hear them in performances as those on this disc. However important it is to have the rest of the Sacra Partitura on disc for the very first time, musically speaking this recording is a bit of a missed opportunity. At previous occasions I have been rather critical about Knut Schoch's singing, and this disc does not give any reason to change my opinions on him. The declamatory character of these pieces does come off rather well and the text is clearly understandable. That deserves praise. However, I don't like the slight tremolo in his voice. I also find his singing a bit colourless and dynamically flat. There is too little dynamical differentiation between notes and on longer notes. His interpretation is not really rhetorical, and rather one-dimensional.

It need to be added that the acoustic does not work in his favour. I don't understand why this recording was made in the studio of Radio Bremen. At least for this kind of music a church or chapel would have been a much more appropriate. The acoustic here is dull and lifeless and lacks any reverberation. For the instrumental pieces this is much less of a problem. They are well played, although here a little more imagination would not have been amiss either.

In short, I only recommend this disc to those who have a more than average interest in German music of the 17th century and would like to add to their collection a recording of music by a composer who is unjustly neglected. From a strictly musical point of view I have strong reservations.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

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