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"Bodenschätze - Motets from the Florilegium Portense"

Chorwerk Ruhr; Capella de la Torre
Dir: Florian Helgath

rec: May 19 - 22, 2021, Essen, Philharmonie
Coviello Classics - COV92112 (© 2021) (72'34")
Liner-notes: E/D; no lyrics
Cover & track-list

Francesco BIANCARDI (1572-1607): Ave gratia plena a 6; Andrea GABRIELI (1532-1585): Exsultate justi a 8; Giovanni GABRIELI (1557-1612): Jubilate Deo a 8; Jacobus HANDL-GALLUS (1550-1591): Ecce quomodo moritur a 4; Jerusalem gaude a 6; Media vita in morte sumus a 8; Heinrich HARTMANN (1555-1616): Ist nicht Ephraim mein teurer Sohn a 8; Hans-Leo HASSLER (1564-1612): Pater noster a 8; Marco Antonio INGEGNERI (1535-1592): Duo seraphim a 8; Johann Caspar KERLL (1627-1693): Intrada Battaglia; Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594): Deus in adiutorium a 6; Tristis est anima mea a 5; Tarquinio MERULA (1595-1665): Ciaconna à 6; MORITZ, Landgrave of Hesse (1572-1632): Hosanna filio David a 8; Alessandro OROLOGIO (1551-1633): Intrada; Asprilio PACELLI (1570-1623): Cantate Domino a 8; Hieronymus PRAETORIUS (1560-1629): Fuit homo missus a Deus a 5; Gloria tibi a 7; Tulerunt Dominum meum a 8; Giovanni Battista STEFANINI (1574-1630): Christus resurgens a 5

[CdlT] Friederike Otto, cornett; Katharina Bäuml, Hildegard Wippermann, shawm; Gerd Schnackenberg, Tural Ismayilov, sackbut; Regina Hahnke, dulcian; Frauke Hess, violone; Johannes Vogt, theorbo; Martina Fiedler, 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.

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. (The title of this disc is a wordplay on his name, which literally means 'natural resource'.) 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. There 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.

The first edition of the collection comprised 89 motets for four to eight voices, and were intended to be sung "before and after meals, according to the respective seasons, to the glory of God, in the honour of the school and for the education of young people". In the edition of 1618 the number of motets was extended to 115, in the edition of 1621 to 150. In the latter 80 are by Italian composers, and the scoring for eight voices in two choirs was given special attention. The 1618 edition is the core of the programme, but it also includes pieces from other editions. Unfortunately the sources are not mentioned in the booklet.

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. However, 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. A number of motets include madrigalisms, reflecting the fashion in madrigal writing in the second half of the 16th century. 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.

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. My doubts concern the line-up. The majority of the pieces is performed with instruments, playing colla voce; there are also a few motets, in which some parts are sung and the others are performed instrumentally. 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.

That said, the performances are very good. The Chorwerk Ruhr does not exclusively perform early music, but often is involved in such performances, and its sound and way of singing are stylish. In the items where the parts have been divided among voices and instruments, singers from the ensemble show their qualities as soloists. The Capella de la Torre is also an excellent ensemble, and works with choirs on a regular basis. This results in a good balance between voices and instruments; the latter don't overshadow the voices, but rather add colour to them. The instrumental items are nice breathing spaces between the motets.

Despite my critical remarks with regard to the participation of instruments, this is a compelling selection from a interesting collection of motets by well-known and lesser-known composers from around 1600. Both groups are well represented. It is just a shame that the booklet omits the lyrics.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

Relevant links:

Chorwerk Ruhr
Capella de la Torre

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