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"Reforming Hymns"

Musica Ficta
Fredrik Bock, lutea; Søren Christian Vestergaard, organb
Dir: Bo Holten

rec: Jan 6 - 8, 2022, Copenhagen, Concertkirken
Dacapo - 8.226142 (© 2023) (64'58")
Liner-notes: E/DK; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

[in order of appearance] [Singing professionals] plainchant: Ad te leuaui animam meam [10]; Orlandus LASSUS (1530/32-1594): Ad te leuavi animam meam a 6 [11]; plainchant: O Stierners skaber i Himmelske huss [9]; Ludwig SENFL (c1486-1542/43): Conditor alme siderum a 5
[From professional to congregational singing] plainchant: Kyrie missa II [14]; Giovanni Pierluigi DA PALESTRINA (1525/26-1594): Missa In majoribus duplicibus a 4 (Kyrie); plainchant: Kyrie, fons bonitatis [10]; Kyrie/Gud Fader allsom høyeste trøst [10]; Mogens PEDERSØN (c1583-1623): Kyrie/ Gud Fader allsom høyeste trøst a 5 [13]
[From secular song to hymn] Arnolt SCHLICK (c1460-after 1521) Maria zart von edler arta [1]; [O Jesu bold met megit vold] [9]; [Ich seüfftz vnd klag vil lannger tag a 4] [4]; Maria zart von edler artb; anon: O Christe huor vaar din kundskaff [9]; Ludwig SENFL: Rosina, wo was dein Gestalt a 4 [6]; trad: Dig Herre mild ieg tacke vil [9]; Erasmus ROTENBUCHER (c1525-1586): Von edler art geporen ward a 2 [7]
[The Reformation's new core hymns] Martin LUTHER (1483-1546) (attr): [Fader vor vdi Himmerig] [9]; Mogens PEDERSØN: Fader vor vdi Himmerig [13]; anon: Vater unser im Himmelreichb; anon: Nu bede wi den hellig Aand [9]; Johann WALTER (1496-1570): Nu bitten wyr den heyligen geyst [3]; Matthaeus LE MAISTRE (c1505-1577): Nv bitten wir den heiligen Geist [8]; Mogens PEDERSØN: Nv bede vi den Helligaand [13]; anon: [Christ laa i Dødsens baande] [9]; Johann WALTER: Christ lag ynn todes banden a 4 [2]; Christ lag ynn todes banden a 5 [2]; Lupus HELLINCK (c1494-1541): Christ lag inn todes bandenb [5]
[To each his own] anon: [Christe du est den klare dag] [9]; Nicolaus GOTTSCHOVIUS (c1525-after 1624): Christ der du bist der helle tag [12]

Sources: [1] Arnolt Schlick, Tabulaturen Etlicher lobgesang vnd lidlein, 1520; Johann Walter, [2] Geystliche Gesangk Buchleyn, 1524; [3] Wittenbergisch Gsangbüchli, 1537; [4] Johann Kugelmann, Concentus novi, [Augsburg] 1540; [5] Lupus Hellinck, Newe deudsche geistliche Gesenge für die gemeinen Schulen, 1544; [6] Johann Ott, ed., Hundert vnd fünfftzehen guter newer Liedlein, 1544; [7] Erasmus Rothenbucher, ed., Bergkreyen, 1551; [8] Matthaeus Le Maistre, Geistliche und weltliche Teusche Geseng, 1566; [9] Hans Thomissøn, ed., Den danske Psalmebog, [Copenhagen] 1569; [10] Niels Jespersen, ed., Gradval. En Almindelig Sangbog, [Copenhagen] 1573; [11] Orlandus Lassus, Mottetta, Sex Vocvm, 1582; [12] Nicolaus Gottschovius, Centuriæ sacrarvm cantionvm, 1608; [13] Mogens Pedersøn, Pratum Spirituale, 1620; [14] Graduale Romanum, Paris 1961

The Lutheran Reformation had far-reaching consequences on the development of the liturgy. It laid the foundation for a large repertoire of hymns in German, which were then arranged as motets or included in sacred concertos and cantatas. However, there was more continuity with tradition than one may be inclined to think. This is summed up nicely in the booklet which accompanies the disc to be reviewed here. The liner-notes are written by Bjarke Moe, a PhD in musicology with special focus on music history in Denmark and northern Europe and senior editor at Society for Danish Language and Literature. Although he focuses on developments in Danish liturgical music, much of what he writes also goes for Germany, the heartland of Lutheran liturgical music and practices. The connections between Denmark and Germany are also highlighted in a previous disc: "Thomissøn's Easter".

One important feature is the fact that Luther rated singing in the vernacular very highly, both at home and in church, but that he saw hymns in the language of the people as an addition to traditional music in Latin, not as a replacement. Latin continued to have its place in the liturgy. In 1573 Niels Jespersen, the bishop of Odense, laid out a plan of the chants for all Sundays and feastdays of the ecclesiastical year. It included Latin chants from the Middle Ages. Some of them were sung unchanged, in other cases the text was replaced by lyrics in the vernacular, but on the same traditional melodies. In church polyphony was still in use, sung by professionals, especially school choirs. This explains the polyphonic settings in Danish, for instance by Mogens Pedersøn.

Another important development was the transformation of secular works into sacred music. This practice, known as contrafactum, was widespread in the Renaissance across Europe. Some of the most famous hymns find their origin in secular music, such as the Passion hymn O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, which was originally a love song by Hans-Leo Hassler. In this recording it is Hans Sachs who receives special attention. In a poem about Luther and the Reformation he descibed the Reformer as 'The Wittenberg Nightingale'. He adapted many secular songs, and a number of them found their way into Danish hymnbooks. As an example we hear Rosina, wo was dein Gestalt by Ludwig Senfl, which is performed here in its original four-part version, preceded by its adaptation in Danish, O Christe huor vaar din kundskaff, a translation of the adaptation by Sachs. "In the original poem, the singer tells Rosina that if Prince Paris had seen her, he would certainly have given her his apple, the one he was meant to give to the most beautiful woman. Sachs' hymn paraphrases this story of Paris with a somewhat polemical rhetoric, stating that, if the Roman Catholic popes had really understood Christ, they would not have behaved as they did." Another kind of adaption is Sachs's version of Maria zart, von edler Art, whose original text is about the virgin Mary, but which Sachs turned into a text about Jesus. Whereas these adaptations were included in hymnbooks and to be sung monophonically in church and at home, the last item in this chapter of the programme is a bicinium by Erasmus Rotenbucher, a German editor, composer and schoolmaster who published two collections of bicinia, the first with pieces in Latin, the second with pieces on German texts. In most cases we have to do here with arrangements of pieces by composers of his time; whether he is the composer of Von edler art geporen ward is not discussed in the liner-notes. Such bicinia were sung at the homes of those who were musically educated.

The fourth chapter focuses on hymns that belong to the core repertoire of Lutheran - and with time, more widely, Protestant - churches. They are still well-known and have found their way into hymnbooks across the world. Vater unser im Himmelreich is one of them, Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist another; it is a further example of a melody which dates from before the Reformation. The third is the Easter hymn Christ lag in Todesbanden. These are performed in various versions, in German and in Danish, monophonically and in polyphony. Two of the composers included here, Johann Walter and Matthaeus le Maistre, are among the main promoters of the Lutheran hymn.

In the first paragraph I stated that much of what is written about liturgical developments in Denmark also goes for Germany. With the last chapter we are entirely in Denmark. It is entitled "To each his own", and this means that the way hymns were sung was different in each country and time. Bjarke Moe states: "As poetry, the Reformation's Dan­ish hymns are characterized by their rhythmic freedom. What structures the poems are the stressed syllables; the unstressed ones are free to vary in number and placing, so the relationship between the syllables and the notes can differ from stanza to stanza." With Christe du est den klare dag the performers want to demonstrate how a varied number of sylla­bles can be included in a melody. It is another piece whose text has its origin in the Middle Ages, with the title Christe, qui lux es et dies. The disc ends with the German version of this hymn, in a polyphonic setting by Nicolaus Gottschovius, who for a number of years was organist in Rostock. In his setting he uses the chorale melody unaltered in the upper part.

The music on this disc is of a kind one won't often hear in public concerts, for obvious reasons. Psalm- and hymnbooks were widespread, but were printed with the purpose of being used for worship in church and privately. Some of these hymns make their appearance in 'art music', but many others are hardly known. However, they were extremely important in the lives of the faithful, and that explains the number of different collections which were printed in the 16th and 17th centuries, across Protestant Europe. Recordings as the present one are not only interesting and important from a strictly musical angle, but also add to our knowledge about religious, social and even political history. This recording is part of a large-scale project of the Society for Danish Language and Literature concerning Danish hymn and service books. More information about this project is here. It is a shame that the booklet omits translations of the lyrics.

The performances are just what this repertoire needs. Bo Holten and his singers are doing exactly what they have to do to bring it to life. The singing is excellent, and obviously the fact that the singers are native Danish speakers greatly helps to guarantee that these performances are entirely 'authentic'. Søren Christian Vestergaard delivers some fine performances of the organ pieces.

This disc is probably not something for the average music lover. Lovers of early music should investigate it, and for those who have a special interest in liturgical music this disc is one they should not miss.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

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