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"Thomissøn's Easter"

Musica Ficta
Dir: Bo Holten

rec: March 15 - 17, 2017, Copenhagen, Sankt Pauls Kirke
Dacapo - 8.226188 (© 2017) (59'27")
Liner-notes: E/DK; lyrics - translations: E/DK
Cover, track-list & booklet

[in order of appearance] [Before the sermon] [Introit] Conrad REIN (c1475-c1522): Resurrexi et adhuc tecum sum; Jacobus CLEMENS non Papa (c1510/15-1555/56): Missa Virtute magna (Kyrie; Gloria); [Collect]; [Epistle] (1 Corinthians 5, vs7-8); [Gradual] Conrad REIN: Haec dies quam fecit Dominus; Thomas STOLTZER (c1475-1526): Confitemini Domino; [Alleluia] Conrad REIN: Alleluia; Lucas LOSSIUS (1508-1582): Alleluia - Pascha nostrum; [Sequence] Lucas LOSSIUS / Johannes ALECTORIUS (c1490-after 1520): Victimae paschali laudes; [Gospel] (Mark 16, vs1-7); Jacobus CLEMENS non Papa: Missa Virtute magna (Credo)
[After the sermon] [Hymn] Christ lå i dødsens bånde; [Preface] Jacobus CLEMENS non Papa: Missa Virtute magna (Sanctus - Benedictus); [Collect]; [Lord's Prayer]; [Words of Institution]; Jacobus CLEMENS non Papa: Missa Virtute magna (Agnus Dei); [Postcommunion Collect]; [Blessing]; [Hymn] Forlæ oss med fred nådelig

Ann-Christin Wesser Ingels, Christine Nonbo, Louise Odgaard, soprano; Eva Wöllinger-Bengtson, Hanne Marie le Fevre, Rebecca Forsberg Svendsen, contralto; Tobias Aabye Dam, Paul Bentley-Angell, Palle Jensen, tenor; Lauritz Jakob Thomsen [intonations], Torsten Nielsen [officiant], Rasmus Kure Thomsen [deacon], bass

Martin Luther's Reformation had far-reaching effects on the character of the liturgy. The use of the vernacular was something he considered very important. This comes especially to the fore in his German translation of the Bible. He also urged poets to follow in his footsteps and write hymns in the vernacular, which had then to be set to music, so that they could be sung by the faithful. They were not intended for congregational singing in the first place. During worship the singing was still the task of the choir, which consisted mainly of pupils from grammar schools and sang motets in Latin, including pieces by composers who were Catholic. From this one may conclude that Luther did not want to banish Latin from the liturgy. The present disc is revealing in demonstrating what a Lutheran service could be like in the mid-16th century.

Liturgical reconstructions are always highly speculative as the sources mostly give too little to rely on. Performers have to fill in the many gaps with 'historically informed' guesswork. That is different in the liturgy which is performed here by Musica Ficta. What we get is not a Lutheran service in Germany, but in Denmark. In 2017 500 years of Reformation were commemorated. It seems that, as far as music is concerned, almost exclusively German music has been given attention, at least at an international level. It is quite possible that the effects of the Reformation in Denmark have received some interest in the country itself, but that is something I don't know anything about. This disc may be one of the fruits of such a Danish commemoration.

Denmark embraced the Reformation at an early stage. King Christian II (1481-1559), who ruled Denmark from 1513 to 1523, was sympathetic to Luther's ideas, but it was his nephew Christian III (ruling from 1534 to 1559) who firmly adopted Lutheranism. In 1536 he went so far as to proclaim it the state religion. Often the followers are more radical than those they follow, and that was the case here as well. The situation in Germany in religious matters remained unclear as long as Luther lived, and that had its effect in liturgical practice. Moreover, Luther was reluctant to regulate worship too strictly. There were no such hesitations on the Danish side. "In the course of a few years, with the Lutheran Ordinance of 1539 and some later adjustments, a coherent concept of the Lutheran service in Denmark was formulated, including all the chant tones for the readings or texts and the melodies for collects and prayers. Everything was to be sung: in fact, only the sermon was spoken."

The liturgy was split into two sections: before and after the sermon. The first part was identical with pre-Reformation practice. The main difference was the second part: its heart was the Communion, and this was one of the major theological differences between Luther and Rome. Therefore the old chants had to be replaced by new ones, which expressed the views of Luther. "The idea of fixing every detail was apparently an aspect of Danish domestic policy after 1536; but the components (taken separately) were Lutheran to the core. Thus if one wants to experience what an 'original' Lutheran service looked like, the Danish prescriptions offer an ideal guide and in this lies their international significance. In addition they are an indispensable basis for an approach to the sacred music of the Lutheran era on the whole."

The present disc focuses on liturgical practice in Ribe, a town in the west of Denmark, at the Northsea coast and not far north of what is now the German-Danish border. Here the Cathedral had its own school, whose teachers were responsible for the music in the Cathedral. They put together a collection of pieces which could be sung during services. They heavily relied on the editions printed by Georg Rhau in Wittenberg. No copies of the Ribe collection have been preserved. Fortunately, around 1580 Peder Hegelund (1542-1614), later Bishop of Ribe, put together a manual which included everything that was important for the day-to-day practice at the school. Part of that is a list of music that was used in performances. "He described the pieces so precisely that they can be unambiguously identified; he even noted which of his predecessors had procured them." This can probably give some indication about the music sung in Lutheran churches elsewhere as well. Because there were some differences between the Danish liturgy and what was common in Germany (where, for instance, the Credo was sung in the vernacular), additional music was needed. In 1558 Hans Thomissøn took mass compositions by the Franco-Flemish composer Jacobus Clemens non Papa for those parts of the liturgy, where the edition of Rhau did not provide the appropriate music. The heart of the present reconstruction is Clemens's Missa Virtute magna. The various sources mentioned here allow for a complete and pretty precise reconstruction of a service at Easter.

Most chants are stylistically close to what we now know as plainchant, although there are slight differences between, for instance, the prayers and the readings. There are some differences within the polyphonic repertoire as well. Introit, Gradual and Alleluia are taken from an edition of Rhau, in which the upper part is the cantus firmus, representing traditional plainchant. In the mass, on the other hand, the material from the chant Virtute magna, used for the Hours in Easter Week, is used more freely by Clemens non Papa.

He is by far the best-known composer in the programme. The pieces by the others are taken from Rhau's editions, and among them Thomas Stoltzer is the best-known. His output is pretty large, but he is almost exclusively known for his psalm settings on German texts. Conrad Rein was from Arnstadt, worked in Nuremberg - where one of his pupils was Hans Sachs - and went to Copenhagen in 1519, where he joined the court chapel of King Christian II as a bass singer. Lucas Lossius has become known as a theorist in the first place. He met Luther and Melanchthon; the latter became his teacher. From 1540 until his death he was co-rector in Lüneburg. In his Psalmodia, hoc est cantica sacra veteris ecclesiae selecta he adapted plainchant melodies and texts to the Lutheran liturgy. Johannes Alectorius is also known as Johannes Galliculus (that is the name under which he has an entry in New Grove). He wrote a treatise on counterpoint, which he dedicated to his friend Georg Rhau. The latter included Galliculus's compositions in his editions of Lutheran liturgical music.

The service includes two hymns, sung in unison. The track-list only gives the Danish titles with an English translation. Those will not ring a bell as they are far better known with their corresponding German titles. The first, after the sermon, is Christ lag in Todesbanden, the second, at the end of the service, Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich. They are taken from Hans Thomissøn's hymnbook Den danske psalmebog, which dates from 1569. That is nine years after the date put to this service. However, some of these hymns may have been circulating before being included in this hymnbook.

The performances do full justice to the music as well as the nature of the event. The singing of the vocal ensemble is excellent, and the chants are immaculately sung by members of the ensemble. This also guarantees a maximum coherence between the tutti and the soli in the alternatim episodes. Thanks to the recording the sound picture is balanced and transparent. The only criticism regarding the performance I can think of, is the Italian pronunciation of Latin, which is definitely unhistorical.

All in all, this is probably one of the most 'authentic' liturgical reconstructions I have heard over the years. It sheds light on a liturgical practice which is hardly known, and therefore this disc is of great importance.

N.B. The quotations are taken from the booklet.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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