musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Johannes ECCARD (1553 - 1611): Sacred and secular music

[I] "Mein schönste Zier - Mass and Canticas throughout the liturgical year"a
Norddeutscher Kammerchor
Dir: Maria Jürgensen

rec: Oct 22 - 24, 2010, Kloster Cismar
MDG - 902 1694-6 (© 2011) (57'09")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

[II] "Fröhlich will ich singen - Sacred and Secular Songs"b
Staats- und Domchor Berlin, Lautten Compagney Berlin
Dir: Kai-Uwe Jirka

rec: Sept 1 - 4, 2011, Berlin-Dahlem, Jesus-Christus-Kirche
Carus - 83.449 (© 2011) (58'10")
Liner-notes: E (abridged)/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

[soli] Benjamin Neubauer, Lucjan Skozowski, treble; David Erler, alto; Henning Kaiser, Clemens Volkmar, tenor; Georg Finger, Marcel Raschke, bass

[III] "Preussische Festlieder - Sacred Songs"c
Vocal Concert Dresden; Capella de la Torre
Dir: Peter Kopp

rec: March 9 & 10, 21 - 24, 2011, Dresden, Lukaskirche
Carus - 83.265 (© 2011) (66'47")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

[soli] Katja Fischer, Claudia Forberger, soprano; Romy Herde, contralto; Oliver Kaden, Stephan Keucher, tenor; Martin Schicketanz, bass

Johannes ECCARD: Ach Gott, wie gern ich wissen wolltb; Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christa [5]; Da pacem Domineb - Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglichab [5]; De profundis / Aus tiefer Notb; Der heilig Geist vom Himmel kamab [3/7]; Der Musik Feind seind Ignorantenb; Ein feste Burgb; Ein Verräter und ein Suppenfresserb [1]; Erbarm dich meinb; Es trau'r was trauren sollb [1]; Frau, dein Gestaltb [1]; Freu dich, du werte Christenheitc [6]; Freut euch, ihr Christen allec [7]; Freut euch, ihr lieben Christena [2]; Fröhlich will ich singenb [1]; Gott einen hellen Wundersternc [7]; Herr Jesu, Gnadensonnea [5]; Hört ich ein Kuckuck singenb [1]; Kein Buhlerei ficht mich mehr anb [1]; Maria, das Jungfräueleinc [6]; Maria wallt zum Heiligtuma [6]; Mein schönste Zier und Kleinod bistabc [7]; Mein Sünd mich kränktc [6]; Mir ist ein geistlichs Kircheleinc [7]; Missa Mon coeur se recommende à vousa; Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geista [4]; O Freude über Freudc [6]; O Lamm Gottes, unschuldiga [4]; Schöns Lieb, was hab ich dir getanb [1]; Schwerlangweiligb [1]; Sei fröhlich allezeita [7]; Selig ist der gepreisetb; Übers Gebirg Maria gehtac [7]; Unser lieben Hühnerchenb [1]; Vater unser im Himmelreichab [5]; Vom Himmel hocha [4]; Zacharias war ganz verstummta (Der Zacharias ganz verstummtcac [3/7]; Johannes STOBAEUS (1580-1646): Macht hoch die Türc [6]; Such, wer da will, ein ander Zielc [6]; Wes ist der Sternc [7]

Sources: [1] Johannes Eccard, Newe deutsche Lieder, gantz lieblich zu singen, 1578; [2] Newe Lieder, gantz lieblich zu singen, 1589; [3] Joachim a Burck/Johannes Eccard, 30 geistliche Lieder auff die Fest durchs Jahr, 1594; [4] Johannes Eccard, Der erste Theil geistlicher Lieder auff den Choral oder gemeine Kirchen Melodey, 1597; [5] Der ander Teil geistlicher Lieder auf den Choral, 1597; [6] Johannes Stobaeus (ed), Erster Theil der preussischen Fest-Lieder, 1642; [7] Ander Theil der preussischen Festlieder, 1644

It is remarkable that some parts of music history don't receive that much attention. The polyphony of the 16th century is frequently performed, and the next stage is the stile nuovo which emerged in Italy in the early 17th century. The period of transition is often overlooked, and that is certainly the case with composers of this period from Germany. Only the main composers, like Scheidt, Schein and Schütz, are paid attention, but there are many lesser-known composers who are pretty badly represented on disc. Last year was the commemoration of Johannes Eccard, who died in 1611 and played a major role in the development of church music in Protestant Germany. But outside Germany this has been largely ignored. The three discs to be reviewed here are the direct result of this commemoration and they show that Eccard's music is of very good quality.

It is not that his music has been forgotten. His music has always been sung and some of his sacred compositions have found their way into protestant hymn books. By far the most famous piece is Übers Gebirg Maria geht, which in the Anglo-Saxon world has become known as When to the temple Mary went. In the 19th century Eccard found an advocate in the German musicologist Carl von Winterfeld who labelled him - in line with the nationalist spirit of the romantic era - the founder of a 'Prussian school of composition'. In the wake of the rediscovery of Palestrina as the model of liturgical composition Eccard was also called the 'Protestant Palestrina'. This guaranteed that he didn't sink into oblivion, but it is questionable whether it has done his reputation any good.

Johannes Eccard was born in 1553 in Mühlhausen in Thuringia where he attended the grammar school and received music lessons from the school's Kantor Joachim a Burck. He then went to Weimar where he sang in the court chapel until 1571. Next he stayed in Munich for three years, singing in the Bavarian court chapel and receiving lessons from Orlandus Lassus who had a lasting influence on Eccard's development as a composer. He returned to Mühlhausen where Ludwig Helmbold was superintendent of the Marienkirche. He was also active as a poet, and Eccard's first collection of music, printed in 1574, was on texts by Helmbold. From 1576 to 1579 he went south again, working at the service of the Fugger family. Here he composed his only mass, the Missa Mon coeur se recommende à vous, which is dedicated to Jakob Fugger. In 1579 he became deputy Kapellmeister to Margrave Georg Friedrich von Ansbach, who administered the duchy of Prussia from Königsberg (today Kaliningrad). Here he built up the musical establishment. In 1604 he was appointed Kapellmeister by elector Joachim Friedrich of Brandenburg, who had succeeded Georg Friedrich as administrator of Prussia. In 1608 Eccard was appointed Kapellmeister of Joachim Friedrich's residence in Berlin, where he remained until his death in 1611.

It is almost inevitable that these three discs contain some duplications. But as there are some differences in the performance practice this isn't that much of a problem. Moreover, all discs pay attention to aspects of Eccard's oeuvre which are absent from the other discs. Therefore they can be considered complementary rather than competitive. The MDG disc is the only one which includes Latin church music in the form of Eccard's only mass. The Staats- und Domchor Berlin is the only ensemble which not only performs sacred music but also pays attention to Eccard's secular works. And the programme of the Vocal Concert Dresden presents some pieces by Eccard's pupil Johannes Stobaeus who was responsible for the publication of the two volumes Preussische Festlieder which appeared in 1642 and 1644 respectively, and which comprised pieces by Eccard and Stobaeus himself.

The Missa Mon coeur se recommende à vous dates from 1579, Eccard's last year at the service of the Fugger family. It is based on a chanson by Lassus, and shows strong influence from his teacher. The mass is set for five voices, but in some sections the number of parts is reduced, as Lassus also often did. Eccard achieves a large amount of unity by using the first eleven bars of Lassus' chanson in all movements. It is sung here a cappella which is certainly an option. But as the Fugger's were a rich family and had collected a large number of instruments a performance with instruments playing colla voce would have been a viable - and probably more plausible - option. The other pieces in the programme are also sung without instruments. It consists of pieces from various collections of different character. The two volumes of Geistliche Lieder of 1597 are particularly noteworthy as they comprise settings of hymns which were the direct result of Martin Luther's liturgical reforms. He wanted the congregation to sing, and to that end he encouraged poets and composers to write hymns which were easy to memorize. This also explains that Eccard's settings have the melody in the soprano rather than in the tenor as was common practice. Some of the best-known hymns are represented, like Vom Himmel hoch and O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig. The collections which were printed as Preussische Festlieder contained so-called Kantionalmotetten which are considered as Eccard's inventions. These strophic pieces combine the polyphony of the motet with the tunefulness of the hymns. Those pieces by Eccard which have become best-known are from these collections, like Übers Gebirg Maria geht and Maria wallt zum Heiligtum. These are for five or six voices; O Freude über Freud is for eight in two choirs of different scoring (SSAB vs ATTB). The title of these two volumes, 'Prussian festive songs', is derived from the fact that they are written for the various feasts of the ecclesiastical year. Zu dieser österlichen Zeit is for Easter, Freut euch, ihr Christen alle for Ascension Day.

The disc of the Staats- und Domchor Berlin includes pieces from the main collection of secular songs by Eccard, Newe deutsche Lieder, scored for four to five voices. They were written during Eccard's years at the service of the Fuggers. In the preface to this collection Eccard refers to Orlandus Lassus as his main source of inspiration. It is interesting that in the title the use of instruments is specifically mentioned. This gives some food for thought as far as the performance practice is concerned.

The fact that the use of instruments is mentioned in a collection of secular pieces written during his years with the Fuggers supports my suggestion that the Missa Mon coeur se recommende à vous could - and perhaps even should - have been performed with instruments as well. As far as the music on German texts is concerned, here the use of instruments is also a legitimate option. But as some pieces - in particular the hymn settings - will also have been sung in churches with limited possibilities in regard to scoring an a cappella performance is also plausible. The instruments can emphasize the often lively rhythms in Eccard's music as shows a direct comparison between the pieces which are performed by both the Norddeutscher Kammerchor and the Vocal Concert Dresden.

The way the instruments are used is different in the two Carus recordings. The Lautten Compagney includes violin, viola, viola da gamba and violone, whereas the Capella de la Torre only uses a violone. On the other hand the latter includes shawms which are absent from the Lautten Compagney. This ensemble also uses a recorder, a harp and percussion. The latter seems to me the most questionable part of the instrumental scoring. The Capella de la Torre doesn't only play colla voce, but also replaces the voices in some stanzas. Some stanzas are also performed instrumentally.

As far as the vocal scoring is concerned it seems almost impossible to decide with how many voices this repertoire was mostly performed. It is likely that the number of singers will have widely varied from one church or chapel to another. The Norddeutscher Kammerchor and the Vocal Concert Dresden both consist of 16 singers, whereas the Staats- und Domchor Berlin includes 61 singers. I am not sure - and the booklet doesn't tell - whether they were all involved in every piece on the programme. It is ironic, though, that this choir which consists of boys and men, is the one which sings secular pieces. This is rather odd as secular music is generally less suited for boys to sing, and historically their involvement in this kind of repertoire seems not very plausible. It is also here that a large choir is least appropriate.

As I wrote these discs are complementary. Together they offer a most interesting picture of a composer whose music is of consistently high quality. Despite the differences in regard to performance practice all three discs can be unequivocally recommended. The three vocal ensembles and the two instrumental groups bring outstanding performances which make Eccard's music shine and whet the appetite to hear more from him. Other composers of that time also deserve more attention, and the items by Stobaeus which Peter Kopp has included in his recording should encourage to further explore his oeuvre.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Capella de la Torre
Lautten Compagney Berlin
Norddeutscher Kammerchor
Staats- und Domchor Berlin
Vocal Concert Dresden

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