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"Johannes Heer Song Book"

Dir: Kees Boeke

rec: Oct 28 - 30, 2012, Presciano (Arezzo), Pieve di San Pietro
Et'cetera - KTC 1910 (© 2013) (65'46")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Alexander AGRICOLA (1445/46-1506): Caecus non iudicat de coloribus a 3; anon: Ach hulf mich leid a 3; Alia compositio super ein fröhlich wesen a 3; Cantilena iucundissima a 3; Erhoer mich lieb a 4; La gran pena che io sento a 4; O werder mund a 4; On freud verzer ich mengen tag; Pour vos plaisirs a 4; Von tugend mild a 3; Zum nüwen jahr a 4; Loyset COMPÈRE (c1445-1518): Alles, regrets a 3; Heinrich ISAAC (c1450/55-1517): Der Hund a 3; Cornelius RIGO de Bergis (fl early 16th C): Cum audisset Iob a 4

Zsuzsi Tóth, soprano; Kees Boeke, flute, viola da gamba; Baptiste Romain, renaissance violin; Silvia Tecardi, viola d'arco

Private collections rank among the most interesting sources of music. They tell us what kind of music was popular at the time the collection was put together. They also inform us about what kind of music was sung and played in the circles to which the owner belonged - mostly the upper echelons of society. And they also give some insight into the dissemination of music across the continent. The present disc includes a cross-section of one such private collection, the songbook of Johannes Heer from Glarus in Switzerland which is part of the music collection of the Abbey Library of St. Gallen.

Johannes Heer (1489-1553) was born in Glarus and received his first musical training as a choirboy in Sitten. This was part of his preparation for a career in the Church. In 1508 he took up studies in Paris and here he started to collect music which found its place in the songbook; one of the entries is dated 1510. In 1512 he returned to Glarus where he worked as a clergyman until his death. In 1529 he converted to the Reformation but it seems that he took a rather moderate stance as he kept good connections to the Zurich reformer Zwingli as well as the Catholic politician, scholar and historian Aegidius Tschudi - who acquired Heer's songbook after his death - and the humanist Heinrich Glarean who was a leading music theorist.

The songbook not only includes music but all sorts of notes, by Heer himself but also by others from his circle. The first entry is from 1510, the last from 1530. In the latter year he included a piece by Ludwig Senfl, one of the main composers of the renaissance and one of the very few from Switzerland. Interestingly Senfl stood in contact with Martin Luther and composed some pieces for him. The musical part of the songbook is a mixture of vocal and instrumental music from all over Europe. Many pieces are anonymous; sometimes the composer can be identified from another source but the songbook also includes single copies. The latter make this songbook particularly important.

If the programme on this disc is representative we have to conclude that the largest part consists of German songs, although some of them are arrangements of pieces from another part of Europe. That is the case, for instance, with O, werder mund which was originally a Flemish song. The Alia compositio super Ein fröhlich wesen is one of two settings of this Flemish song in the songbook. The 3-part version recorded here is anonymous, but Inga Mai-Groote, in her liner-notes, suggests that this setting could be from Johannes Heer's own pen. On Freud verzer ich mengen Tag is one of two extant settings of this text. Apparently it was quite popular, as a Catholic polemicist mentioned it as an example of a melody which - to his dismay - was used for sacred texts. Von tugend mild is an example of a song which is known from no other source. These German songs are performed here at a pretty slow tempo which explains why they take quite some time. O werder mund takes 6'28", On Freud verzer ich mengen Tag even 9'41". Obviously this kind of music doesn't include any tempo indications, so that must be a deliberate decision by the performers. As I don't have any other recordings of these pieces I can't compare these performances with others. It is admirable how Zsuzsi Tóth manages to keep things going despite the slow tempo. It requires an excellent breath control.

The French pieces are quite different. That certainly goes for Pour vos plaisirs, a piece with a very lively rhythm. It is the second piece in the programme following O werder mund which makes the difference all the more striking. Alles regrets is a piece by Loyset Compère whose name is not mentioned in the songbook. But in Compère's oeuvre one doesn't find a chanson with this title. "[The] song actually bears the text Venez regrets which Heer may have confused by mistake - which is not implausible, since there was a whole network of songs of various composers on the theme "regrets" all associated to each other via textual references." Interestingly, the tenor of Compère's chanson is derived from a piece by Hayne de Ghizeghem, with the text Allez regretz.

It seems that the songbook includes very few sacred pieces. One of these is Cum audisset Iob: "When Job heard the words of the messenger, he endured patiently and said: Didn't we receive good from God. So why should we not endure evil?" It is one of only two extant pieces from the pen of Cornelius Rigo de Bergis whose last name suggests that he was from Bergen op Zoom in the Netherlands. La gran pena ch'io sento is one of the relatively few Italian pieces and is in the form of a frottola.

Lastly we hear some instrumental pieces. Some of these may have been conceived as vocal pieces whose text has gone missing, such as Cantilena iucundissima. Others have a genuine instrumental character, for instance Der Hund by Heinrich Isaac - whose title cannot be explained - and Caecus non iudicat de coloribus by Alexander Agricola who has left a remarkable number of pieces specifically intended for instruments which was quite rare at the time.

This is a most interesting disc which includes many pieces which are hardly known. The programme has been put together in such a way that there is quite some variety. Not that this is really necessary because every single piece is well worth listening to. The artists deliver an ideal performance. Zsuzsi Tóth has exactly the right voice for this repertoire. Her singing is instrumental which results in a perfect blending of voice and instruments, yet the text is always clear understable. It goes without saying that she uses historical pronunciation. The playing of the flute and the string instruments is of the highest order, also in the original instrumental pieces.

The booklet includes all the information one needs (except the dates of birth and death of the composers), including the original texts, with translations in English and French. It is only a little odd that the German pieces are not translated in modern German. Even German speakers will probably find it difficult to understand the meaning of those texts.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

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