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Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562 - 1621): Cantiones Sacrae

Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam
Dir: Harry van der Kamp

rec: May & July 2009, Renswoude, NH Kerk
Glossa - GCD 922406 (2 CDs) (© 2011) (2.26'48")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

[Cantiones Sacrae]
Ab Oriente venerunt Magi (SwWV 153); Angelus ad pastores ait (SwWV 185); Beati omnes qui timent Dominum (SWV 178); Beati pauperes spiritu (SwWV 156); Cantate Domino canticum novum (SwWV 158); De profundis clamavi ad te Domine (SWV 170); Diligam te, Domine (SwWV 155); Domine Deus meus, in te speravi (SwWV 175); Ecce nunc benedicite Dominum (SwWV 157); Ecce prandium meum paravi (SwWV 152); Ecce virgo concipiet et pariet filium (SwWV 181); Euge serve bone et fidelis (SwWV 166); Gaude et laetare, Jerusalem (SwWV 168); Gaudete omnes et laetamini (SwWV 182); Hodie beata virgo Maria (SwWV 180); Hodie Christus natus est (SwWV 163); In illo tempore (SwWV 172); In te Domine speravi (SwWV 154); Iusti autem in perpetuum vivent (SwWV 162); Laudate Dominum omnes gentes (SwWV 161); Magnificat anima mea Dominum (SwWV 184); Non omnis qui dicit mihi, Domine (SwWV 151); O Domine Jesu Christe (SwWV 160); O quam beata lancea (SwWV 171); O sacrum convivium (SwWV 164); Paracletus autem Spiritus sanctus (SwWV 173); Petite et accipietes (SwWV 165); Qui vult venire post me (SwWV 169); Regina coeli laetare (SwWV 183); Tanto tempore voviscum suum (SwWV 186); Te Deum laudamus (SwWV 187); Timor Domini principium sapientiae (SwWV 179); Ubi duo vel tres congregati fuerint (SwWV 177); Venite exsultemus Domino (SwWV 159); Vide homo, quae pro te patior (SwWV 167); Videte manus meas et pedes meos (SwWV 174); Viri Galilaei, quid statis aspicientes (SwWV 176)
Ave maris stella a 3 (SwWV 193)a;b; Beatus qui soli Deo confidur a 4 (SwWV 194); Vanitas vanitatum a 4 (SwWV 199); Vanitas vanitatum a 4 (SwWV 200)
[Wedding motets]ab
Diligam te, Domine a 8 (SwWV 191); Felix auspiciis dies secondis a 5 (SwWV 192a)

Nele Gramß, Marijke van der Harsta; Dorothee Mieldsa; Stephanie Petitlaurent, soprano; Marnix De Cat, Franz Vitzthum, alto; Marcel Beekman, Harry van Berne, Nico van der Meel, Koen van Stadea, tenor; Job Boswinkela, Jelle Draijera, Harry van der Kamp, Kees-Jan de Koninga, bass; Bernard Winsemius, orgelab

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck is by far the most famous composer in the history of the Netherlands - or, at least, the Netherlands as they are today. Until the last quarter of the 16th century the Netherlands - or the Low Countries - comprised the present Netherlands, Belgium and the northern region of France, and was the birthplace of the composers who belong to the so-called Franco-Flemish school. But from the foundation of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands in 1581 until the present day there has been no composer of Sweelinck's stature on Dutch soil.

He has not always been fully appreciated, though. "The Netherlands may be proud of its greatest sons, but it does not always succeed in keeping them in respectful remembrance", Harry van der Kamp writes in his notes in the booklet. He then describes several attempts to erect a stature in Amsterdam, which all failed for one or another reason. "After all these events there was only one thing that we needed to do: to create a monument for Sweelinck made out of his own compositions. The Sweelinck Monument." This set of discs is part of that monument.

Today Sweelinck is first and foremost known as a composer of keyboard music. With the emergence of historical performance practice the attention of keyboard players turned to his pieces for harpsichord. That part of his oeuvre which was especially written for the organ was already known among organists. In this department much attention has been paid to his important role in the history of European and in particular German organ music. He delivered an essential contribution to the emergence of the so-called North-German organ school, to which belonged composers like Jacob Praetorius, Samuel Scheidt, Nicolaus Bruhns and Dietrich Buxtehude. Through the latter this school had a considerable influence on the development of Johann Sebastian Bach as a composer of organ music. From this perspective one could draw a line from Sweelinck to Bach.

Whereas Sweelinck was at the start of a new development in the composing for keyboard instruments, he was at the other end of the writing for voices. One could consider him the last representative of the above-mentioned Franco-Flemish school. His vocal oeuvre comprises secular and sacred works, printed between 1592 and 1621. The earliest publications from 1592 and 1593 are lost; the first preserved collection dates from 1594. The Cantiones Sacrae were printed in Antwerp in 1619 by Phalèse. Although they include a basso continuo part, this was probably not intended by Sweelinck, but added by the publisher. It had the character of a basso seguente which largely follows the vocal bass line. The fact that the basso continuo part was probably not by Sweelinck is in line with the character of these motets which are in the style of the stile antico. At the same time there are plenty of moments when Sweelinck illustrates the text in the music, which is no surprise considering his wide knowledge of contemporary developments in writing for voices but also his own skills in the composition of chansons and madrigals.

The motets are all for five voices. Sweelinck divides them over soprano, alto, tenor and bass and allocates the fifth voice to either a second soprano for pieces with a more jubilant character and to a second tenor for more sombre motets. The motets seem to be printed in random order. They can be divided into four categories, though: 9 psalm settings, 9 motets on texts from the Gospels, 9 nativity motets and 9 motets on various texts, including four Passion motets. The collection closes with a setting of the Te Deum. In his liner-notes Pieter Dirksen, after analysing the four Passion motets, makes an interesting observation. "Whether it be coincidental or not, these four motets, with the corresponding numbers 14, 17, 21 and 24, are arranged symmetrically around an imaginary axis of the Cantiones Sacrae. Are we, after all, dealing with a particular classification of the motets? If that be the case, then the central piece, number 19, Qui vult venire post me (...) gains even more in significance." The text says: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me, said the Lord". The motet "espouses an essential enunciation by Jesus for all Christianity which forms the core of the "Imitatio Christi" (The Imitation of Christ)."

In addition to the Cantiones Sacrae this set offers some other pieces. Diligam te, Domine (SWV 191) was written in 1617 for the third marriage of Johann Stobaeus, who may have been a pupil of Sweelinck, and who at the time was Kantor of Königsberg. in 1638 Stobaeus himself published a piece by Sweelinck, Felix auspiciis dies secondis (SWV 192a), with a new text. The piece may have been written on another text for Stobaeus' first marriage in 1604. Moreover we hear four canons. These may have been written as study material or for special occasions. Ave maris stella was composed for Heinrich Scheidemann, one of Sweelinck's organ students. It may have been originally conceived as a keyboard piece. It is performed here both vocally and at the organ. Vanitas vanitatum is used twice as the subject of a canon; one of these was written for the mayor of Harderwijk, a small town in the province Gelderland, and has survived as an autograph.

The interpretations bear witness to the utmost care with which this project has been prepared. As the Cantiones Sacrae were printed it seems plausible to assume that performances were different from one place to the other. Even so, some decisions which have been taken here very likely reflect common practice at the time. Among them are the scoring with one voice per part and the use of meantone temperament. These two aspects are essential in making sure that the text is clearly audible. That is the case here, which is also due to the performances by the Gesualdo Consort whose singers don't use vibrato and whose intonation is faultless. Moreover, these singers have much experience in singing together, and as a result they are on the same wavelength and the blending of the voices is immaculate. There is just one aspect which is a little surprising: the Latin texts are pronounced in the Italian manner.

This set is part of the 'Sweelinck Monument'. This recording is a monument in itself. It is not the first recording of the complete set, but by far the best, both historically and musically.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam

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