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"Requiem aeternam" - Early romantic music with wind

Maria Erlacher, soprano; Martina Gmeinder, mezzo-soprano; Wilfried Rogl, tenor; Andreas Mattersberger, bass-baritone
Vokalensemble Novocanto; Ferdinandeum Wind Ensemble
Dir: Ernst Schlader

rec: May 2014, Innsbruck, Church of the Seminary of the dioceses Innsbruck and Feldkirch
Musikmuseum - CD13025 (© 2016) (71'26")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Felix MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809-1847): Trauermarsch für Harmoniemusik, op. 103 'Zum Begräbnis Norbert Burgmüllers'; Josef NETZER (1808-1864): Leiden und Tod Jesu, motet; Jakob SCHGRAFFER (1799-1859): Miserere in E flat; Propers to the Harmoniemesse in E flat (Gradual in B flat: Deus meus; Offertory in E flat: Reges terrae; Tantum ergo in E flat); Requiem in c minor

[Novocanto] Eva Estermann, Johanna Kapelari, Esther Mair, Leigh Michelow, Maria Theresia Platter, soprano; Kristina Busch, Claudia Déri, Brigitte Karg, Beate Kostner, Bettina Wachter, contralto; Clemens Dietrich, Georg Hohenegger, Markus Walzl, Thomas Zangerl, tenor; Benjamin Chamandy, Thomas Lungenschmid, Sebastian Mair, Gerhard Wilhelmer, bass
[FWE] Dorothea Seel, flute; Michael Bosch, Georg Fritz, oboe; Markus Springer, Janis Tretjuks, clarinet in F; Peter Rabl, Christian Köll, clarinet in C/B flat; Matthias Deger, Herbert Faltynek, basset horn; Klaus Hubmann, contrabassoon; Christoph Gapp, Klaus Dengg, Michael Söllner, Bastian Schmid, horn; Christian Gruber, Stefan Ennemoser, trumpet; Norbert Salvenmoser, Markus Waldhart, Werner Kreidl, trombone; Nikolaus Walch, serpent, bass horn; Anna Tausch, cello; Barbara Fischer, violone; Paul Bramböck, Daniel Müller, timpani, percussion

Throughout history wind instruments have played a major role across Europe. Since the Middle Ages many towns had their own ensembles of wind players, such as the city waits in England and the Stadtpfeifer in Germany. Wind instruments also had an important place at the courts of kings and emperors. Louis XIV employed a group of twelve oboists, called Les Douze Grands Hautbois. Whereas in France oboes and bassoons played a particularly important role, the horn was very much a German/Austrian addition to the wind band. Its history goes back to the Middle Ages, but technical changes in the early decades of the 18th century allowed it to play an increasingly important role in wind bands.

In the classical period many composers wrote pieces for the so-called Harmoniemusik, an ensemble of wind instruments, sometimes supported by a double bass. This kind of music was especially intended for social entertainment. Mozart was one of the composers who strongly contributed to the genre of the Harmoniemusik. Especially popular were arrangements of opera arias or even complete operas for wind instruments. After 1800 ensembles of wind instruments made their entry in chamber music; the wind quintets by the likes of Franz Danzi and Anton Reicha bear witness to that. The present disc sheds light on the role of wind instruments in sacred music in Germany and Austria.

This is a relatively little-known part of music history. The English music encyclopedia New Grove pays some attention to the role of wind bands in church music in the article Band (i) but then almost exclusively to their participation in community singing during the 18th century in England. Their role in Germany and Austria is ignored. The same goes for the interesting site A History of the Wind Band, written by Stephen L. Rodes. Taking this into account the present disc is a major addition to the discography and greatly enhances our knowledge of the role of wind instruments in the music of the 19th century.

The music recorded here dates from the second quarter of the 19th century. Although valves had already been invented natural trumpets and horns were still used. That is not as strange as it seems; new developments in the construction of instruments were not always immediately picked up, and many of the players in church may have been amateurs, who were used to the instruments they had learned to play. And let us not forget that even someone like Johannes Brahms preferred the natural horn to the modern horn with valves for his Trio op. 40. Church bands often also included instruments which otherwise were rather rare, such as the serpent, an instrument which was also used in France, for instance for the accompaniment of plainchant.

The largest part of this disc is devoted to three pieces by Jakob Schgraffer, a composer who is a completely unknown quantity and has no entry in New Grove. He was the son of a cooper from Bolzano in southern Tyrol and was brought up by his uncle who ran a coffee-shop and played the oboe in the parish orchestra. Jakob was sent to Marian Stecher, director of music at Trent Cathedral, and later studied at the conservatory of Milan. Here he composed a symphony and a mass. Schgraffer developed into an important and productive composer of sacred and secular music. In 1829 he was appointed an honorary member of the Innsbruck Music Society whose orchestra had performed his Jubel-Ouvertüre the year before. The sacred works performed on the present disc also date from 1828 just like the oratorio Die Angst und der Tod des Erlösers and the Harmoniemesse in E flat. These have been recorded at this same label but that disc has never crossed my path. That is a shame as this disc shows that Schgraffer is a very respectable composer whose music is well worth being performed. The programme includes the Propers for the Harmoniemesse; it would have been preferable if they had been recorded as part of the mass. However, their inclusion here suggests that the mass is good stuff and should encourage everyone interested in this kind of repertoire to look for that disc.

The Requiem in c minor is a relatively short work: it comprises the Introitus, the Kyrie, a short version of the sequence Dies irae (Dies irae; Tuba mirum; Recordare), the offertory and the Sanctus; it lasts less than 20 minutes in total. The instrumentation is notable for the strong presence of bass instruments: bass trombone, two bassoons, contrabassoon, cello, double bass and serpent. This contributes to the work's dark mood which comes especially to the fore in the Introitus which has the character indication mesto (sad). The Kyrie has a more uplifting character whereas the Dies irae which opens with the instruments playing in unison is quite dramatic. The 'Recordare' is for bass and choir, the offertory a solo for the tenor.

Miserere mei Deus is one of the seven penitential psalms which were especially sung during Lent. Schgraffer's setting is divided into nine sections; the concluding section returns to the opening verse. In a number of sections soloists and choir participate. The most incisive sections are 'Sacrificium Deo' ("The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt Thou not despise") and 'Tunc acceptabis'. In the latter the composer creates a strong contrast between the first part - "Then shalt Thou be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness, with the burnt offerings and oblations" - and the second: "Then shall they offer young bullocks upon Thine altar".

The remaining two pieces fit well into the programme. The disc opens with a rare piece by Mendelssohn, a funeral march for Norbert Burgmüller, a composer whose skills were greatly admired and who died in May 1836 at the age of just 26. The scoring includes percussion and rare instruments such as the bass horn and a high clarinet in F. The closing piece is Leiden und Tod Jesu, a Passion motet by Josef Netzer, another largely unknown name who is also omitted in New Grove. He was also from Tyrol, was educated at the Innsbruck Music Society and was a pupil of Simon Sechter in Vienna. He worked as a conductor in Vienna, Mainz and Leipzig before being appointed conductor of the Men's Choral Society and the Styrian Music Society in Graz which made him a crucial figure in Styrian music life. The motet, scored for solo voices, four-part choir and wind ensemble, is a setting of a poem by Paul Gerhardt, one of the main authors of hymns in Lutheran Germany of the 17th century. It is not known when it was composed but Franz Gratl, in his liner-notes, suggests it could have been written around 1850, when Netzer worked in Leipzig where he must have become acquainted with the tradition of Lutheran hymns and religious poetry. The poem comprises 16 stanzas most of which are sung in homophony by the choir, with the instruments playing colla voce. Only some stanzas are allocated to the soloists.

No doubt this is a most interesting production. The sacred works are not comparable to what we know from the pen of the likes of Schubert and Mendelssohn. But it sheds light on a part of music life which is little-known: the music performed during church services in Germany and Austria in the first half of the 19th century. Sacred music from this period is relatively rare: most composers didn't hold a position in which the composition of church music was required and quite some composers had a rather problematic relationship with the Christian faith. This and the unusual scoring for voices and wind ensemble makes this disc fill a serious gap in our picture of 19th-century music. The performances leave nothing to be desired. The playing of the instruments is outstanding, and if you are interested in historical instruments of this period this is a disc to be investigated. The singing of soloists and choir is also very good.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Maria Erlacher
Martina Gmeinder
Andreas Mattersberger

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