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Hans Leo HASSLER (1564 - 1612): "Organ Works"

Joseph Kelemen, organ

rec: August 12 - 14, 2014, Klosterneuburg (A), Stiftskirchea; Oct 19 - 20, 2016, Gabelbach (D), St. Martinb
Oehms - OC 658 (© 2017) (79'51")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Ach weh der schweren pein - 2. Theil: Und weicht von mir gar ferrb; Canzon in Ca; Canzon in Cb; Introitus IV. tonia; Introitus in d minorb; Kein grösser frewdt a 8 voc.a; Messa de gl'Apostolia; Ricercar in e minorb; Ricercar del 2° tonob

Hans Leo Hassler is one of those composers from the late 16th century who have not received the attention they deserve. He was one of the most prolific composers of his time, as the impressive work-list in New Grove shows. His oeuvre includes sacred music, both on Latin and on German texts, secular music in Italian and German and instrumental pieces, among them more than 100 compositions for keyboard. This disc offers a selection of the latter part of his oeuvre.

Hassler was born in Nuremberg as son of an organist, and had two brothers who also became musicians. They were all trained as organists, and all three were connected for some time with the influential and wealthy Fugger family. Hans Leo was the first German composer to travel to Venice, where he took lessons from Andrea Gabrieli and became acquainted with his nephew Giovanni as well as with Claudio Merulo. He arrived in 1584, but left the next year when Andrea Gabrieli died, and returned to Germany. In Augsburg he took up the position of Cammerorganist of one of the members of the Fugger family. In 1608 he moved to Dresden where he first became chamber organist and then took up the duties of Kapellmeister. But soon he was hit by tuberculosis, which would cause his death in 1612.

Through his activities as an organist in the service of the Fugger family and at the court in Dresden he became acquainted with two very different types of organ. The instruments in southern Germany were strongly influenced by the organs built in Italy. They mostly had only one manual and a pedal. In contrast the organs of central and northern Germany were much larger; in fact, they can be counted among the largest instruments in Europe, and usually consisted of three or four manuals and pedal. During his time in Dresden Hassler designed an organ for the Schlosskapelle which was built by Gottfried Fritsche, one of the most influential organ builders in Central Germany at the time. The organ was constructed between 1610 and 1612, and because in the latter year Hassler died, it is unlikely he ever played it.

This particular instrument does not exist anymore. Therefore Joseph Kelemen plays the first part of the programme at the organ of the Stiftskirche Klosterneuburg in Austria which dates from 1642 and was built by Johannes Freundt, an organ builder from Passau. With its 35 stops on three manuals and pedals it shows quite some similarity with the Fritsche organ in Dresden. The second instrument is of the traditional south-German type: it dates from 1609 and was originally built for the Barfüßerkirche in Augsburg and is in St Martin's Church in Gabelbach, near Augsburg, since 1758. It has 12 stops (one of them a later addition) on one manual and pedal. Both organs are in (modified) meantone temperament.

The programme includes specimens of the various genres of organ music at the time. It includes two pieces called Introitus which are of a very different character. They share their similarity with the Italian toccata, but whereas the Introitus IV. toni has a majestic character, the Introitus in d minor is much more modest in proportion and more playful. The former includes a strong dissonant at the end; Kelemen also emphasizes the influence of the Venetian cori spezzati technique through registration and the change of manuals. The canzon has its roots in vocal music; the two specimens recorded here include many runs. Such pieces can also be played on strung keyboard instruments, such as the harpsichord and the clavichord. The ricercares are impressive examples of counterpoint. The Ricercar in e minor is notable for the almost endless repetition of a two note motif (b'''-c"") in the tenor from the 23rd bar onwards. The Ricercar del 2° tono, on the other hand, is dominated by the opening chromatic subject, which is then used in various ways - including inversion, stretto and diminutions - throughout the work.

The largest work in the programme is the Messa de gl'Apostoli. It includes Kyrie, Gloria and Credo and for the cantus firmus Hassler turned to a collection of liturgical pieces, which had been published in 1553 in Augsburg and was reprinted many times. Its author was Lucas Lossius, who was a convinced Lutheran. In this edition, under the title of Psalmodia, hoc est cantica sacra veteris ecclesiae selecta, he applied Gregorian chant melodies and texts to the evolving Lutheran liturgy. As the Credo was omitted - which was common practice at the time - Hassler used Luther's versification, Wir glauben all an einen Gott, instead. Between the last section of the Gloria (Cum Sancto Spiritu) and the Credo we hear an arrangement of the Lutheran hymn Ach Gott vom Himmel sieh darein, based on the 12th Psalm. Its inclusion must have something to do with its place in the liturgy, but that is not explained in the liner-notes and I have not been able to find an explanation elsewhere.

Lastly we find some secular works in this programme. Strictly speaking these are not from the pen of Hassler. That is to say: the vocal originals are, but Kelemen plays intabulations from the so-called Turin Tablature, the main source of Hassler's keyboard music, which also includes pieces by some of his contemporaries, such as the Gabrielis, Merulo and Sweelinck. Part of the tablature is the adaptation for organ of the complete collection of secular songs which Hassler published in 1601 in Nuremberg under the title of Lustgarten neuer teutscher Gesäng, Balletti, Gaillarden und Intraden. One of them is Kein grösser frewdt, Hassler's arrangement of a piece by Jacob Regnart. The arrangement is for eight voices in two choirs, a token of the influence of the Venetian polychorality. Here the two choirs are realized on different manuals of the Freundt organ.

Hassler is not that well represented on disc and that includes his keyboard music. It is mostly included in discs devoted to music of the time, either vocal or instrumental, but discs entirely devoted to Hassler are rather rare. Therefore this disc - part of a series with music from southern Germany - is most welcome. Kelemen is a specialist in this repertoire; the booklet includes a list of discs which he has recorded in recent years. Those which I have heard are all excellent, and the present disc is no different. He combines thorough knowledge of the style and performance practice of the 16th and 17th centuries with a lively and engaging style of playing. He always chooses the appropriate instruments, some of which are also not that well known. He also wrote the informative liner-notes.

This disc offers a perfect introduction to Hassler's art as a keyboard player and composer of keyboard music.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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Joseph Kelemen

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