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"Golden Age in Brandenburg"

Ensemble Art d'Echo
Juliane Laake

rec: Feb 15 - 18, 2016, Berlin, Andreaskirche
Querstand - VKJK 1616 (© 2016) (66'10")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

William BRADE (1560-1630): [Suite in G]; Georg Wolfgang DRUCKENMÜLLER (1628-1675): Suite II in G; Adam JARZEBSKY (c1590-1649): La Berlinesa; La Königsberga; Hieronymus KRADENTHALLER (1637-1700): Suite I in d minor; Matthew LOCKE (1621-1677): Suite V in d minor [1]; Thomas LUPO (1571-1627): Fantasia; Bartholomäus PRAETORIUS (c1590-1623): Paduana & Galliard No. 1 in d minor; Walter ROWE (c1584-1671): Coranto in d minora; Ambrosius SCHERLE (?-?): Suite in g minora; Dietrich STOEFFKEN (1600?-1673): Suite in d minora; Nicolaus ZANGIUS (1570-1619): Vater unser im Himmelreich

[1] Matthew Locke, The Broken Consort Part 1, 1661

Hans-Martin Meckel, recorder, viola da gamba; Frauke Hess, Irene Klein, Juliane Laake (soloa), Júlia Vetö, viola da gamba; Maximilian Ehrhardt, harp

The fact that the German music scene of the 17th century was strongly influenced by the Italian style is well documented, also on disc. Far less known is the influence of English music, especially in regard to the playing of and composing for the viola da gamba. The German gambist Juliane Laake recorded a disc which focuses on what was played and written at the court of the Prince Electors of Brandenburg.

From 1608 to 1619 Johann Sigismund was Prince Elector of Brandenburg. He founded a chapel which was to become one of the best of the time. In regard to the subject of this disc it is especially interesting that in 1619 the Elector engaged the English-born William Brade, who had already been in Brandenburg shortly after his arrival in Germany and then worked at the Danish court in Copenhagen, in Bückeburg and in Hamburg. It was due to his presence and the publication of his music that German musicians became acquainted with English-style consort music. From 1616 to 1619 he acted as Kapellmeister in Halle, where his employer was Johann Sigismund's brother. The disc opens with several consort pieces, played in a 'broken consort' line-up of recorder and viols. Brade's colleague in Brandenburg was Bartholomäus Praetorius - apparently not related to the Praetorius dynasty or organists in northern Germany or to Michael Praetorius - who also published a collection of consort music in 1616. In 1620 he moved to Stockholm where he became the director of the royal chapel.

Another link to England was the gambist Walter Rowe who was probably born in 1584 or 1585. In 1614 he entered the service of the Brandenburg court which he visited as a member of a troop of musicians and actors. Johann Sigismund persuaded him to stay by offering him a considerable sum of money. He remained in Brandenburg until his death; his burial record gives his age as 86. He acted as the teacher of the two princesses and in the course of his career he attracted pupils from across Germany. Unfortunately only one piece from his pen has been preserved, the Coranto in d minor. It is not known whether he has even written other music; it is quite possible that he mostly improvised and never bothered to write anything down.

Rowe's reputation as a performer was largely based on his solo playing on the viol the lyra way, a specific kind of playing in different tunings which was known across Europe but especially popular in England. The programme includes an example of such a style of playing: the Suite in g minor by Ambrosius Scherle, who for nearly 30 years was Rowe's colleague in Brandenburg. The manuscript doesn't mention his name, but it is generally assumed that the initials A.S. refer to him.

The director of the chapel was Nicolaus Zangius who was appointed in 1612 and died in 1619. Vater unser im Himmelreich is an instrumental arrangement of the famous Lutheran chorale, the German versified version of the Pater noster. Zangius was also responsible for the presence of Adam Jarzebsky who was a violinist by profession. In 1615 the Elector granted him a year's leave of absence so that he could visit Italy, but apparently he did not return to Brandenburg and later worked in Warsaw. There can be little doubt that the upper part in the two pieces from his pen recorded here were written for his own instrument; here this part is performed at the treble viol.

Johann Sigismund died in 1619 and in the next 20 years the chapel went through a period of decline, largely due to the Thirty Years War which had such a devastating effect on German music life. In 1640 Friedrich Wilhelm became Elector and he immediately started to restore the chapel to its former glory. He was strongly influenced by a stay in the Netherlands of four years, from 1634 to 1638. Here he became acquainted with English music which was well known in the Netherlands, and especially music for the viol. He owned several viols and played the treble viol himself. A key figure in his chapel was Dietrich Stoeffken who had worked under Brade at the court in Copenhagen and then in England (where he was known as Theodore Stefkin). In 1642 he moved to Brandenburg where he worked for ten years and then returned to England. Again there is a Dutch connection here: several of his compostions have been found in Dutch manuscripts and the Dutch playwright and composer Constantijn Huygens wrote in a letter to the French theorist Marin Mersenne about "the marvellous Stiphkins, who performs more wonders on the viola da gamba than any man yet." The Suite in d minor is an fine specimen of his art.

Another Dutch link is Matthew Locke, who stayed in The Hague in 1648; considering the ties between Friedrich Wilhelm and the Netherlands it is conceivable that music by him and other viol music of English origin may have come to the Brandenburg court. However, the above-mentioned Walter Rowe also played his part here; he visited England several times and may have brought some of the latest English viol music with him.

The latest composers in the programme are Georg Wilhelm Druckenmüller and Hieronymus Kradenthaller. In her liner-notes Juliane Laake mentions that the pieces recorded here were included in the inventory of books taken when the former Royal Library in Berlin was moved to Cracow. This is the library whose foundation was laid by Frederick the Great of Prussia, great-grandson of Friedrich Wilhelm and one may assume that the music library of the court from the latter's time was part of it. These suites are in the style of the late 17th century and point in the direction of the instrumental suites of Georg Muffat.

The disc ends with a bonus track. "Despite her strong reformist beliefs [=Reformed/Calvinist, opposite to Lutheran], the Electress Louise Henriette of Nassau maintained strong ties to the important Lutheran Cantor of the Nicolai Church in Berlin Johann Crüger". This track includes a setting of Jesus, meine Zuversicht, a hymn on a melody by Crüger.

This definitely is a most interesting and intriguing disc. It sheds light on a little-known aspect of German music history which is hardly explored as yet. It deserves to be, and one has to hope that more of this kind of music is going to be recorded. Most composers in the programme are unknown quantities; no fewer than five of the pieces played here are recorded for the first time. That makes this disc a major addition to the discography. Juliane Laake delivers impressive performances in the solo pieces which reflect the skills of their respective composers. The ensemble pieces are just as good and nicely played by the Ensemble Art d'Echo. This is excellent stuff; the liner-notes put the music in its historical perspective.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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Juliane Laake

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