musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Petitiones Cordis - Motets from Manuscript 229 (1585) in the Stralsund municipal archives"

Schola Stralsundensis
Dir: Maurice van Lieshout

rec: Sept 2011, Stralsund, Nikolaikirche
Ramée - RAM 1208 (© 2013) (60'45")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

anon: Vulnerasti cor meum a 5; Jacques ARCADELT (c1507-1568): Nuptiae factae sunt a 6; Eucharius HOFFMANN (?-1588): In Domino a 5; JOSQUIN DESPREZ (c1450/55-1521): O virgo prudentissima a 6; Heinrich ISAAC (c1450-1517): [Christus filius Dei] a 6; Gregor LANGE (c1540-1587): Ich will des Herren Zorn tragen a 5; Jacob MEILAND (1542-1577): O pulcherrima inter mulieres a 6; Antonio SCANDELLO (1517-1580): Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ a 6; Christ lag in Todesbanden; Ludwig SENFL (c1486-c1542/43): Alleluia, mane nobiscum Domine a 6; Thomas STOLTZER (c1480-1526): Beati omnes a 5

Anna Kellnhofer, Dorothea Wagner, soprano; Christoph Ditmar, alto; Milo Machover, tenor, recorder; Hugo Pieri, baritone; Simon Borutzki, bass; Maurice van Lieshout, Stefanie Lüdecke, Silvia Müller, Ingo Voelkner, recorder; Antonie Schlegel, recorder, dulcian; Martin Ehrhardt, recorder, portative organ; Elizabeth Farrell, Daja Leevke Hinrichs, renaissance flute; Ute Faust, Folger Faust-Peters, Dietrich Haböck, Katharina Holzhey, Miyoko Ito, viola da gamba;

Stralsund is a city in the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. It was one of the first members of the Hanseatic League. From a musical point of view it is especially famous for its historical organ, built by one of the main organ builders of his time, Friederich Stellwagen, in the Marienkirche. One of its better-known organists was Johann Vierdanck. The subject of the present disc is a manuscript, which is preserved in the municipal archives, and known as Handschrift 229. Unfortunately two part-books are missing, but it has been possible to reconstruct a number of pieces from the more than 100 motets in this source.

The manuscript dates from 1585, but that doesn't mean that all the pieces included were still part of the repertoire performed in Stralsund at that time. That was not so much a matter of music being out of date. Stylistic changes at that time were not as drastic as in the baroque era. Josquin Desprez was considered the greatest composer of his time, and his music was still performed well after his death. It was rather a matter of content: Josquin's motet reflects the veneration of the virgin Mary, one of the elements of the Roman Catholic doctrines which met with strong opposition from Martin Luther. The inclusion of a motet by another contemporary of Josquin, Heinrich Isaac, indicates that 'old' music was still sung. One won't find Christus filius Dei in Isaac's work catalogue in New Grove. The music is that of Virgo prudentissima which he composed for his employer, emperor Maximilian I. In the Stralsund manuscript the text has been adapted: every reference to the Virgin and to the emperor have been removed and replaced by new lyrics.

Such adaptations were common practice at the time. This particular adaptation can be explained from the Lutheran orientation of Stralsund. This also explains the inclusion of pieces on a German text and especially pieces which are based on chorales written and composed under Luther's influence. Christ lag in Todesbanden and Allein zu dir by Antonio Scandello are striking examples. He was from Bergamo and entered the service of Elector Moritz of Saxony at his court in Dresden in 1549. He converted to Lutheranism and in 1569 was appointed Kapellmeister. The third piece on a German text is Ich will des Herren Zorn tragen by Gregor Lange. Today he is largely forgotten, but was highly respected in his own time, and was ranked with the likes of Lassus and Lechner. He was Kantor in Frankfurt/Oder. The inclusion of these three pieces by composers from elsewhere bears witness to the dissemination of music across Europe. An even more revealing example is Nuptiae factae sunt by Jacques Arcadelt, a representative of the Franco-Flemish school who worked exclusively in France and Italy.

Jacob Meiland belongs to the lesser-known masters of the renaissance who held several jobs in various places such as Dresden, Brandenburg, Frankfurt and Ansbach. The programme begins with a motet by Eucharius Hoffmann, who worked for a number of years in Stralsund as Kantor and music teacher. These two works, as well as the anonymous setting of Vulnerasti cor meum, reflect the stylistic change in the last decades of the 16th century. Polyphony was still dominant, but composers paid more attention to text expression, partly through the use of homophony and a declamatory treatment of the text. This shows that composers from the north of Germany were well aware of the latest Italian madrigals.

This disc is not only interesting from a historical point of view, the interpretation is also notable for the extensive use of instruments. It is argued in the booklet, with references to documentary evidence, that instruments were frequently used in performances of sacred music. They either supported the voices, playing colla voce, or replaced one or more voices. In this recording Josquin's O virgo prudentissima is entirely performed instrumentally, whereas in Scandello's Christ lag in Todesbanden, for instance, only the cantus firmus is sung, with the other parts taken by instruments. In O pulcherrima inter mulieres Meiland juxtaposes three high and three low voices, and this is emphasized by the use of contrasting instruments for the two groups.

There can be little doubt that this reflects common practice at the time. However, despite the evidence mentioned in the liner-notes in regard to the use of instruments, I would like to know whether this was also common use in Stralsund. The use of instruments highly depended on the financial and personal resources in a specific place at a specific time. In the German items I noted a pronunciation which is different not only from modern German - as used in almost any performance of German renaissance and baroque music - but also from that in other items. I wondered about the differences between the piece by Lange on the one hand and the two items by Scandello on the other. The booklet doesn't mention this issue.

The importance of this release can hardly be overrated. The programme gives a good impression of how music of different times and character was performed across Germany, or, from a wider perspective, the European continent. Music was adapted, musically and textually, to what was needed at a certain time. It bears witness to the wide dissemination of music by the best composers of the time. It also shows how music could be performed, and the extensive use of instruments is especially interesting as most of the sacred repertoire of the renaissance is today performed a capella. In addition the programme includes music by several masters who are virtually forgotten today. The music is well served by the Schola Stralsundensis. In performances like these the blending of voices and instruments and a good balance between the participants is especially important. This is one of the positive aspects of this recording: the singers are not treated as soloists, but as just one of the voices of the ensemble. This is also how they are listed in the booklet. The singing and playing is excellent throughout. This is the ensemble's first recording. They have made a very fine start, and I look forward to future recordings of largely forgotten repertoire.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Schola Stralsundensis

CD Reviews