musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Johann Georg REUTTER (1708 - 1772): "Portus Felicitatis - Motets and Arias for the Pantaleon"

Monika Mauch, sopranoa; Stanislava Jirku, contraltob; Margit Übellacker, dulcimerc
La Gioia Armonica
Dir: Jürgen Banholzer

rec: May 2012, Bremen, Studio Radio Bremen
Ramée - RAM 1302 (© 2013) (69'36")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Alcide trasformato in dio, dramma per musica (1729) (Soletto al mio caro)ac; Allegro for strings and bc; Archidamia, festa teatrale (1727) (Dura legge a chi t'adora)acd; Deus pater paraclytus, Motetto de Sanctissima Trinitateab; La Betulia liberata, azione sacra (1734) (Del pari infeconda)ac; Hodie in ecclesia sanctorum, Motetto de quovis Sancto vel Sanctab; Justorum animae in manu Dei sunt, Motetto de ominibus Sanctisab; La magnanimità di Alessandro, festa di camera per musica (1729) (Venga l'età vetusta)abc; Pizzicato for violin and bcc; Surrexit pastor bonus, Motetto de Resurrectione Dominib; Wenceslaum Sanctissimum, Motetto de Sancto Wenceslauab

Sources: Meret Lüthi, Sabine Stoffer, violin; Lucile Chionchini, viola; Felix Knecht, cello; Armin Bereuter, violone; Michael Freimuth, archlute, theorbo (solod); Jürgen Banholzer, organ

For centuries Vienna was one of the main centres of music in Europe. That was partly due to the personal interest of the respective emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. But a rich musical life was also partly a matter of representation: the better the Kapellmeister and his musicians the higher the status of a court. The present disc is devoted to a composer who was connected to the imperial court for decades, in the last three years of his life formally as Kapellmeister. But he had the bad luck of being at the helm of the chapel in a time of decline, due to the financial burden of various wars. It hasn't done his reputation any good.

Johann Georg Reutter was born in Vienna as the 11th child of Georg Reutter, who acted as court organist. Having received his first musical education from his father he became a pupil of Antonio Caldara, the vice-Kapellmeister at the court. He composed an oratorio and an opera and then went to Italy in 1730. This strongly influenced his style of composing which came to the fore in his operas which were performed at various venues in Vienna during the 1730s. In 1738 his father died and Reutter succeeded him as first Kapellmeister at the Stephansdom. As a result his compositional activities turned from opera to sacred music. In 1740 he was ennobled and in the next decades his influence in Vienna's music life would increase considerably. After the death of the court Kapellmeister, Johann Joseph Fux, in 1741 he regularly assisted his successor, Luca Antonio Predieri, with the composition of sacred music. In 1747 he was officially appointed second Kapellmeister, in 1751 he became acting first Kapellmeister; in 1756 he assumed the duties of second as well as first Kapellmeister at the Stephansdom; and in 1769 he formally became court Kapellmeister.

His strong position on the music scene could not prevent the demise of musical forces and as a result musical quality at the court and in the Stephansdom. There were two reasons. The first was that the empress Maria Theresia who ascended the throne in 1740 had to deal with the costs of the Silesian wars and the War of the Austrian Succession. As a result the number of musicians had to be reduced and the effect was a reduction in quality. The second reason was that in the mid-1750s Maria Theresia ordered that sacred music was to be performed without instruments, in the wake of a papal encyclical of 1749 which sought to reduce the role of instruments in church services. In some way Reutter managed to reduce the effects and, as David Wyn Jones writes in New Grove, "may be said to have saved the whole tradition of Viennese church music accompanied by instruments."

Jürgen Banholzer, in his liner-notes to the present disc, states that this whole situation has considerably contributed to the negative assessment of Reutter in the 19th and 20th centuries. "He was regarded in the 19th century as 'a composer capable in his own way, yet without spirit', representing 'the pre-Haydn and Mozart period', responsible for 'an unending decline and secularisation of the style of sacred music', which led 'within Haydn-Mozartism - as a direct consequence of the Reutter's attitude in the ?eld of sacred music - to the most crude and wild degeneracies against the spirit of dignity of the sacro-oratorical art'." Basically he was made responsible for the state of sacred music in the time of Haydn and Mozart which in itself was assessed negatively. Banholzer points out that the change in attitude towards the sacred music of the classical period also resulted in a less critical judgement of Reutter's work but that he is still regarded a 'minor master' who represents a 'transitional period'. That is how musicologists have looked at the time between the baroque era and the classical period in general. That has changed and today composers of the generation of the Bach sons are taken more seriously. That should also result in a revaluation of Reutter's output.

He has left a large oeuvre which includes more than twenty operas - even more if we count those which are lost - and a number of serenatas. In the field of sacred music his output comprises about ten oratorios - among which the first setting of Pietro Metastasio's libretto La Betulia liberata - and a large amount of liturgical works, such as 81 masses.

The programme offers a survey of his oeuvre: arias from secular works, motets and a couple of instrumental pieces. One aspect is particularly interesting: the inclusion of a dulcimer in several pieces. This instrument was invented by Pantaleon Hebenstreit - from which the name of pantaleon is derived which seems to have been given by Louis XIV - and became quite popular at several courts across Europe. In 1724 his pupil Maximilian Joseph Hellmann was appointed court dulcimer player in Vienna. Reutter was one of the composers who included dulcimer parts in his scores. The dulcimer can be heard as a solo instrument in Pizzicato, a separate piece for violin which has been preserved in manuscript. This adaptation is justified by the fact that very few solo music exists which suggests that dulcimer players must often have improvised and adapted music for their instrument. Archidamia, Reutter's first opera (officially called a festa teatrale) which received its first performance in 1727, includes the aria Dura legge a chi t'adora for soprano, dulcimer, archlute and bc. The prominent position of the archlute is remarkable but can be explained from the fact that the imperial court always had employed a theorbist of repute. From 1708 to 1726 the famous Francesco Bartolomeo Conti acted as principal theorbist in Vienna. In 1727 he was succeeded by Joachim Sarao from Naples.

The motets were probably written for performance during the services at the court, during the Gradual or Offertory. They have the form which we know from, for instance, Vivaldi's motets: one or two arias, usually also a recitative and a concluding "alleluia". It is notable that some motets have been preserved with various titles and different texts. This suggests that they were used for more than one occasion. In the case of Hodie in ecclesia sanctorum the title confirms this as it is a motetto de quovis Sancto vel Sancta - a motet for any saint (male or female). The text as performed here says: "Today, in the church of saints, glorious saint Madeleine exults". Does the text leave the choice of the name to the performers? The liner-notes don't mention it. Justorum animae in manu Dei sunt is a motet for All Saints' Day, Surrexit pastor bonus is for Easter, Deus pater paraclytus is for Trinity Sunday and Wenceslaum Sanctissimum for Wenceslas, the patron of Bohemia which belonged to the Habsburg empire.

This is a most interesting disc from a historical point of view as it sheds light on music life in Vienna in one of its lesser sparkling stages. It is impressive to hear how Reutter made the best of the situation he had to deal with. The programme presented here shows that there is no reason whatsoever to ignore him. This is good music and I hope to hear more from him. Reutter has found eloquent advocates in the two soloists and the instrumental ensemble. Monica Mauch is a household name in the early music scene and has a number of fine recordings to her credit. I had never heard of Styanislava Jirku; I like her voice and as far as sound production is concerned the two voices are perfect matches but Ms Jirku's vibrato makes the blending less than ideal. Margit Übellacker is an excellent player of the dulcimer.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Stanislava Jirku
Monika Mauch
La Gioia Armonica

CD Reviews