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Johann STADEN (1581 - 1634): "Gott ist unser Zuversicht"

Elisabeth Scholl, soprano; Gerd Türk, tenor; Madrigalchor & Studio für Alte Musik of the Hochschule für Musik Nürnberg; Vocal & instrumental ensemble; Moritz Fiecher, spinet, organ (soloa)
Dir: Hartwig Groth

rec: Jan 19 - 21, 2013, Nuremberg, Heilig-Geist-Saal; Jan 25 - 26, 2013, Basel, Predigerkirchea
Hochschule für Musik Nürnberg - LC 10433 (68'52")
Liner-notes: D; lyrics - translations: D

Ach Gott und Herr; Allemanda con variationis per organoa; Benedic anima mea; Cantate domino canticum novum; Cantemus et exultemus; Das ist ein köstlich ding; Expectans expectavi dominum; Gagliarda con variationis per organoa; Gloria - Duo seraphin - Gloria; Gott ist unser Zuversicht; Laß dir die Frewd allein hie seyn; Loquebantur variis linguis; Norica plaude cohors; Sinfonia a due chori; Sinfonia per 4 tromboni; Surge amica mea; Surge peccator; Toccata per organoa; Vergiß nicht Seel deß Herren dein; Wol dem der den Herren förchtet

A time of change always attracts attention. That is certainly the case with the transitional period between the renaissance and the baroque era, the stile antico and the stile nuovo. However, most of the attention of performers seems to go to what happened in Italy at the time as that was the birthplace of the stile nuovo. As a result developments in other countries are seriously underexposed, and that certainly is true for Germany. Many composers who were active around 1600 are badly represented on disc. Johann Staden is a perfect example of a composer whose oeuvre is hardly explored as yet. That makes the present disc especially welcome.

If the name Staden rings a bell with music lovers, it is probably because of Sigmund Theophil Staden whose opera Seelewig, first performed in Nuremberg in 1644, is the first extant German opera as Heinrich Schütz's Dafne of 1627 is lost. This disc is devoted to his father who also played a major role in music life in Nuremberg. Here he was born and here he died, but in between he took several positions elsewhere. He was educated as an organist and had already made a name for himself in this capacity at the age of 18. This resulted in his being appointed as organist at the court in Bayreuth. In 1610/11 he must have returned to Nuremberg, but in 1612 he moved to Dresden to succeed Hans-Leo Hassler as court organist. However, two years later he was back in Nuremberg, and remained there for the rest of his life. He was appointed organist of the Spitalkirche in 1616, but moved to St Lorenz before the end of that year, and in 1618 he became organist of St Sebaldus. This was the most important position in Nuremberg.

Staden can be considered the founder of the Nuremberg keyboard school which is documented by Ralf Waldner on his disc 'Keyboard Music from Nuremberg'. But relatively few keyboard works from his pen have come down to us. The largest part of his extant oeuvre comprises sacred and secular vocal music. His first publications included secular songs on German texts which are firmly rooted in the stile antico of the 16th century. They are for - mostly four - voices without instruments and without basso continuo. The last of three editions with such songs dates from 1610; since then he only published sacred works. His first collection comprises German sacred songs and is from 1609; it was followed by collections with pieces in German and Latin, printed in 1616 and following years. The last dates from 1633, the year before his death. A posthumous edition of 1643 is lost.

Whereas his secular music is strongly inspired by Hassler, his publications with sacred works show a mixture of various styles and influences. They include motets in the stile antico which are influenced by Lassus, but there are also pieces for solo voices and for vocal ensemble with basso continuo which show some similarity to the concertos of Ludovico da Viadana. His Harmoniae Sacrae of 1616 is one of the first collections with an obligato basso continuo part and independent instrumental parts. Especially the passages for solo voices show a great deal of text expression. In the programme on this disc we find examples, for instance, in Gott ist unser Zuversicht which also gives this disc its title. It is a piece for double choir which is an indication of the influence of the Venetian cori spezzati practice. His interest in Venetian music is documented by the fact that until the 19th century a copy of Giovanni Gabrieli's Symphoniae Sacrae with corrections by Staden existed, which since then has disappeared.

It is a shame that this disc is rather poorly documented. The booklet includes a short introduction to the life and work of Staden, but no indication as from which editions the pieces on the programme were taken. This makes it impossible to follow Staden's stylistic development; the scoring of the individual pieces is also omitted. The programme opens with an occasional piece, Norica plaude cohors, written in honour of the Swedish King Gustav Adolph when the Swedish armies entered Nuremberg in 1632 during the Thirty Years War. It is a piece for double choir in which the opening lines are repeated as a refrain. The King is called "LEO" - lion. Cantate Domino canticum novum is an example of a piece with obligato instrumental parts. The modern concertato style comes to the fore in Ach Gott und Herr for tenor and bc, and in Vergiß nicht Seel deß Herren dein, for two solo voices (soprano and tenor), two instruments (cornett, violin) and basso continuo. To what extent there is a difference between Staden's writing for solo voices and that by Italian composers of the time is hard to say on the basis of just one recording. That also depends on the performance. Most singers are modest in their treatment of their parts, for instance in the ornamentation department. Harold E. Samuel's statement in New Grove that "melodically and harmonically there is no trace of the seconda pratica anywhere in Staden's output" seems an oversimplification. The closing lines of Expectans expectavi include quite some coloratura which sounds very Italian to my ears.

One could argue that in Staden's music Italian elements are embedded in the German tradition. In this respect he is not different from other, more famous masters of his time, such as Schütz and Schein. That is part of the attraction of his music. Staden's qualities certainly come off here, but it has to be said in all honesty that these are not top-notch performances. That can't be expected from an ensemble which mainly consists of music students from the conservatory of Nuremberg and the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. The weaknesses are in the vocal parts; sometimes a part is spoiled by a nervous vibrato. The vocal part of Ach Gott und Herr seems to be a little too low for the unnamed tenor. Two seasoned professional singers participated in the recordings: Elisabeth Scholl and Gerd Türk, but they seem only involved in Expectans expectavi. The instrumental performances are by far the best, and that regards both the strings and the cornetts and sackbuts.

The organ pieces are a tribute to Staden's activities as an organist but are not specifically intended for the organ as they omit a pedal part. The Allemanda con variationis is a short sequence of variations on the tune known as More Palatino (also played by Ralf Waldner). The melody of the Gagliarda con variationis is best known as John Dowland's song If my complaints could passions move. It would be interesting to know how Staden became acquainted with this song. Did he know Dowland's setting or is this a melody which circulated in Germany under another title? The liner-notes don't give any information about the organ pieces at all.

The performances may not be of the highest quality, they are very respectable and show the qualities of Johann Staden as a composer. That makes me strongly recommend this disc and express the hope that it will encourage other performers to pay attention to a composer who is unjustly neglected.

On the internet I could not find any reference to this disc. It is probably only available from the Nuremberg conservatory and from Pro musica antiqua.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Hochschule für Musik Nürnberg

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