musica Dei donum

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Meinrad SPIESS: "...damit GOttes Ehr befördert werde" ( the glory of God)

Aurelius Sängerknaben Calw; Instrumentalists from Studio XVII Augsburg
Dir: Bernhard Kugler

rec: Nov 3 - 5, 2010, Abteikirche Irsee
Studio XVII Augsburg - 96529 XVII (© 2011) (54'00")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Lytaniae Lauretanae in honorem Beatae Virginae Mariae seu Sacratissimi Rosarii, op. 6,8; Miserere; Missa S. Eugenii, op. 4,1

Sources: [1] Cultus latreutico-musicus ..., op. 4, 1719; [2] Hyperdulia musica ..., op. 6, 1726

Michael Bühler, Ilja von Grünigen, trumpet; Jane Berger, Ilona Sieg, violin; Teresa Schwamm, Lothar Ulrich Haass, viola; Arno Jochem de La Rosée, cello; Günter Holzhausen, violone; Roland Götz, organ

Meinrad Spieß is a typical specimen of a composer who is commonly known as a "minor master". It therefore comes as a surprise that he was a member of the famous Mizler Society, together with the likes of Telemann and Bach. It is likely that he was invited to become a member on the basis of his theoretical writings. His treatise of 1745, Tractatus musicus compositorio-practicus, found a wide dissemination, and was even studied by a truly romantic composer as Anton Bruckner.

Spieß was born in a Swabian village and received the name Matthäus. He was sent to the Latin school of the Imperial Monastery of Irsee. Here he had ample opportunities to explore his musical skills. When his voice changed he went to the Benedictine monastery of Ottobeuren in order to further develop his musical skills. At the age of 18 he returned, became a novice and adopted the name of Meinrad after being ordained. He studied theology and philosophy, became deacon and then, in 1707, a priest.

The monastery of Irsee was a scientific centre; several of the monks were professor at various universities. In his treatise Spieß refers to various famous authorities such as Mattheson, Heinichen, Walther and Fux, and it is very likely that their writings were part of the monasterial library. Spieß was rather conservative in his views on music. For him the old-fashioned counterpoint was the foundation of all music. He was opposed to fashionable music whose main purpose was to please the ear. He also preferred the church modes over the modern major-minor keys. At the same time he is in line with contemporary theorists as Mattheson and Heinichen in his emphasis on Affekt and rhetorics as means of musical expression. One could consider him as a representative of that wing of the music scene in Europe which advocated the mixture of the old Palestrina-style with modern expressive elements. Other composers of this kind of music were active in Italy. One of them was Ercole Bernabei who worked in Rome in various positions, and lastly as director of the Cappella Giulia. In 1674 he moved to Munich to become Kapellmeister to Prince Ferdinand Maria of Bavaria. When he died in 1687 he was succeeded by his son Giuseppe Antonio, and it was with him that Spieß was allowed to study for three years. It had a lasting influence on his development as a composer and one may assume that the views in his treatise also reflect some of the musical education which he received from Bernabei. He returned to Irsee in 1711 where he was appointed Chori Director. He then started to compose and to publish his works in various collections. These were written over a period of 13 years; after that he concentrated on his theoretical work. The first opus appeared in 1714, the last dates from 1734, which is lost. After that he seems to have concentrated on his theoretical studies; the latest extant composition, Miserere mei Deus - recorded here - dates from 1749.

All of Spieß' extant compositions are sacred vocal works; the collection of 1734 which has been lost was his only instrumental opus, with sonatas for two violins and bc. In his vocal works he mixes the old-fashioned counterpoint with modern homophonic episodes and melodious passages. Among the three works on this disc the Miserere is the most modern piece, in which tutti episodes alternate with arias and duets. These are not of an operatic nature as in so many religious works of his time. They are within the grasp of choral singers, such as the Aurelius Sängerknaben Calw. The other pieces are different in that they are scored for a 'choir' with passages for one or several solo voices. Here the use of choir members as soloists especially pays off as there is a strong unity between soli and tutti. The choir and its soloists do a good job; only in the Miserere some episodes could have been more expressive. But performances like these could well reflect the way music was sung in monasteries like that of Irsee.

All in all this disc gives a good idea of the stature of Meinrad Spieß and the character of his oeuvre.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Aurelius Sängerknaben Calw
Studio XVII Augsburg

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