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"Lost Music of Early America - Music of the Moravians"

Sharon Baker, Cyndia Sieden, soprano; Martin Pearlman, fortepiano
Boston Baroque
Dir: Martin Pearlman

rec: Nov 1997, Worcester, Mass., Mechanics Hall
Telarc - CD-80482 (2 CDs) (© 1998) (65'26" / 21'54")
Texts and translations included

[Lovefeast for Christmas] Hymn: Freuen wir uns; Johann Friedrich PETER (1746-1813): Der Herr ist mein Theil; Jeremiah DENCKE (1725-1795): Meine Seele erhebet den Herren; Johann Friedrich PETER: Es ist ein köstlich Ding; Hymn: Join We All with One Accord; David Moritz MICHAEL (1751-1827): Hail infant Newborn; John ANTES (1740-1811): Loveliest Immanuel; Simon PETER (1743-1819): Ich will euch wie ein Thau sein; Johann Abraham Peter SCHULZ (1747-1800): Thou Child Divine; Hymn: Zeige mir dein Angesicht
[Lovefeast for Lent] Hymn: Heiliger Herre Gott; Johann Peter KELLNER (1705-1772), arr Christian GREGOR (1723-1801): Ach Schönster unter allen; Johannes HERBST (1735-1812): Suchet sein Antlitz; John GAMBOLD Jr. (1760-1795): Die mit Thränen säen; Hymn: Lob Gott getrost mit Singen; Johann Christian GEISLER (1729-1815): O lieblicher Heiland, du mein Versöhner; Jeremiah DENCKE: Gesegnet bist du, sein Volk; Johannes HERBST: Hymn: Herz und Herz vereint zusammen
[Lovefeast for Thanksgiving] Hymn: Kommt, danket dem Helden; Christian GREGOR: Das ist ein Tag; Johann Friedrich PETER: Ich will immer harren; Ich danke Dir ewiglich; Johann Christian GEISLER: Die Frucht des Geistes ist Liebe; Georg Gottfried MÜLLER (1762-1821): O Sing, all ye Redeemed; Jeremiah DENCKE: Mein Herz dichtet ein feines Lied; Simon PETER: Siehe meine Knechte; Johann Friedrich PETER: Ich will dir ein Freudenopfer thun; Johann Christian BECHLER (1784-1857): Hymn: Sing Hallelujah
[Trombone choir] Hymn: Herr und Ältster deiner Kreuzgemeine; Hymn: Jesus Makes My Heart Rejoice
[Fortepiano] John GAMBOLD: Rondo for pianoforte
[CD 2: Martin Pearlman discusses Music of the Moravians ]

The music on this disc is by composers who hardly ever appear on any concert programme. The main reason is that they wrote music for religious communities and this kind of music is not welcome on today's concert platforms. On the second disc Martin Pearlman expresses his regret that this repertoire is so little known as it is an important part of the American cultural heritage. If one listens to the music one has to add that most of it is of such a quality that its neglect is also regrettable from a strictly musical point of view. Most of the pieces may be relatively simple but in their simplicity they are full of expression.

The music performed here was written and used in the Moravian community in America. This community's roots go back as far as the 15th century, as in Bohemia Jan Hus sought reforms of the church of his day, so did Martin Luther about a century later. He and his followers were severely persecuted and Hus himself was burnt in 1415. Later that century his followers founded a new church, 'The Unity of Brethren'. In the 17th century this church was heavily persecuted during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) and for years afterwards. In the early 18th century survivors of the persecutions found sanctuary at the estate of the Saxon nobleman Nikolaus von Zinzendorf. Here they organised the church again and from the 1730s started extensive missionary activities in the New World. The Moravian communities which were the result of this were based in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Music always played an important role in these communities: not just religious music, but also instrumental music and large-scale vocal works. Some of Haydn's symphonies and his oratorio Die Schöpfung were given their first American performances in the Moravian communities.

The music on the present disc is mainly organised around three so-called Lovefeasts. The Liebesmahl, as the original German term is, was a kind of special service, which consisted mainly of music, with a fellowship meal. Here three of the most important feasts are represented: Christmas, Lent and Thanksgiving. The music consists of usually rather short pieces, mostly written or arranged specifically for the Moravian community, either by professional musicians or by pastors and bishops. The texts are either in German or in English, and some pieces - in particular the hymns - date from the 16th century. The scoring is mostly for choir and instruments, but some contain solo parts, and there is even music for double choir.

Most composers represented here may be hardly known today, some of them were professional musicians and also wrote non-religious music. One of the most prolific composers was Johann Friedrich Peter, who was born in the Netherlands and educated in Germany, and who came to America in 1770, bringing with him a large number of compositions by European composers. He composed string quartets which are among the earliest chamber music written in America. Another professional composer was David Moritz Michael, who was born in Germany and joined the Moravian church at the age of 30. He is thought to have directed the first performance of Haydn's oratorio Die Schöpfung in America. Johannes Herbst also deserves to be mentioned, as he not only composed hundreds of pieces, but also copied over one thousand works by other composers. These copies are one of the main sources for this recording.

Performances of relatively simple (liturgical) music by professional musicians can very easily go very wrong. Any artificiality and any virtuosity are totally out of place in this context. I am full of admiration for the artists who perform the Moravian repertoire here. They are able to keep it simple and fully concentrate on communicating the religious spirit of this music. At the same time it is important that this repertoire gets excellent performances, which reflect the high quality of music making in the Moravian communities of the 18th century. Only through top-notch performances and the use of period instruments and performing techniques will the real character and the full quality of these compositions be revealed.

The booklet contains informative programme notes and the lyrics, with an English translation of the German texts. I also recommend that you listen to the spoken explanation by Martin Pearlman on the second disc, with musical illustrations.

This is a fascinating sound document of a religious tradition which is otherwise hardly known. It is also a fine tribute to the faith and art of the Moravian communities in America, and I sincerely hope their music will be further explored in the future.

Johan van Veen (© 2008)

Relevant links:

Boston Baroque

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