December 2010

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Baroque music from Germany

Telemann Psalm 117 Laudate Jehovah
Schütz Paratum cor meum
Schütz Deutsches Magnificat
Muffat Sonata V from Armonico tributo: Allemande; Adagio; Fuga
Bach Jesu meine Freude

Praetorius In dulci jubilo
Schmidt A child is born in Bethlehem
Eccard When to the temple Mary went
Muffat Sonata V from Armonico tribute: Adagio, Passacaglia
Buxtehude Magnificat

Cantandum Vyvian Bronk, Kate Carberry-Long, Lydia McLean, Helen Prentice, May Robertson soprano; Lucy Chambers, Catharine Robertson, Delia Robertson alto; Tim Dutton, Ben Linton, Joe Morgan tenor; Edmund Connolly, Chris Hodges, Cyrus Lyons, Damian Riddle baritone; Gilly French director

Bampton Classical Players Camilla Scarlett, Davina Clarke violin; Sally Woods cello; Alex Hodgkinson harpsichord and organ.

Georg Philip Telemann (1681-1767) was among the most prolific and most well-known composers of his generation. He held important positions in Leipzig, Eisenach and Frankfurt before moving to Hamburg, where he remained until his death. In his long career Telemann wrote a great deal of music of all kinds in a style that extends the late Baroque into the age of Haydn. Psalm 117, Laudate Jehovam, omnes gentes, a cantata for Epiphany, dates from his Frankfurt period and is a short setting in three continuous movements; it contains some lively word-painting, especially with the first tutti entry on ‘omnes gentes’. The middle section is a relatively slow-moving depiction of ‘merciful kindness’; it is followed by a rousing Alleluia.

Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) is generally regarded as the most important German composer before J.S. Bach and often considered to be one of the most important of the 17th century. A pupil of Gabrieli, his extensive compositional output consists almost entirely of sacred choral and vocal music. Paratum cor meum, for solo voice, two violins and continuo, is a setting of psalm 108 (My heart is ready; I will sing and give praise with my glory). The superb Deutsches Magnificat is one of the composer’s later works – written only three years before his death, it exemplifies the Venetian cori spezzati (divided choir) style.

Georg Muffat (1653-1704) considered himself German, although he was born in France and had Scottish ancestry. He was a prominent composer of instrumental music, strongly influenced by French and Italian composers. The Armonico tributo sonatas belong to the early development of the concerto grosso. The style reflects French influence in their harmonic simplicity; they are described as ‘chamber works suitable for few or many instruments’.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity. He enriched the prevailing German style with a robust contrapuntal technique, and an unrivalled control of harmonic and motivic organisation. His works are revered for their intellectual depth, technical command and artistic beauty and he is now generally regarded not only as one of the main composers of the Baroque style, but also as one of the greatest composers of all time. Jesu, meine Freude is the longest and most elaborate of the composer’s motets and is written for five voices, the extra soprano line providing added depth and richness. It is based on a chorale melody by Crüger with a text from the Epistle to the Romans. There are stark contrasts between images of heaven and hell, often within a single section; Bach’s vivid setting of the text heightens these contrasts, resulting in a motet with an unusually wide dramatic range. There are eleven movements, beginning and ending with an identical chorale setting and with balanced musical symmetry around a double fugue.

Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) was one of the most versatile composers of his time and also one of the greatest musical academics. A prolific composer, he produced over a thousand chorale and song arrangements. In dulci jubilo is set to a macaronic (mixed-language) text in medieval German and Latin, thought to be written by a German mystic in the early fourteenth century from a vision in which he saw angels singing and dancing the carol. Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654) was born in Halle and studied in Amsterdam with Sweelinck. He was a notable composer for the organ (although his works were later eclipsed by those of J.S. Bach) and of sacred music, where he helped develop a new Protestant style. A child is born is for double choir. Johannes Eccard (1553-1611) was a pupil of Lassus in Munich. His works are exclusively vocal and centre on the Lutheran chorale. He was one of the principal Protestant composers of chorale-motets, realising the full implications of the text in terms of close word-note relationships, appropriately-varied textures and a deeply religious feeling; he was much admired by Brahms. In the 19th century Eccard’s music was seen as the epitome of the Protestant a capella ideal, in quiet contrast to the rich polyphony of Palestrina. Maria wallt zum Heiligtum is better known in Troutbeck’s moving translation, which is the version heard tonight.

Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707) is one of the most important German composers of the mid-baroque. He was organist at Lübeck – the twenty-year-old J.S. Bach famously walked 250 miles to hear his music – and his organ works represent a central part of the standard organ repertoire. He composed in a wide variety of vocal and instrumental idioms, and his style strongly influenced many composers, including Bach. The charming Magnificat is attributed to the composer although it does not resemble any other of his known works. Its lilting triple-time melodies, frequent hemiolas and simple harmony largely in thirds make for a delightful melodic appeal and enduring simplicity.