It may seem a little
strange to put a Mass by an Italian
composer and Bach's Magnificat together
on one disc. But it makes a lot of sense,
since Bach was a great admirer of Antonio
Lotti's sacred music.
Lotti was born in Venice,
and received his musical education from
Giovanni Legrenzi (1626-1690), 'maestro
di cappella' of San Marco. Lotti himself
became a falsetto singer (1689) and
later second organist (1702) at San
Marco. He composed many sacred works,
both for San Marco and the 'ospedali'
in Venice. He also got the reputation
of being one of the leading opera composers
in the city. It was this reputation
which brough him the invitation to Dresden
by the Prince Elector of Saxony, Friedrich
August. From 1717 to 1719 Lotti composed
and performed five operas in Dresden.
During those years he and his musicians
also regularly performed sacred music,
which made a great impression in Dresden
Among the composers
who admired Lotti's music was Jan Dismas
Zelenka. Around 1730 he copied the Missa
Sapientiae - which consists of Kyrie
and Gloria only - for a performance
in Dresden. It was Zelenka who gave
the Mass its name. He also adapted the
work to the local performing habits.
These adaptations mainly concern the
instrumentation: Zelenka added parts
for woodwinds and in some instances
replaces a violin by a transverse flute
or an oboe by a trumpet. It is this
version which is performed here.
Handel was another
admirer: he copied parts of the Mass
and borrowed material from it to use
it in some of his oratorios.
And Johann Sebastian
Bach also owned a copy of this Mass.
In the early 1730s Bach started to collect
sacred music by Italian composers, apparently
as part of his preparations for his
own Mass compositions. There are some
similarities between Lotti's Missa Sapientiae
and Bach's Mass in B minor.
Lotti's Mass directly
catches the attention by the fanciful
first section of the Kyrie. It very
much reminds me of some sacred works
There are strong contrasts
within this Mass setting, partly due
to the use of solo passages and passages
for reduced forces. In the Gloria the
words "et in terra pax" are sung three
times by one voice only, without any
Very impressive is
the section 'Qui tollis peccata mundi'.
The first half is dominated by a motif
of two notes - short-long - followed
by a pause, alternately played by the
upper and lower strings. This is the
kind of 'sighing' motif which we know
from the Crucifixus in Bach's B-minor
Mass. The continuous repetition could
be associated with death bells. And
on the words "miserere nobis" Lotti
has written strong dissonances which
are reminiscent of his famous 8-part
The following phrase
"suscipe deprecationem nostram" (receive
our prayer) is very strong and persistent
- very appropriate for this text.
Bach's Magnificat is
a far better-known work. But is it mostly
recorded in its second version in D,
which dates from 1733. The version performed
here is the original one in E flat.
It has been thought
that the E flat-version was first performed
at Christmas Day 1723. At that occasion
four traditional Christmas hymns were
included: Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich
her, Freut euch und jubilieret, Gloria
in excelsis Deo and Virga Jesse floruit.
But in his liner notes the German Bach
scholar Ulrich Leisinger states that
the first performance of this version
took place on 2 July 1723, at the feast
of the Visitation, which was celebrated
in Leipzig. The performance at Christmas
Day of that year was the second, and
at that occasion the Christmas hymns
There are some differences
between the interpretations of the two
works on this disc.
Lotti's Missa Sapientiae
is performed at the most common pitch
of that time, called the 'Cammerton':
a'=415 Hz. But Bach's Magnificat is
performed at the lower pitch of a'=392
Hz. This pitch, which was common in
France, was called 'tief-Cammerton'.
During his first year and a half in
Leipzig Bach composed several pieces
at this low pitch. He could do so, since
his predecessor as Thomaskantor, Johann
Kuhnau, had collected woodwind instruments
tuned at that pitch. The use of this
pitch creates a special sound which
is a little softer and gentler, and
less brilliant than at 'Cammerton'.
is that in Bach's Magnificat the German
pronunciation of Latin is used, whereas
in Lotti's Mass the Italian pronunciation
is applied. That seems a little strange.
Lotti was an Italian composer, but his
Mass is recorded here as it was once
performed in Dresden under the direction
of Zelenka. How was Latin pronounced
in Dresden: the Italian way? I doubt
It seems that Thomas
Hengelbrock doesn't support the theory
that sacred works in Bach's time were
usually performed with one voice per
part. In Bach the Balthasar-Neumann-Choir
consists of 4 singers for every part
(with the exception of soprano II, which
is sung by three singers). The choir
was created "as a small group with the
possibility of employing its own vocal
soloists even for highly virtuoso parts".
This situation pays off in that all
singers are on the same stylistic wavelength
and that there is a unity between soli
The four Christmas
hymns have all different scorings. The
first two are for voices a capella.
Here in both hymns instruments are playing
colla parte. This seems to me a good
decision, which brings more unity between
those hymns and the Magnificat. And
it is also historically justified, since
we know from other works that Bach has
applied the option of instruments playing
As a result this disc
contains very impressive performances
of two masterpieces. The strong expression
of both works comes across very well.
Two examples from the Magnificat are
"Fecit potentiam" and "Deposuit potentes"
which combine fast tempi with very strong
Although I would have
liked a sharper articulation here and
there, the playing of the orchestra
is very colourful and dynamic.
Johan van Veen