Gottfried August Homilius
was one of the main composers of sacred
music in the northern part of Germany
in the second half of the 18th century.
No less than 200 cantatas flowed out
of his pen, which were performed in
Dresden, where from 1755 until his death
he was Kantor of the Kreuzschule, which
was associated to the Kreuzkirche. The
title of this disc may therefore surprise.
But it reflects the historical circumstances
in which Homilius was working in Dresden.
At the end of 1756 the Prussian army
had invaded Saxonia, which was the beginning
of the Seven Years' War. In July 1760
they destroyed the Kreuzkirche, and
as a result all musical activities in
that church were moved towards the Frauenkirche.
The Kreuzkirche could only be reconsecrated
in 1792. So Homilius had to work the
largest part of his time as Kreuzkantor
in the Frauenkirche, where he had been
organist from 1741 to 1755.
This disc brings cantatas
for the season of Advent, Christmas
and New Year. It opens with a cantata
for the first Sunday of Advent, which
is traditionally concentrating on the
coming of Jesus as King of the world.
This is reflected by the scoring, which
contains trumpets and timpani, so often
used in compositions for kings and queens.
The scoring for two choirs allows Homilius
to create a dialogue on a text which
refers to Psalm 24: "There he comes,
humbly - Who is coming? - The king of
glory - Who is this king of glory?"
Jesus is characterised as 'Saviour of
the world', 'king of glory', 'father
of mankind', 'ruler of unnumbered hosts'
and, in the next recitative, 'prince'.
There is also a reference to the entrance
of Jesus in Jerusalem, which is celebrated
on Palm Sunday: "He is coming, bestrew
his way with fresh palms". The following
aria for soprano encourages the audience
to receive the King and serve him gladly.
The parts of the gospel
which report about the announcement
of Jesus's coming by John the Baptist
were read during the Advent period.
The second cantata ties in with this.
It starts with a chorus which calls
on the audience to be ready to receive
the Saviour of the world: "Lift up your
hearts, be ready to receive with awe
the Duke of your salvation." In the
next recitative the work of John is
directly referred to: "The herald's
call rouses the world (...) The herald
calls, he shows the light, which breaks
through all darkness, now the way has
to be prepared". This is a reference
to Isaiah 40, just as at the beginning
of Handel's Messiah. The next aria links
up with this: "The towering heights
descend, the fearful valleys rise again",
which is illustrated by descending and
rising scales in the music. In the next
recitative and the closing chorale Jesus
is asked to move into our hearts.
Trumpets and timpani
appear again in the opening chorus of
the cantata for the first day of Christmas:
"A great day is dawning, rejoice in
its honour". The next recitative reminds
the audience of the joy the news of
the birth of a prince brings to a country.
"But here is more than a king's son,
to us no prince, but a God is given".
Next follows a terzetto which consists
of four sections: the A section is sung
by three voices, the next three by the
two sopranos (the second is an alto
here) and the tenor respectively. After
every solo section the A section is
repeated. The text explains the meaning
of Jesus's coming in the flesh: "to
dwell as mediator". As a result "we
inherit the Father's realm". After a
recitative the soprano sings a aria
full of joy: "I sing of his name, his
praise shall always be in my mouth".
This aria hasn't a da capo structure:
the B section ends with the choir singing
"Amen, Amen". The cantata closes with
a chorale on the melody of 'Vom Himmel
The last cantata is
for New Year's Day, which was sometimes
also celebrating the circumcision of
Jesus. In this cantata Homilius concentrates
on thanksgiving for the blessings of
the past year and prayers for God's
blessing in the coming year. In the
booklet Gerhard Poppe suggests a political
meaning as well. The cantata was written
in 1756, when Dresden suffered the consequences
of the Prussian invasion in Saxonia.
This could explain why Homilius used
the chorale 'Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich'
(Mercifully grant us peace, Lord God,
in our time) as cantus firmus in the
opening chorus which says: "Wish Jerusalem
joy! It must be well for those who love
thee! There must be peace within thy
walls, and good fortune in thy palaces!"
The soprano aria refers to Psalm 23,
and this is followed by an accompanied
recitative in five sections: the first
four are successively sung by the soloists,
in the fifth they sing together: "We
all, Lord, who praise thee, let us never
be in need. Regard all of the fatherland
with mercy, and let no disaster come
near our dwellings". After an aria for
bass, which calls on to praise God,
the cantata ends with a chorale which
- as so often in music for New Year's
Day - expresses the longing for the
second coming of Christ.
The four cantatas on
this disc have all been recorded for
the first time. Considering their quality
it is rather surprising that is has
taken so long before they were performed
and recorded. I was particularly struck
by the way Homilius expresses the content
of the arias in the music, for example
by the instrumental scoring. The recitatives
are also very eloquent and rhetorical,
and the soloists underline that character
in their interpretations. The main parts
in these cantatas are for the soprano
and the bass, and they both are excellent.
I knew about the qualities of Jochen
Kupfer, but Katja Fischer was a new
name to me. She has a pure and clear
voice, which is a great delight to listen
to. Both singers excell in the way they
shape the phrases, and they communicate
the text very well by means of clear
diction and articulation. The alto and
tenor have relatively small parts to
sing, and they do that well. The choir
and orchestra leave nothing to be desired.
Considering the quality
of these cantatas and the interpretations
on this disc I strongly recommend not
only to look for this particular recording
but also to explore the music of Homilius,
which to date has been very much underrated.
Carus Verlag will be publishing the
scores of these cantatas, and we should
be very grateful for that.
Johan van Veen