Johann Heinrich Erlebach shares the
fate of many composers of his time:
a large part of his oeuvre has been
lost. In this particular case it was
the fire which hit the castle of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt
in 1735 which destroyed many of his
works." Ironically it was the great
appreciation of the court for its former
Kapellmeister which caused this tragedy:
after Erlebach's death it purchased
all his music from his widow. At the
same time Erlebach's reputation among
his colleagues is the reason a respectable
number of his compositions have come
down to us as musicians collected and
exchanged them to be performed where
they were working. Still, we only have
a relatively small number of the about
750 works Erlebach seems to have composed.
He wrote music in all genres, both vocal
and instrumental, sacred and secular.
In one of his writings a contemporary
poet also gives evidence of Erlebach's
reputation, as the title character says:
"From there I came to Rudolstadt,
where Mr. Erlebach is music director
to Count von Schwarzburg and among German
composers gives the most satisfaction
and outstandingly distinguishes himself".
commemoration of Erlebach's birth in 2007 was the obvious reason
for Ludger Rémy recording some of his sacred music. This set
of discs gives a good idea of Erlebach's style and its development
through the years. The earlier cantatas are strongly rooted
in the 17th century, of which the scoring of two independent
viola parts is an indication, whereas the latest works are two
arias, in which Erlebach embraces the modern principle of the
to a German scholar who studied Erlebach's life and works the
texts of five of the seven compositions recorded here were written
by the theologian Christoph Helm (?-1748) who from 1696 to 1704
acted as ducal informer and choirmaster at the court of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt.
In his texts he combines biblical passages with free poetry.
Most pieces are written in the style of the so-called 'concerto-aria
cantata' - also frequently used by Dietrich Buxtehude - in which
a biblical passage opens the work and is followed by some strophic
is impressive in Erlebach's cantatas is that he is able to deal
with this rather strict form in a very creative way. He was
helped by Helm's texts which are characterised by strong contrasts
in Affekt. The cantata 'Die Liebe Gottes ist ausgegossen' is
written for Pentecost and begins with a quotation from St Paul's
Letter to the Romans (V:5). This is repeated at the end of the
cantata, and in between several other verses from the same chapter
are quoted as well. The scoring is notable for the use of two
sopranos and three viola parts. In this cantata we see several
features of Erlebach's style, like the mixture of homophonic
and polyphonic elements, frequent text expression through the
use of musical figures and changes in tempo and metre, fugal
passages, the use of instrumental ritornellos and an alternation
of soli and tutti, often without interruption.
cantatas have an instrumental introduction, sometimes these
are very short and fully integrated in the first vocal passage.
A special case is 'Wer sind diese mit weißen Kleidern angetan'
which is in two parts, both of which begin with an instrumental
movement. The scoring is also remarkable as it contains four
parts for viols - here played by violas. The whole cantata consists
of biblical passages and was part of a larger work which Erlebach
composed for the funeral of Countess Maria Susanna, the younger
sister of Count Albert Anton of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt. This
cantata is the only part of this music - which originally consisted
of seven pieces - which has come down to us, which is a great
shame considering its strongly expressive character.
of the compositions in this collection are 'arias', for either
one voice ('Unruhige Gedanken') or two voices ('Betrübtes Herz').
They are from a collection of twelve arias published in Rudolstadt
in 1704. Here we find Erlebach embracing the da capo technique:
in each stanza the opening line is repeated at the end. But
these pieces are still far away from the arias which we know
from - for instance - Bach's sacred cantatas. It is therefore
certainly right that the ornamentation used in these performances
is rather moderate. Both arias end with a four-part section,
which is a kind of appendix. In the introduction to the collection
Erlebach explains that the "concluding ensemble with four
voices and two violins" can be performed, insofar as is
possible or necessary, not only to conclude the cantata but
also at its beginning and end or, if need be, can be omitted.
it is difficult to understand why some music has been neglected
for such a long time. That is definitely the case here: the
quality of these seven sacred works by Erlebach is such that
this production is an important and exciting addition to the
catalogue. No-one interested in German music of this era should
miss it. The performance is first class: the scoring with just
four voices is certainly justifiable for historical and stylistic
reasons - although the addition of four ripieno singers is an
interesting and defendable option - and the four singers here
are an ideal match. The instrumental ensemble plays its parts
with great expression and good understanding of the texts.
booklet contains a very extensive essay on the music, with a
detailed analysis of most pieces performed here. It is very
good and interesting, although perhaps a bit too elaborate for
a CD production. You also get the lyrics with an English translation.
I strongly recommend this production and very much hope that
more of Erlebach's vocal oeuvre will be recorded.
those interested in Erlebach I would like to recommend recordings
of the two extant instrumental collections: the sonatas for violin,
viola da gamba and bc with Rodolfo Richter (Linn
Records) and the six orchestral overtures with the Berliner
Barock-Compagney (Berlin Classics). Also recommendable is a disc
by the Chicago Baroque Ensemble which contains some of the sonatas
as well as four secular arias (Centaur).
Johan van Veen