Christoph Weyse was born on March 5, 1774 in
Altona in Holstein, Denmark. He learnt singing, keyboard, and violin
in the musical atmosphere of his hometown and of nearby Hamburg, where
C.P.E. Bach was the municipal director of music. Weyse came to the Copenhagen
in 1789 as a teenager to study with Schulz and with Peter Grønland,
living at first in Schulz's house where he studied the keyboard, violin,
In 1792 Schulz helped the eighteen year old Weyse to
obtain a position as assistant organist at the Calvinist Reformed Church,
where worship was conducted in German and French. At the beginning he
was probably not paid for his services, but two years later the old
organist died and Weyse became his successor. There are piano pieces
and short songs with German text in the style of Schulz's Lieder
im Volkston; and in addition there is a work for choir and orchestra
with a large-scale, fugal finale entitled Der Herr ist Gott (1794)
that points forward to Weyse's cantatas.
As early as 1817 Weyse had written a cantata for the
tricentenary of the Reformation, the first of his great cantatas. It
was praised by his old teacher, Grønland after its performance
in Trinitatis Church. It may not have ended with the expected spectacular
fugue, but as he said, "if on Judgement Day, the Recording Angel
reads aloud the list of your sins, you can boldly say: Lord, I have
composed this chorus. And the Judge of the World will forgive you all
your sins!" Jens Baggesen was captivated too, and wrote a poem
of homage to Weyse after the final rehearsal.
Weyse's cantatas were not, like those of J.S. Bach,
intended for use in the church service as liturgical music. They were
performed after the service, in the same way as those traditional Passion
concerts in Holy Week.
Weyse had been asked to compose a Christmas cantata
to a text by the highly esteemed court poet, Thomas Thaarup (1749-1821).
The collaboration continued over the next few years with cantatas to
Pentecost, Easter and the New Year. As a rule King Frederik VI controlled
the process of these works by having them written through his civil
servants. Although they would be commissioned works and their working
conditions could be difficult, Weyse took up the challenge with both
heart and mind.
Weyse wrote about thirty cantatas in all, with the
true cantatas consisting of up to ten distinct numbers. They begin with
spacious choral numbers followed by numbers with varying ensembles;
two, three, four, or five part lyrical soloist ensembles, dramatic recitatives,
arias as well as chorales. Finally another chorus number at the end
often develops into a large fugue, the special hallmark of sacred music
and proof of a composerís classical training. Weyse met these expectations
excellently; the choruses made an impression and the romance-like ensembles
(sensitively recreated on this CD) were audience favourites.
The Easter Cantata Nr 1 (1821) with text by
Thomas Thaarup was performed for the first time on Sunday 22nd April
in Trinitatis Church. The joy of Easter is evident in the first number
of' the cantata: an impressive, jubilant chorus in the main key of C
major, accompanied by the full orchestra and structured musically as
a prelude and a fugue. The first six lines of verse are chiselled out
in big chords, while the word 'Hallelujah' is accentuated by the fugue
subject. In the trio, a lyrical romance in F major with a delicate string
accompaniment, the focus is turned back for a moment to the life of
Jesus before a calm joy breaks out again in the last lines.
The drama from the Entombment to the Resurrection is
depicted by the next three numbers. In a recitative the tenor speaks
of the enemies of Jesus and their mockery. As a foil to this, the solo
ensemble, a quintet in E flat major, expresses the grief of the bereaved.
The story culminates in the representation of Heaven and the Resurrection
itself. The piece begins in C minor and is tonally very turbulent, but
ends in a bright C major. Weyse marks the change with a leap to E major,
where a chorale strophe (to the melody Af højheden oprunden
er) could be perceived as the gratitude of the congregation. Two
of Thaarup's strophes are united in the last ensemble of the cantata,
now a quartet in A major, before all forces join again in the final
chorus in C major - as mighty and jubilant itís the introductory chorus
and formed in the same way, with a fugue at the end.
Christmas Cantata No. 3 ( 1836) was composed
with text by B.S. Ingemann. For once, Weyse composed a cantata without
being asked. He had found the text in a 20-year-old collection of poems
by Ingemann, and at the beginning of November, when lie had almost finished
the music lie sent the text to AW. Hauch, the Lord High Steward, and
asked for permission to have it performed. The King gave his approval
for a performance on Christmas Day in Vor Frue Church.
The introductory chorus in E flat major is a typical
framing chorus. We find the theme, used here and in the final chorus,
is a reworked version of the interesting Minuet in his Symphony
No 5, third movement [Marco Polo 8.224013, tk.7]. (This fact might
have been mentioned in the otherwise impressive notes.) The choir sings
in broad chords accompanied by the whole orchestra. Small tonal and
dynamic contrasts are seemingly motivated by the text, as in "Hør
det o Afgrund og skjaelv" (Listen and tremble, thou bottomless
pit); but a jubilant characteristic is predominant. A more idyllic
tone is struck in the trio. No. 2 with its light string accompaniment
and cello solo in the prelude, interlude and postlude. It is a eulogy
to the Christ Child.
The chorale No. 3 is again in E flat major: the melody
is from A Mighty Fortress is Our God, a well known hymn tune
still in use in Britain. As it was sung then, and here too, the accompaniment
is dominated by four trombones. Now follows a duet in G major, or rather
a soprano solo, a tenor solo and then a duet of the two voices. Ingemann
gave his text the form of a strophic song, and Weyse keeps this metric
structure but varies the melody and broadens its ending. Four trombones
and a harp announce the next number, with a B major chord (the piece
is in E major), where five soloists unite to sing words of the angels
from the gospel for Christmas Day. Lyrical and gentle as this sounds,
it is a high point of the whole work. The last number begins with a
quotation from the introduction but since the text does not mention
any Ďpití here, Weyse launches into a mighty fugue of Handel-like dimensions.
It unfolds in three great waves: in the first, one observes how the
voices unite their forces, the second is full of contrapuntal refinement,
and the third, with harp arpeggios where the choir repeats the message
of the angels, provides a calm lyrical joy to round the work off.
The overall impression in listening to these works
is where one is conscious of lovely lyrical singing matched with warm
orchestral colour and acoustics. All soloists suit their roles. Listen
to the superb balance of voice, lyrical approach and sensitively expressed
trios in tk.2 & tk.9, or the elegantly sonorous quintet (in tk.5).
The distantly placed orchestra plays well and contributes to the warm
One reservation with the acoustics of this venue is
that strong forte chords from the brass provide a none-too-pleasant
ricocheting effect, but this only occasionally mars an otherwise splendid
performance and recording. Appreciation should be handed to Da Capo
for bringing about a revival of exciting works of Weyse and recognising
the importance of their heritage.
The CD carries a good booklet with good notes in English,
Danish, and German by Carsten Hatting.