Only very specific
circumstances saved the musical output
of Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel from
almost complete extinction.
After spending some
years in Italy, Stölzel was staying
in Prague. When the post of Kapellmeister
at the court of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen
became vacant in 1715, he presented
himself as a candidate for the job.
But he didn't succeed: Prince Christian
Wilhelm I elected Johann Balthasar Freislich,
a decision which wasn't generally applauded
by musicians and music lovers in Sondershausen.
In 1718 Stölzel took the position
of Kapellmeister at the court at Gera,
and moved to Saxe-Gotha in 1720, where
he held the same position until his
death. In that same year Prince Günther
I succeeded his father in Sondershausen.
He was an intellectual and a great lover
of music and the arts. As soon as he
became acquainted with the compositions
he very much regretted that Stölzel
had not been appointed in 1715. As an
alternative he asked him to compose
a number of cycles of sacred cantatas,
Passions and Te Deums as well as compositions
for special occasions. Stölzel
did so, but only after Freislich had
given up his job as Kapellmeister to
become the director of the opera at
Danzig in 1731. It was mainly due to
a strong admirer of Stölzel's in
Sondershausen, Johann Christoph Rödiger,
who was an alto singer and violinist
at the court, and had sung as a treble
under Stölzel in Gotha that Prince
Günther got to know Stölzel's
compositions. His cantatas were performed
in the 1730s. He also copied most of
Stölzel's compositions for performances
at Sondershausen for about ten years.
It is this situation
which has been a blessing for musicologists
and musicians of today. Most of his
compositions which were only performed
in Gotha have been lost, perhaps - as
Manfred Fechner suggests in the liner
notes - deliberately destroyed, under
his successor Georg Benda. However,
most of the pieces written for and performed
in Sondershausen have come down to us.
They represent the largest collection
of Stölzels music. It includes
339 sacred cantatas, two Passions, one
setting of the Te Deum,
and ten secular cantatas.
Stölzel had a
great reputation as one of the most
respected and admired composers of his
time. In 1739 he was elected a member
of Lorenz Christoph Mizler's Societät
der Musikalischen Wissenschaften. Mizler
even placed him above Johann Sebastian
Bach in his list of leading German composers.
Bach was among Stölzel's admirers,
as the inclusion of the Partita in g
minor in the Clavier-Büchlein vor
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach shows. And it
is very likely that Bach performed some
of Stölzel's sacred cantatas in
Listening to these
cantatas it is easy to understand why
Prince Günther regretted that Stölzel
hadn't been appointed Kapellmeister
in 1715. Their quality is exceptional,
and fully supports the reputation Stölzel
had in his time.
Most of the cantatas
begin with a four-part chorus, whose
first section is predominantly homophonic,
but which closes with a fugal section.
It is remarkable that the third cantata
here (Wollte Gott, dass alle das Volk
weissagete) begins with a bass aria.
But if one looks at the text, it makes
sense, as here Moses is quoted (Numbers
11, 29) saying: "Would that all the
Lord's people were prophets, that the
Lord would put his spirit upon them!"
The instrumentation is mostly strings,
with oboes playing colla parte and basso
continuo. In the first two cantatas
they are joined by two horns. But in
the cantata 'Lehre mich tun nach deinem
Wohlgefallen' two flutes turn up. The
text says: "Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God; may your good Spirit
guide me on the level path." Later on
the idea of guidance is connected with
the image of the shepherd; the cantata
closes with a chorale which says: "The
Lord is my good shepherd, keeps me under
his guard." As flutes are often associated
with pastoral subjects, their appearance
in the opening chorus points to the
subject matter of this cantata.
As one would expect
in sacred cantatas of the German baroque,
there is plenty of text illustration.
In the tenor aria 'Was saust so sanft'
from the cantata "Werdet voll Geistes"
the blowing of the Holy Spirit is illustrated
by a motif of one short and one long
note. There are descending motifs at
the start of the bass aria from the
third cantata on the words "If the Spirit
falls on all" and in the soprano aria
from the fifth cantata on the words
"I throw myself at your feet". And when
the soprano sings: "My spirit loses
itself in thought" (Cantata no. 4) the
first phrase ends with a general pause.
In the tenor aria from the cantata 'Lehre
mich tun nach deinem Wohlgefallen',
the biting attacks of the orchestra
eloquently illustrate the text: "You
false guides of my life, world, Satan,
The disc closes with
a cantata which is written for Sunday
Quasimodogeniti, the first Sunday after
Easter. The opening chorus is a piece
remarkable for its expression and rich
harmony. The first phrase of this chorus
shows a strong similarity with the instrumental
introduction to the aria 'Comfort ye'
from Handel's Messiah. Did Handel, who
habitually borrowed from other composers,
know this cantata?
Having written the
first treatise in German on recitative,
Stölzel was considered an authority
on the subject. These cantatas show
that he was able to use his theoretical
knowledge in an imaginative way. One
of the features of his recitatives is
the use of modulation. Often a recitative
is directly followed by an accompagnato.
In some of the recitatives two or more
voices alternate. In one of his cantata
cycles Stölzel even writes recitatives
or accompagnati to be sung by all voices
together. This happens in the cantata
'Er heisset Friedefürst' on this
disc. Interestingly this wasn't generally
appreciated in Sondershausen. The lexicographer
Ernst Ludwig Gerber saw a connection
between this style of composing and
Stölzel's illness a couple of years
before his death. However these cantatas
were actually written in 1731.
Outstanding music receiving
very fine interpretations. In particular
Dorothee Mields and Jan Kobow give excellent
performances, and Christian Immler is
also quite good, although perhaps a
little less subtle than I would wish.
I am not quite happy with Martin Wölfel.
I find his voice a bit shrill and thin,
and lacking warmth. He also uses a little
too much vibrato. As these cantatas
are performed with one voice per part,
the four soloists also sing the tutti,
and they do so very well. The orchestra
is very enjoyable. The oboes give a
special colouring to the sound of the
strings. The parts for the transverse
flutes and the horns are faultless,
and there are some very vivid contributions
from the bassoon.
The booklet isn't to
the usual standard. It seems a whole
page has been left out as neither the
last cantata (tracks 36 to 39) nor the
names of the soloists are mentioned.
To sum up: superior
music with performances vary from good
to outstanding, I strongly recommend
Johan van Veen