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Festal Sacred Music of Bavaria, c.1600
Hans-Leo HASSLER (1562 - 1612)

Canzon 12. toni a 8 [04:01]
Cantate Domino a 12 [03:47]
Christian ERBACH (c1570 - 1635)

Sacerdotes Dei a 5 [04:49]
Orlandus LASSUS (1532 - 1594)

Missa Bell' Amfitrit' altera a 8: Kyrie [02:30]

Toccata in G (organ) [01:49]
Orlandus LASSUS

Missa Bell' Amfitrit' altera a 8: Gloria [04:51]
Christian ERBACH

Canzona 2. toni (organ) [03:13]
Hic est sacerdos a 5 [02:39]
Orlandus LASSUS

Missa Bell' Amfitrit' altera a 8: Credo [07:02]

Canzon 9. toni a 8 [04:50]
Orlandus LASSUS

Missa Bell' Amfitrit' altera a 8: Sanctus & Benedictus [03:25]
Christian ERBACH

Fantasia sub Elevatione (organ) [01:53]
Orlandus LASSUS

Missa Bell' Amfitrit' altera a 8: Agnus Dei [02:24]
Christian ERBACH

Toccata 8. toni [fragment] (organ) [00:52]

O sacrum convivium a 7 [05:25]
Christian ERBACH

Posuisti Domine a 5 [01:35]
Canzon La Paglia a 5 [02:55]

Domine Dominus noster a 12 [04:24]
The Choir of Westminster Cathedral
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts (Jeremy West); Timothy Roberts, Iain Simcock, Iris Schöllhorn (organ)/James O'Donnell
rec. June 1993. DDD

The court of the Duke of Bavaria in Munich was one of the main centres of culture North of the Alps in the second half of the 17th century. It had its ups and downs, though: in 1569 the court had a total of 63 musicians, but in 1581 that number had shrunk to 17, due to the Duke’s financial problems. Towards the end of the century the situation improved again: in 1591 38 musicians were employed there.

The figurehead of the Bavarian court was Orlandus Lassus, born in Flanders, trained in Italy, and appointed singer at the court in 1557. His reputation at the time was such that he was better paid than the Kapellmeister, Ludwig Daser. In 1562 Lassus became 'principal of the court music', a post he held until his death. It was largely due to Lassus that the Bavarian court developed into one of the centres of music in Europe.

"The sequence of music on this record is imaginatively devised to represent what might have been heard at Mass at a festal celebration in Bavaria around 1600. The feast day is that of a martyr-bishop, since it is to that liturgy that the settings of the Proper items of the Mass by Erbach pertain", Jerome Roche writes in the booklet. Christian Erbach was another composer working in Bavaria: for some time he was employed by the Fugger family in Augsburg. After the turn of the century he became mainly famous for his organ playing, attracting many pupils from all over Germany.

The ordinary of the Mass is Lassus's Missa Bell' Amfitrit' altera. The name refers to the cantus firmus which is based on a madrigal which hasn't been identified yet, but is probably Venetian. The Mass is written for two choirs, another reference to Venice with its 'cori spezzati' practice. But Lassus doesn't apply the antiphonal principle in the Venetian manner. It contains contrasts between several groups within both choirs rather than a dialogue between the two choirs.

The other two composers represented on this disc are also influenced by the Venetian style. Erbach's keyboard works are reflecting the style of Venetian organ composers. Hassler studied in Venice, and his two twelve-part motets recorded here are written for three choirs in the style of Gabrieli: high, middle and low.

The sackbuts and cornets play instrumental canzonas, and play 'colla parte' with the singers in Lassus's Mass and the motets by Hassler. This was common practice at the Bavarian court. In 1568 Massimo Troiano, a singer at the court in Lassus's time, writes about the use of wind instruments in Munich: "The wind players played on Sundays and feast days together with the singers." Therefore the decision to use them in this 'festal celebration' seems logical: there is no reason to assume that instruments which were available wouldn't have been used at occasions like this. The choice of music must remain partly speculative, of course. The sources or dates of composition of the keyboard pieces by Erbach, for instance, are not given, so I'm not sure whether all of them date from 1600 or earlier.

It seems there was a preference at the Bavarian court for a rather deep, sonorous sound: the number of trebles in the choir hardly exceeded that of other sections of the choir. Most modern choirs of boys and men are different in that respect, and I assume the Choir of Westminster Cathedral is no exception. Therefore the use of sackbuts (trombones) helps in creating that 'deep, sonorous sound'. And this choir, with its robust and strong sound, is excellently suited to perform this kind of music. It is impressive to hear, for instance, how Lassus underlines central elements in the text of the Mass by setting it for the complete ensemble - like "resurrectionem mortuorum" (the resurrection of the dead) in the Credo - and how well this is realised in this performance. There is no reference as to the venue where this recording was made, but I assume it is Westminster Cathedral, which has the right amount of reverberation. The only thing I'm missing is the sound of real church organs of the late 16th or early 17th century, even though the small organs used here are good and appropriately tuned.

This is an excellent recording which gives a good idea of the splendour at the Bavarian court at the end of the 16th century. Everyone who missed disc when first released should now grasp the opportunity to acquire its reissue at budget price.

Johan van Veen



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