Valentin Rathgeber was a
very successful composer in Germany in the first half on
the 18th century. He was born in Fulda and studied theology
in Würzburg where he also became a schoolmaster and an organist.
In 1707 he entered the monastery at Banz as a chamber musician,
and there he was ordained in 1711. In the same year he was
appointed choirmaster, a post he held until his death. As
a composer he concentrated on writing sacred music for churches
which couldn't afford professional singers and players. His
music is melodious and technically not very demanding. This
was the main reason it became very popular throughout Germany.
This disc concentrates on
secular songs and dialogues of an often satirical nature,
which were published in 1733 and 1737. They were so popular
that the publisher, Johann Jacob Lotter in Augsburg, printed
another collection under the same title in 1747, but composed
by Johann Caspar Seyfert (1697-1767). Pieces from this last
collection are also included here. The character of these
pieces has given sustenance to all kinds of stories about
Rathgeber but they turn out to be little more than myths.
In the booklet Thorsten Preuß writes that according to popular
mythology Rathgeber escaped from the convent, devoted himself
to worldly things, and returned after some years as a kind
of 'lost son', who - after proper punishment - was received
again into its welcoming confines. He published many sacred
pieces during his time outside the convent, with the specification "cum
licentia superiorum" (with the permission of the superiors)
and his works often were dedicated to dignitaries from within
and outside the church. This makes it very unlikely he had
fallen out of favour with the church or his convent.
Rathgeber's secular works
are comparable with his sacred music in that they are technically
undemanding. He took advantage of the growing interest in
music-making among the middle classes which created a market
for music which could be played by amateurs. His compositions
also reflect the change in style in particular during the
second quarter of the 18th century. Despite their limited
technical requirements pieces by Rathgeber have been found
in the archive of the Thomasschule in Leipzig and melodies
from the collections of 'Tafel-Confect' have left their mark
in compositions by Mozart. In the 20th century Rathgeber
was rediscovered by the youth music movement in Germany.
And today Germany has a Valentin-Rathgeber-Gesellschaft which
is involved in putting together a catalogue of all Rathgeber's
printed works and prepares new publications of his compositions.
Apart from vocal pieces from
the collections 'Tafel-Confect' this disc contains two concertos
from Op. VI, published under the title 'Chelys sonora'. They
are written in Italian style, but - as all Rathgeber's works
- for a rather limited scoring with only two solo parts,
two violins and basso continuo.
It was an excellent idea
to record this music, as the disc gives some insight into
the development of music-making by the German middle class
of the first half of the 18th century. This development was
going on in the second half of the century: the genre of
the sinfonia concertante is also part of the music culture
of the middle class. The singers have captured the character
of these songs well and eloquently communicate their humour.
They get good support from the players, which also give fine
performances of the two concertos. It is a shame, though,
that the longest piece, 'Von Erschaffung Adam und Eva', is
rather difficult to follow: only a small part of the text
has been printed in the booklet (approximately three minutes
of the total of nine) and as it is in dialect even German
speakers may find it difficult to understand, let alone those
non-native speakers who only know standard German. In a piece
with an uncommon text which is supposed to be humorous, that
is a serious omission.
Even so I recommend this
disc as it provides the listener with almost eighty minutes
of great pleasure. It is perhaps advisable not to listen
to all pieces at once but rather in bits and pieces.
Johan van Veen