Gottfried August Homilius was
born in Rosenthal in Saxony, and studied law at Leipzig
University. There he became a pupil of Johann Sebastian
Bach and also of Johann Schneider, organist at the Nikolaikirche
in Leipzig. In 1742 he was appointed organist at the Frauenkirche
in Dresden, and in 1755 succeeded Theodor Christlieb Reinhold
as Kantor of the Kreuzschule, connected to the Kreuzkirche.
After this church was destroyed by Prussian troops during
the siege of Dresden in 1760, the services were mainly
held in the Frauenkirche. There most of Homilius's liturgical
music was performed, which explains the title of this disc.
As a composer of church music - which includes about two
hundred cantatas for all feast days - he was famous all
over Germany, as his compositions have been found in many
Carus has already given us a recording of his motets (see review).
The function of cantatas in the
liturgy in Dresden wasn't any different from that of Bach's
cantatas in Leipzig in that they were a kind of musical
sermon. The form of Homilius's cantatas is therefore the
same: they open with a chorus, mostly based on a text from
the Bible, and close with a stanza from a chorale. In between
there are a number of recitatives and arias. The arias
are generally considerably longer than in most of Bach's
cantatas, reflecting the stylistic change in those days.
The disc brings four cantatas
for the period around Whitsuntide. Strangely enough the
order on the disc is not in accordance with the order of
the church year, as the track-list shows.
The last cantata comes first:
the opening chorus quotes Psalm 47, which is traditionally
considered as referring to Jesus's accession to the throne.
The first recitative describes the meaning of Ascension
Day, and the first aria is about the jubilation in heaven
by the angels. In the next recitative the congregation
is addressed: "The Saviour goes before to prepare
our place". In the closing chorale they are urged
to "devote the heart to that place where ye long to
The second cantata on the disc
is written for Sunday Exaudi, which is the Sunday between
Ascension Day and Whitsunday, and which traditionally concentrated
on the persecution as the effect of following Jesus. We
find this theme also in Bach's cantatas for this Sunday: "Sie
werden euch in den Bann tun" (BWV 44, 183). The text
of the opening chorus is from I Peter 4 vs 14: "Blessed
are ye if ye are reviled over the name of Christ".
The followers of Jesus have to accept the consequences,
as the tenor aria says: "Patiently bend thy back under
the burden of the cross if thou will bear witness to Jesus".
In the next recitative they are told that Jesus will give
them strength, which is also the theme of the closing chorale.
'Der Herr ist Gott, der uns erleuchtet'
is a cantata for Whitsunday. In the opening chorus and
a second chorus in the centre it quotes Psalm 118, praising
God for his goodness. The first recitative refers to the
death and resurrection of Jesus and his announcement of
the coming of the Holy Ghost, through which his followers
are living. They are urged to "bring offerings in
countless numbers", and the Holy Ghost is asked to
not only accompany the faithful during their life but also
to help them "to die serenely" and let them inherit
The last cantata, 'Heilig ist
unser Gott', is written for Trinity, the Sunday following
Whitsunday. As the name of this feast suggests, it concentrates
on the Trinity, but ignores the liturgical readings for
this Sunday. Father, Son, Holy Ghost and the Trinity are
praised in four choral sections, divided by three arias.
In all four choruses the same music is used, emphasizing
the unity of the three Persons of the Trinity.
These cantatas are performed by
a larger ensemble than Homilius had at his disposal, as
Gerhard Poppe in the programme notes acknowledges. I don't
know if there are any specific data about the number of
singers and instrumentalists with which these cantatas
were performed in the composer's time. One may assume that
the vocal forces were all male, and in this respect the
present recording is in line with the historical circumstances
as far as the performance of the choruses and chorales
is concerned; unlike the soprano and alto arias which are
sung by adult singers. This also causes practical problems
in the opening chorus of 'Selig seid ihr, wenn ihr geschmähet
werdet', in which the tutti are interspersed by passages
for two voices, either soprano/alto or tenor/bass. The
difference in the style of singing between the adult soloists
- in particular the women - and the chorus, especially
in regard to the use of vibrato, is unsatisfying. That
is also the case in the chorus 'Danket dem Herrn' from
the cantata 'Der Herr ist Gott'.
It is not only the use of vibrato
by the soloists and the difference between soli and tutti
which are problematic. The performance of the recitatives
is disappointing, as these are far too slow and lack the
rhythmic freedom which composers expected from the singers.
The choir gives good performances, although the upper voices
tend to dominate too much. The orchestra also makes a good
On the whole, though, this is
a less than ideal recording of these sacred cantatas by
Homilius. All the same I would like to recommend this disc
because of the quality of the music and the fact that these
pieces have been recorded here for the first time.
Johan van Veen
see also review by Gary Higginson