Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer's fame rests
on his keyboard works and in particular
his 'Ariadne Musica', a collection of
twenty preludes and fugues through different
keys, starting with C major and ending
with c minor. It was originally published
in 1702. It seems that Johann Sebastian
Bach was acquainted with it, and was
influenced by it in writing his Wohltemperirte
Clavier. It is only relatively
recently that Fischer's vocal music
has attracted any real attention.
Fischer was born in Schönfeld (Krásno) in Bohemia and spent his youth in Schlackenwerth (Ostrov). Around 1693
Georg Bleyer was a member of the court chapel in Schlackenwerth.
It is probably through him that Fischer became acquainted with
the French style. Bleyer had visited Paris to study Lully's music, which resulted in a collection
of orchestral overtures in French style. Fischer followed in
his footsteps: his 'Journal de Printems' was published in 1695.
Whether he ever visited Paris himself is unclear. But his connection
to Bohemia is well
documented, although he worked a considerable part of his career
in Germany and is generally considered a German composer.
Fischer was appointed music director at the court
of Elector Ludwig Wilhelm of Baden in Rastatt. When the Elector moved to his estates
in Bohemia around 1700 Fischer returned to Schlackenwerth.
It seems he worked in Rastatt again from 1715 onwards, when
the Elector's court was re-established. During his time in Schlackenwerth
he established a connection with the Order of the Knights of
the Cross with Red Star, which administered several parishes
in the neighbourhood of Schlackenwerth.
The Order was founded in 1237 and was the only
monastic order of Bohemian origin. In the 17th and 18th centuries
the headquarters of the Order developed into the main cultural
centre in Prague. Music and its development were not neglected. During services
the newest music, in particular of Italian origin, was performed
in the church of the Order.
A large part of Fischer's religious music has been
preserved in the archive of the Order, which purchased some
of his compositions. Fischer himself dedicated his 'Vesperae
seu Psalmi Vespertini pro toto Anno' to Frantisek Franchimont,
Grand-Master of the Order from 1699 to 1707.
A selection of five psalms and a Magnificat from
this collection has been recorded here. The first item on this
disc is also found in the Order's archive. The 'Concertus de
Sancta Cruce' was written for performance during the principal
feasts of the Order, the Invention of the True Cross and the
Exaltation of the Cross. The devotion of the Holy Cross was
the core of the Order's spirituality. The central section of
this piece, scored for four voices (soli and ripieni) and an
ensemble of two trumpets, two violins and bc, takes about half
the time and is an exalted tribute to the Cross: "O most
blessed Cross", "O Cross, shine as a gracious light
of the world", "admirable, wonderful Cross",
and "the Cross is the gate of piety".
Some of Fischer's religious works were published.
The Litaniae Lauretanae were printed in 1711 in Augsburg and contain litanies for Marian feasts and four Marian antiphons
for the ecclesiastical year. The litany on this disc is written
for Mary Visitation. It refers to the Virgin who gave birth
to Jesus as Son of God, "which is why the score includes
trumpets symbolizing the 'heir to the throne'" (Jürgen
Ochs). Trumpets also appear in the last item of the programme,
'Regina coeli laetare', a Marian antiphon for the period
from Easter to Whitsun, when Jesus's reign as King is celebrated.
Again from the archive of the Order of the Knights of the Cross
is the Missa Sancti Dominici, scored for four voices (soli and
ripieni), two violins and bc.
The Rastatter Hofkapelle perform and record the music of the former Rastatter
court music director alongside music by other composers of the
baroque era. It consists of eight singers with additional instrumentalists.
They deliver very good performances, although sometimes a little
more exaltation wouldn't do any harm. The fact that this an
ensemble regularly works together imparts a strong unity of
style. The solo parts are sung by members of the ensemble, and
they do that very well. Only the basses have occasional problems
and these are with the lowest notes of their parts.
This is a very interesting and convincing presentation of music by a lesser-known
and unjustly neglected composer whose religious works are of estimable
quality. They should be performed more often. To those who would
like to hear more I recommend a recording which is entirely devoted
to compositions connected to the Order by Boni Pueri and Musica
Florea, directed by Marek Stryncl (Supraphon SU 3534-2 231).
Johan van Veen
see also Review
by Jonathan Woolf