many years time Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel was reputed to be
the probable composer of the song 'Bist du bei mir' which Johann
Sebastian Bach included in his 'Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena
Bach'. Very few of his other compositions were known. He was
held in high esteem: the theorist Johann Mattheson ranked him
among the "learned and great masters" of his time.
In 1739 he was elected a member of Lorenz Christoph Mizler's
Societät der Musikalischen Wissenschaften. Mizler even placed
him above Bach in his list of leading German composers.
two compositions on this disc belong to the genre of the 'serenata',
which is, generally speaking, a composition written in honour
of a royal or aristocratic person. We know many pieces of this
kind, written by the likes of Johann Sebastian Bach, Henry Purcell
and Alessandro Scarlatti. The subject matter and the musical
style can vary strongly. Sometimes the subject is mythological,
and has no direct connection to the person for whom the serenata
was written. But there are also many in which he or she is specifically
praised and his or her positive character traits are hymned
at great length. These two works represent the two kinds of
reason why were written and details of when they were performed
is not known exactly. 'Seid willkommen, schöne Stunden' is assumed
to be written for a name day or a birthday of Duke Friedrich
II of Sachsen-Gotha. At his court Stölzel was Kapellmeister
from 1720 until his death. According to a contemporary source
he must have written a large amount of music, including many
occasional pieces but most of them have been lost. In fact,
this particular piece is the only occasional surviving work
written for the court of Sachsen-Gotha. It is partly due to
Stölzel's successor as Kapellmeister, Georg Benda, that so many
of his compositions are lost.
longest piece in this recording, 'Alles, was sonst lieblich
heißet', was very likely performed at the birthday of Prince
Günther I of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen in August 1736. Stölzel
was closely connected to this court. In 1715 he had applied
for the position of Kapellmeister, but Günther's father had
elected Johann Balthasar Freislich instead, much to the dismay
of most members of the court chapel. In 1720, the very same
year Stölzel began his duties in Sachsen-Gotha, Günther I succeeded
his father. Being an intellectual and a great lover of music
and the arts, he very much regretted the fact that Stölzel was
not available to act as Kapellmeister. In order to take profit
of Stölzel's great talent he asked him to write sacred and secular
music for the court. In fact Stölzel acted as a kind of 'shadow
Kapellmeister'. It is largely thanks to the care with which
his music was treated in Schwarzburg-Sondershausen that a considerable
part of Stölzel's musical output has come down to us.
often wrote the texts for his sacred and secular compositions.
In his autobiography, included in Johann Mattheson's 'Grundlage
einer Ehren-Pforte', he embraced the principle that "the
poetic profession is at all times linked" to the "proper
exercise of the musical profession". For him poetry and
musical composition were part of the same creative process.
Whether he is also the author of the two serenatas in this recording
cannot be established, but it is quite possible.
shortest piece is an example of a pastoral, in German a 'Schäferspiel'.
It is about Amoene (soprano) and Philander (alto) who love each
other, and Myrtillo (bass) who tries to win Amoene's heart.
Strephan (tenor) then comes to their rescue and makes Myrtillo
see the errors of his ways and recognize that Amoene and Philander
are meant for each other. The name of the addressee of this
piece is nowhere mentioned. It is evidence of Stölzel's originality
that this serenata does not end with a chorus. After a short
duet of the two lovers Myrtillo sings a recitative in which
he expresses his regret and wishes them well. The work closes
with an instrumental movement, a gigue scored for the full orchestra,
including trumpets and timpani.
first disc is entirely devoted to 'Alles, was sonst lieblich
heißet'. This is a serenata of the kind one could call 'laudatory'.
After a Sinfonia for the full orchestra, which includes a pair
of trumpets, the four singers are representing themselves, as
it were, claiming that they are the most important of all voices.
The soprano begins by saying there is no match for her, as "in
tenderness and height I go far above all voices", but the
others disagree. The bass states the soprano would be nothing
without his foundation and support. This dialogue between the
voices takes place through recitatives and arias, and concludes
with the soprano, saying: "this dispute is itself the origin
of sweet unity: if your delightful song had no difference in
high and low, where would it be, the euphony drawing heart and
ears to it?" The voices then sing duets, the soprano with
the tenor and the alto with the bass, as to demonstrate that
"no consonance can arise unless sundered voices are wed".
this dialogue then turns out to be the prelude to a eulogy on
the virtues of Prince Günther, as "the sweetest strains
of the most delightful tunes don't approach Virtue's melodious
sound". The soprano's recitative says it all: "O most
highly perfect Harmony that is found here. Most Serene Highness,
your noble life unites the beloved choir of virtues in the most
beautiful harmony and sings its wonderfully beautiful melody
to the world. Therefore, for this reason, universal glory remains
yours". The soprano then declares her supremacy again,
as she represents piety as the highest virtue, and the pious
Prince's heart "steers toward every height and thinks of
the heavenly more than of the earthly". The alto, tenor
and bass also represent the virtues of Prince Günther, the latter
praising him as "the foundation stone", on which his
well-being will ever increase.
I have already mentioned serenatas of this type were written
in profusion during the baroque era. It is testimony to the
creativity of their composers that so many of them are of excellent
quality, despite their often bootlicking texts. The overall
quality of the text of this piece is above average, and if it
was indeed written by Stölzel himself it shows that he was a
skilled poet as well. To this text Stölzel has written excellent
arias are well written for the voices. Stölzel is not one to
miss opportunities for word-painting and there is a lot of variety
in the instrumentation. In one of her arias the soprano says
that Philomela sings to her glory. Both the violins and the
singer then imitate the singing of a bird. Descending figures
dominate the aria of the bass in which he states that music
couldn't prevail without his foundation - the parallel is that
sky would be in danger of falling without the support of Atlas.
When the soprano sings the glory of the Prince, a trumpet is
heard - the instrument traditionally associated with royalty
and nobility. Very beautiful is the alto aria in which "your
grace's bright light" is compared with the sun's "light
and bliss after the dark and dreary night". The instruments
play colla parte with the voice, producing a magical effect,
and this aria - unlike the others without a dacapo section –
concludes with a short solo of the flute.
comparison the pastoral is simpler - in accordance with the
convention. The arias are less demanding, there is less variation
in instrumentation and there is less opportunity for word-painting.
But this relative simplicity has its charm too, especially as
Stölzel has written some fine music. The alto aria in which
Philander reminds Amoene of their love is particularly delightful
because of the obbligato part for the flute.
the last years I have heard a number of recordings with vocal
music by Stölzel. The more of his music I hear the more I am
convinced Stölzel belongs to the very best composers of the
German baroque. I rate him as high as Bach, Telemann, Graupner
and Fasch. It is a great shame so many of his works have disappeared,
in particular his dramatic works. But we should be thankful
for what has survived, and for the fact that some musicians
are willing to explore his music and perform and record it.
The most prominent among them is Ludger Rémy, who is responsible
for most recent recordings of Stölzel's music. He has always
been able to attract first-rate singers and players to make
sure Stölzel's works receive the best possible interpretations.
This set is no exception. All four singers give splendid performances,
in particular in the arias. They capture their character very
well, and the blending of the voices with the instruments is
immaculate. I would have liked them to sing the recitatives
with a little more rhythmic freedom, though. The instrumental
ensemble is colourful and the effects Stölzel makes use of are
realised very well. The individual members of the ensemble show
great skill in the obbligato parts of the arias.
recording of serenatas by Stölzel is a winner in every respect.
One should be very grateful to Ludger Rémy for bringing this music
to the attention of today's audiences. I hope he will continue
to explore Stölzel's oeuvre which surely contains many more treasures.
Johan van Veen