The very fact that this disc bears the indication "World
Premiere Recording" tells something about how Carl Philipp
Emanuel's vocal music has been treated in the past. Increased
interest in his music has largely been limited to his instrumental
and keyboard works. But when he moved to Hamburg to become Director
of Music as a successor to his godfather, Georg Philipp Telemann,
he had the duty of composing religious music for the services
in the city’s churches. In addition he was expected to write a
Passion every year and music for special occasions, like the induction
of new pastors. Some of this repertoire has been recorded, but
there is still a lot to be explored. This production is doing
just that, with the performance of two rather uncommon works.
are talking here about two settings of the Litany, which date
from 1785. The Litany is a form of prayer, used in church
services, consisting of a series of invocations (of God or
of saints) and supplications, followed by a response. Its
structure is antiphonal, meaning that the invocation and supplication
are said or sung by one person, for instance the priest, and
the response is sung by the congregation. There are several
forms, which have developed over the centuries, and during
the history of the Western Church saints started to become
more and more important. The Virgin Mary also was often the
subject of the invocations, for example in the 'Litaniae Lauretanae'.
She or the saints were asked to pray for the faithful or for
Martin Luther broke away from the Church he also set to reform
the liturgy. His aim was to keep as much as possible while
removing what was theologically unacceptable. He also wanted
to use the vernacular in the liturgy. For this reason Luther
wrote his version of the Litany in German. Elements from the
traditional Litany were preserved, but he removed all references
to saints. The invocations are directed to God: his Litany
begins with the exclamation "Ewiger!" (Eternal One).
Then God is asked for mercy: "Herr! Herr! Erbarme dich!"
A number of supplications follow, which the congregation answers
with "Behüt uns, Herr, Herr, unser Gott" (Spare
us, Lord, Lord, our God!), "Hilf uns, Herr, Herr, unser
Gott!" (Help us, Lord, Lord, our God!) or "Erhör
uns, Herr, Herr, unser Gott!" (Hear us, Lord, Lord, our
God!). At the end the Agnus Dei from the Mass is included:
"O du Lamm Gottes, das der Welt Sünde trägt" - "Erbarm
dich über uns (Verleih uns steten Frieden)" (O Lamb of
God who bears the sins of the world - Have mercy on us (Grant
us eternal peace).
Litany reflects the state of the world of his days. Many supplications
refer to the harsh reality of everyday life, like "From
pestilence and want - deliver us, Lord, Lord, our God",
or prayers to be delivered from war and bloodshed, from strife
and discord and from fire and floods - all part of the hardship
of people in those days. It is therefore not surprising that
in the 18th century a new version was used, in which prayers
of this type are removed. But that wasn't the only reason.
The 'Neue Litanei' (New Litany) also reflects the theological
changes which flowed from the Enlightenment. Whereas in Luther's
Litany God is asked "From the devil's wiles and cunning
deliver us, Lord, Lord, our God" and to "trample
Satan under our feet" the devil doesn't appear anywhere
in the new Litany. In Luther's version God is asked to bless
and protect all kinds of people, like the rulers, sailors,
widows, orphans and the sick, even "the fruits of the
land and the beasts of the water", the new version focuses
on what the faithful themselves should do. We find prayers
like "Let us love our enemies, bless those who curse
us, pray for those who insult and persecute us, that we may
be perfect, as you!". And Jesus is asked: "O that
we might love our neighbour as ourselves, those for whom,
as for us, you were obedient unto death, unto death upon the
things are characteristic of the New Litany. There is a stronger
emphasis on the responsibility of human beings. It focuses
on the virtuousness of man: "Let us know with complete
confidence, let us feel with joyful faith, that we walk along
the strait path through the narrow gates to everlasting life!".
And that "strait path" of virtuousness mainly concerns
the way man treats his neighbour. There is quite a different
spirit in this New Litany in comparison to Luther's original.
Whereas in Hamburg the New Litany had completely replaced
the 'Old Litany', in the hymnbooks of Schleswig-Holstein,
the region just north of Hamburg, both versions were included.
And Carl Philipp Emanuel was asked to write the music for
both, not to be sung in church but for domestic use.
settings are for eight voices: two 'choirs' of four voices
each. The first sings the invocations and supplications, the
second the responses. It is interesting that despite the similarity
in structure and character the musical language is somewhat
different. The setting of the 'New Litany' is much bolder
in the treatment of harmony, and contains quite a number of
striking dissonances. The setting of the 'Old Litany' is more
moderate in this respect. But there is no difference in expression:
in both cases Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach achieves a very strong
connection between text and music. The fact that the tempo
is indicated as 'sehr langsam' (very slow) in both settings,
and the amount of repetition which is a feature of the Litany
one needs to listen to these works with great attention, preferably
while reading the lyrics. This is definitely not music to
listen to while doing other things. But if one does listen
carefully, one is rewarded by the richness of expression.
performances of the Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam is of the highest
order: the voices are superior, their blending excellent.
They sing with great attention to detail, and the pronunciation
of the text is perfect. There are strong dynamic accents in
the performances. I don't know how many indications in regard
to dynamics the composer has given, but even when there are
no indications at all the use of dynamic accents is certainly
right, as they fit into Carl Philipp Emanuel's musical language.
Both settings contain a bass line. It is probably to underline
the difference between 'old' and 'new' that for the Old Litany
the organ is used, whereas Alexander Weimann plays the fortepiano
in the 'New Litany'. But considering the fact that these settings
were written for domestic use I wonder whether an organ is
a logical option.
addition to the Litanies the first disc offers the only four
motets Carl Philipp Emanuel ever wrote. They are all set for
four voices with a bass, which is played here on the fortepiano.
Three of the four are on texts by Christian Fürchtegott Gellert,
one of the most famous poets in Germany around 1750. These
three all have a strophic structure, but only in 'Trost der
Erlösung' does Bach strictly follow that structure. In the
other motets he varies the music to the stanzas in several
ways, for example by reducing the scoring to two voices. The
fourth motet, 'Die Menschenliebe Jesu', has no strophic structure,
but in Bach's setting thematic elements regularly return.
second disc contains two Psalm settings which are probably
the oldest pieces by Carl Philipp Emanuel of all the works
recorded here. They date from the 1760s when he was still
working in Berlin. The texts are from a strophic translation
of the Psalms by Johann Andreas Cramer, a pastor at the court
of Copenhagen. Several composers set his texts to music, like
Carl Heinrich Graun and Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg; they were
published - together with Bach's settings - in 'Musicalisches
Allerley' of 1761. Bach set Psalms 2 and 4 to music, both
with a bass part, played again on the fortepiano.
a tribute to the 'old' Bach. At the end of his life Johann
Sebastian worked at several large-scale works, probably in
order to leave the world a testimony of his art. One of these
works was the Kunst der Fuge. The last fugue was left
unfinished. "While working on this fugue, in which the
name BACH is used in the countersubject, the composer died",
his son Emanuel wrote. "The posthumous print left out
the unfinished concluding section, adding instead the chorale
prelude BWV 668a 'Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit'
in a version that the blind master had allegedly dictated
to a student and friend on his death bed. As a reverence to
J.S. Bach, Harry van der Kamp uses the last stanza of Bach's
'death-bed chorale' in his eight-part arrangement of the unfinished
Fuga a tre soggetti". The choice of this text
is highly appropriate as it reflects Bach's faith: "Grant
me a blessed end, awake me on the Day of Judgement, Lord,
that I may behold you for all eternity: Amen, Amen, hear me!"
It gets a wonderful and deeply moving performance from the
singers, and it is a very nice addition to this project.
one may conclude from the previous lines I am greatly impressed
by this recording. The music is of excellent quality and shows
a little-known aspect of the oeuvre of Carl Philipp Emanuel
Bach. It is hardly imaginable that the interpretation by the
Gesualdo Consort can be surpassed. It is one of the finest
vocal ensembles around, and the concentration, intensity and
expression of its performances, supported by a perfect intonation,
are highly impressive. This release goes into my list of recordings
Johan van Veen