We know several composers with the name of Praetorius. Michael
is the best-known of them, but he is not related to Hieronymus
Praetorius, whose music is recorded on this disc. He was the
son of Jacob, who was from Magdeburg and moved to Hamburg in
1550, where from 1558 until his death in 1586 he acted as organist
of the St Jacobi. He was the first teacher of his son, who succeeded
him as organist of the Jacobikirche. He held this post until
his death in 1629. Two of his sons also became organists in Hamburg.
Hieronymus composed a pretty large number of vocal works: six
masses, nine Magnificat settings and 102 motets on Latin texts.
He wrote fewer than ten pieces on either German or Danish texts.
His compositions are written in 5 to 20 parts for one to four
choirs. He is the first North-German composer who was influenced
by the Venetian polychoral style, although he never visited Venice.
His oeuvre enjoyed a wide dissemination and was performed under
Dietrich Buxtehude in Lübeck, and also in Sweden and Denmark.
On this disc we find six pieces for eight voices in two choirs.
Normally both choirs are of identical scoring: SATB. But in the
last item on this disc, The Magnificat 5. toni, Praetorius juxtaposes
a high and a low choir. In this work the verses are interspersed
by two carols with a partly Latin and partly German text. In
these carols the scoring of the two choirs is different and in
'In dulci jubilo' the eight voices are joining into a single
choir. All Magnificats are alternatim settings, meaning that
the even-numbered verses are set polyphonically, whereas the
odd-numbered are in plainchant.
In all settings recorded here there are some notable examples
of text expression through repetition of single words through
the parts, in particular "dispersit" and "implevit
bonis". This is a general feature of Praetorius's vocal
music, and in this respect he is comparable with Orlandus Lassus.
The sonority of the full choir is used to underline some elements
in the text. It is, for instance, very effectively applied in
'Videns Dominus', when Jesus summons Lazarus to come out of his
grave. First the two choirs sing in turn "clamavit" (cried)
and then they join on "Lazare". Praetorius also uses
harmony to express the content of a text, like in 'O vos omnes'.
Praetorius's vocal works contain an optional 'basso seguente',
but no indication is given as to whether or which instruments
should be used. But from contemporary documents one may conclude
that performances with instruments, either supporting or replacing
voices, was the rule rather than the exception. It is a shame
this practice is completely ignored in this recording. The interpretation
by The Cardinall's Musick is making this music looking too conservative.
The close connection between text and music isn't fully explored
either, as there is too much legato singing.
The Cardinall's Musick is a fine group of excellent singers.
But the style of singing doesn't fully fit this repertoire. I
also noted that the vibrato of some of the singers undermines
the ensemble. Some pieces come off better than others. In particular
the Magnificat 5. toni and the motets I have already mentioned
('Videns Dominus' and 'O vos omnes') are done rather well.
Although I had liked this music to be performed in a somewhat
different way, I am grateful to all participants for bringing
this music to our attention. Up until now very little of Hieronymus
Praetorius's vocal music was available on disc. Recently another
disc devoted to his music has been released by CPO, with the
ensemble Weser-Renaissance. Fortunately only two items appear
on both discs (Magnificat 4. toni, O bone Jesu), so these two
discs - with all their differences in style of performance -
complement each other and greatly enhance our knowledge and -
I am sure - our appreciation of the oeuvre of Hieronymus Praetorius.
Johan van Veen