Johann ROSENMÜLLER (1619-1684)
German sacred concertos:
Siehe an die Werke Gottes a 15 [05:39]
Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht a 5 [09:17]
Vater, ich habe gesündiget a 6 [07:51]
Sonata a 2 per Violino e Fagotto (1682) [05:15]
O Jesu süß, wer dein gedenket a 3 [06:03]
Entsetze dich Natur a 13 [19:22]
Was stehet ihr hie a 10 [07:17]
Ich weiß, daß mein Erlöser lebt a 6 [05:07]
Daran ist erschienen die Liebe Gottes a 7 [06:16]
Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble/Arno Paduch
rec. 1-3 November 2000, Bethanienkirche, Leipzig, Germany. DDD


Many German composers of the 17th century were strongly influenced by the Italian style. One of the most prominent was Johann Rosenmüller. A large part of his career he spent in Italy, but even before that he was writing in a dramatic style which showed his preference for Italian music.

Rosenmüller matriculated in the theological faculty of Leipzig University in 1640 and very likely became a pupil of Tobias Michael, who was Thomaskantor at the time. Rosenmüller was the most likely successor of Michael, but his career came to an abrupt end when he was arrested for paedophilia. He fled to Italy, where he became trombonist of the San Marco. He also acted as composer of the Ospedale della Pietà from 1678 to 1682. His ties with Germany remained intact: several German musicians studied with him, and he sent some of his compositions to his native country. Towards the end of his life he returned to Germany, where he held the position of Kapellmeister at the court of Wolffenbüttel.

A book from 1728 tells us about Rosenmüller's old age: "I spoke to this Rosenmüller after he had left Italy and returned to Wolffenbüttel, where he was working as Kapellmeister, and still found him to be a hot-tempered and, because of his age, morose man whom nobody could please and who was forever sorely at odds with his assistants".

The very fact that he was specifically mentioned in a book from 1728 - more than 40 year after his death - is an indication that his music was still known. That is confirmed by Telemann's autobiography of 1740 who states that Rosenmüller belonged to the composers who had inspired him in his sacred and instrumental music. Rosenmüller's works were widespread in Germany, but most of them were never printed. Because of that it is mostly impossible to put a date on them. Of his sacred music only the two volumes of the Kern-Sprüche were published, before his escape to Italy.

The two pieces which open and close the programme on this disc are from the first volume, which appeared in 1648. They are examples of the concertante style which was modelled by Heinrich Schütz. These are pieces for voices and instruments, in which rhythmic contrasts are used to discern the various episodes. In Daran ist erschienen die Liebe Gottes Rosenmüller also juxtaposes various voices and voice groups to create a contrast between phrases, like "not that we loved God" versus "but that he loved us".

The two most Italianate pieces are the dialogues which are reminiscent of the oratorios of, for instance, Carissimi. Vater, ich habe gesündiget is a setting of the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15), in which the various roles are given to an alto, two tenors and a bass. In most of the piece the voices are supported by the basso continuo alone, but when the father says "Let us feast and be merry", the strings enter in a vivid rhythm, illustrating the joy that greets the son's return. The dialogue ends with a conclusion for the four voices and the instruments: "Likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner who repents".

Another parable is set in Was stehet ihr hie. This time it is about the labourers in the vineyard (Matthew 20). Rosenmüller has omitted several verses, and in order to point out the gap in time he includes an instrumental interlude. The owner of the vineyard is sung by a bass, the labourers by the other voices. There are two striking examples of text illustration. When the vinedresser says: "Steward, call the labourers and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first", the last part is set to a rising figure. The labourers who have come last get the same as those who came first, and the latter complain: "Thou hast made them equal to us, who have borne the burden and heat of the day". This is illustrated by a slow descending figure depicting their hard labour. The piece again ends with the tutti on the words: "So the last shall be first and the first last".

Entsetze dich Natur is an unusually long work on a text by Rosenmüller's friend Caspar Ziegler. It begins with the words: "Be shaken, Nature, thou must change, for God himself is made a man, the Creator come to earth". It is known that this sacred concerto was first performed on Christmas Day in 1649. It is a strophic piece in which the stanzas are interspersed with ritornellos.

Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht is a setting of Psalm 6, for soprano and instruments. It contains plenty of text illustration, like pauses after "schwach" (weak) or "erschrocken" ([my bones are] vexed). Words like "seufzen" (sigh) and "Tränen" (tears) get a special treatment in that the first syllables are interrupted by short pauses, as if the singer is breathless with emotion. In these phrases the voice is echoed by the violin. Here again the various contrasting episodes are marked by instrumental passages.

O Jesu süß, wer dein gedenket is a setting of the first verses from a German version of a hymn by Bernard of Clairvaux. It is scored for tenor, two violins and bc. Although the vocal part contains some ornamentation it is especially the violins which are given elaborate and virtuosic parts.

Ich weiß, daß mein Erlöser lebt is written on the well-known text from Job: "I know that my Redeemer liveth". It is set for bass with instruments and bc, and contains some eloquent coloratura. At the end the opening words return. The programme is completed with an instrumental sonata which is not much different from the vocal pieces. Two allegros embrace an adagio which has the character of a recitative.

The performances are generally pretty good, in particular the larger-scale pieces. Here the splendour of Rosenmüller's compositions comes off really well. But the performances of the dialogues and the solo pieces show some flaws. The booklet doesn't tell who is singing which piece, but I am pretty sure that Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht is sung by Irena Troupova. She gives an expressive performance, but I regret the slight tremolo in her voice. Her German pronunciation is also not perfect. Most disappointing is the bass Martin Backhaus, whose voice lacks presence, and almost sounds a bit amateurish. In particular some passages in Was stehet ihr hie are unsatisfying. In Vater, ich habe gesündiget his part seems too high for his voice. Ich weiß, daß mein Erlöser lebt is sung well, though. The alto and the two tenors are really good: they have beautiful voices and their singing is crisp and clear. The tenor who sings O Jesu süß delivers a really fine performance. The instrumentalists are without exception excellent.

The booklet is disappointing. The programme notes are rather short, and the German lyrics (which are also translated into English) contain a number of errors. This must be the oldest recording ever made, by the way: the booklet gives November of the year 1000 as the recording date ...

Johan van Veen