In the 17th and the early 18th centuries there were ample opportunities
to work as a musician in Germany. Many cities and aristocratic
courts had their own chapels. The best musicians were expected
to compose instrumental music, music for special occasions like
birthdays and weddings, sometimes operas and, of course, religious
works. As most music was performed only once and compositions
were considered old-fashioned within about ten years, there was
a continuous demand for new music. Against this background it
is hardly surprising that some of the composers of the 17th and
18th centuries have so far escaped the attention of modern scholars
The composers represented on this disc all fall into that category.
None of them has an entry in New Grove, and none of the cantatas
on this disc has been recorded before. Wait a minute, what about
Telemann? Well, the cantata 'Kaum ist der Heÿland auf der
Erden' is included in the catalogue of Telemann's works because
the manuscript which was used for this recording bears the mark
'di TEL'. But Telemann scholars now favour the view that it was
composed by someone else.
Also questionable is the identity of the composer of whom only
the last name is given in the manuscript of the cantata 'Lobt
Gott ihr Christen allzugleich'. The various possible identities
of this 'Hoffmann' are given in the programme notes, but it all
remains speculative for now.
All these cantatas have been found in the archive of the Kantoreigesellschaft
of Mügeln, a small town between Leipzig and Dresden. In the
18th century the Kapellmeister
copied a large number of
cantatas, usually for a small scoring of voices and instruments.
Most of the composers were from Thuringia and Saxony, and in general
the cantatas are written in a rather conservative fashion. Johann
Theodor Roemhildt, for instance, uses the recorder in the two
cantatas on this disc, an instrument which in the early 18th century
was becoming increasingly old hat.
This instrument also figures in the first item, 'Nichts ist süßer
als die Liebe' by Emanuel Kegel. He is the oldest composer represented,
and from that perspective the use of the recorder is less surprising.
The two other instruments are the oboe and the violin which in
the first aria have independent parts, whereas the recorder mostly
plays colla parte
with the soloist. The cantata contains
three arias, interspersed by two recitatives. In the last aria
the oboe and the recorder play unisono. Here we find some chromaticism
in the instrumental introduction which can be explained by the
text which is about death.
'Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin' is written for Purification,
and like Bach's famous cantata 'Ich habe genug' it refers to Simeon
who meets the boy Jesus in the temple and now is ready to die.
Hence the first section with the text of Martin Luther's hymn
'Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin' (With peace and joy I depart).
The text of the first stanza is sung by the bass to original music,
whereas the two violins quote the hymn melody (Wittenberg, 1524)
playing unisono. The content of this hymn returns in the strophic
aria which closes the cantata. In between is a recitativo accompagnato.
Roemhildt, in the two cantatas recorded here, also makes use of
accompanied recitative. Most remarkable is the role of the recorder.
Both cantatas are scored for bass, recorder, two violins and basso
continuo. The instrumental introductions to the arias give the
impression of a recorder concerto. All arias are duets of bass
and recorder. The use of chromaticism in the opening aria of 'Es
geht kein andrer Weg zum Himmel' stems from the reference to 'thorns',
and in the first aria of 'Meine Sonne stehet stille' the word
"stille" (still) is set to a long-held note. These are just two
examples of text expression found in the cantatas on this disc.
Hoffmann's cantata 'Lobt Gott ihr Christen allzugleich' begins
and ends with the famous Christmas hymn, which is sung by the
bass, with 'Vorimitation' ('fore-imitation') in the oboe part.
In the second aria the bass is accompanied by solo bassoon and
'Mein Hertzens=Hauß bereite dich' by Johann Gottfried Donati
is written for Pentecost. The first aria contains some contrast
in the B part between the two closing lines. The last aria has
an obbligato part for the oboe d'amore, which reflects the text
about "love beyond all utterance, love that no heart can grasp".
'Kaum ist der Heÿland auf der Erden', attributed to Telemann,
is written for the Sunday after New Year. Its subject is the Massacre
of the Innocents and the flight of Joseph, Mary and Jesus to Egypt.
It is scored for bass, two violins, viola, cello obbligato and
bc. The cello part is in the first aria, whereas in the last there
is an obbligato part for the bassoon. It is not mentioned in the
booklet, and probably was originally scored for the cello again,
but played here on the bassoon instead. The aria 'Herr, die gantze
Welt ist dein' (Lord, the whole world is yours) is particularly
I can imagine that some people may be sceptical about a disc like
this. If this music has been neglected for such a long time, and
if these composers are completely unknown, could that be explained
by a lack of quality? My answer is: most definitely not. I was
impressed by the quality of the cantatas on this disc. It just
shows how much music is still to be discovered, and also how much
splendid music was written in Germany in Bach's time. None of
the music on this disc was ever printed, but that was very common.
Some cantatas were widely disseminated in Germany, and this is
often exchanged their works with
colleagues in order to diminish their workload or sold them to
increase their income.
Klaus Mertens is an expert in this kind of repertoire, and his
performance is nothing less than brilliant. He grasps every detail
in the text and his articulation and diction are immaculate. Even
without reading the lyrics one can understand every syllable.
The instrumental parts are performed equally well in a truly speech-like
The booklet contains much information about the composers but
little about the individual cantatas. I think this is a general
problem because many of the lyrics of music of the 17th and 18th
centuries are full of references and connotations which are hard
to understand for listeners of our time. I would like to see the
authors of programme notes going into more detail about what the
texts of vocal music are about.
Johan van Veen