Hamburg was one of Germany's main musical centres in the 17th
century. This was the result of excellent musicians working in
the city, both in the church and in the opera. The three musicians
who played a central role in church music were the organist Heinrich
Scheidemann, the violinist Johann Schop and the Musikdirektor
Selle. The organ works of Scheidemann are relatively well represented
on disc, but so far the compositions of the other two are hardly
explored. Therefore this disc devoted to sacred works of Selle
is most welcome.
Selle's early years are relatively poorly documented. He was
born in Zörbig in Saxonia, and probably went to the Thomasschule
in Leipzig, and then to the university. It is likely he was acquainted
with or even a pupil of Sethus Calvisius, choirmaster of the
Thomasschule, and his successor Johann Hermann Schein. From 1624
to 1641 he held several positions in the duchy of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf.
The position of church and city music director in Hamburg was
a prestigious one, and the fact that he was appointed as such
is an indication of his reputation. This is confirmed by the
praise of the senior of the local pastorate, calling him "a
man who is very learned and excellently versed in the Muses".
Selle had a decisive influence on the performing conditions in
the churches in Hamburg. The local town musicians were included
in performances of liturgical music and additional musicians
were hired. Selle also made sure more singers were available,
some of whom were from outside the church. The increase in size
and quality of the vocal and instrumental ensemble gave him the
opportunity to perform technically demanding music with large
ensembles, something he seems to have preferred. In the preface
to a collection of music of 1627 Selle shows his dislike of small
forces. It therefore comes as no surprise that several pieces
for two to five choirs figure on this disc.
The main work is the Historia der Auferstehung
is set for 8 and 14 voices with basso continuo. The text is based
on a gospel harmony published by Johannes Bugenhagen in 1526
which was also the basis for the Auferstehungshistorie
Heinrich Schütz. One of the remarkable aspects of this work
is that it is almost twice as long as Schütz's, because
it also contains the story about the apostle Thomas and Jesus'
Ascension. Unfortunately this part of the work has been left
out. After the passage where Jesus sends his apostles to spread
his message we hear the Conclusio
: "Now thank we
all God, who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus
Christ. Amen." There was enough space on the disc to perform
the whole work, but evidently Manfred Cordes preferred to present
only the first part, in order to have space for other compositions
for Easter. But this is a live recording, so the requirements
of a concert could also explain this decision. It is regrettable
nevertheless as it is doubtful whether we will ever get the opportunity
to hear the work complete.
It is an interesting and expressive piece. The role of the Evangelist
is sung by a tenor, who is supported by bass viols and bc. The
words of Jesus are accompanied by two violins and bc. There is
a strong connection between text and music, and Selle misses
no opportunity to translate dramatic moments into his music.
This is well explored in the performance: the ensemble is excellent,
and in particular the interpretation of the role of the Evangelist
deserves much praise. The singer of this part isn't mentioned,
but I assume it is Julian Podger. Wolf-Matthias Friedrich is
no less impressive in his performance of the role of Jesus.
As in Hamburg Selle had a considerable number of musicians at
his disposal he adapted some earlier works by extending the scoring.
For instance, the first piece in the programme, A Domino factum
, was originally scored for alto, two tenors, bass
and bc, but in Hamburg Selle added two soprano parts, which resulted
in a six-part chorus. In order to enrich the ritornellos and
the newly-created sinfonia he added two four-part instrumental
groups, which are played here by strings and wind respectively.
And again we find some good text expression, in particular as
a change of rhythm is used to express the joy in the last line: "let
us rejoice and be glad in it".
The hymns which were an important part of church music in the
17th century frequently appear in Selle's compositions. They
are often the subject of chorale variations. Selle arranges them
in various ways as the pieces on this disc show. Unfortunately
these are also mostly performed incomplete: from Christ lag
we only get verses 1, 2, 5 and 6, and of the
10 verses of Jesus Christus, unser Heiland
we hear only
the first four.
Christ ist erstanden
is another well-known hymn which
is used by Selle for a chorale concerto. The sinfonia contains
a virtuoso violin part, and it is reasonable to assume that this
part was intended to be played by Johann Schop, one of North-Germany's
most famous violinists. One of the smallest-scored pieces on
the programme is Erstanden ist der Herre Christ
and three instruments, which dates from an earlier period in
Selle's career. Ich weiß, daß mein Erlöser
is also assumed to be written before his time in Hamburg.
It is written in motet-style and set for eight voices in a high
and a low choir. In the programme notes Jürgen Neubacher
refers to the fact that Selle owned many collections of music
by Lassus, showing his great interest in counterpoint.
The sacred works by Selle on this disc are performed with one
voice per part, and that reflects what was common practice in
his time. In the large-scale pieces instruments are usually added
to play colla parte
with the voices. Weser-Renaissance
is an ensemble with a long and thorough experience in German
music of the 17th century. All singers know this kind of repertoire,
and that includes the British tenor Julian Podger, who received
part of his musical education in Germany.
The performances are technically immaculate, both vocally and
instrumentally, and display a great amount of text expression.
In addition the rhythmic flexibility of the ensemble and the
dynamic contrasts as well as the sensible instrumental scoring
help to communicate the splendour of this repertoire.
This disc bears witness to the quality of Selle's sacred music
and gives some idea about the level of music-making in Hamburg
in the 17th century. Let's hope more of this repertoire is going
to be explored.
Johan van Veen