Johannes ECCARD (1553-1611)
Fröhlich will ich singen: Sacred and Secular Songs Ein feste Burg [3:05]
De Profundis/Aus tiefer Not [3:15]
Erbarm dich mein [4:49]
Fröhlich will ich singen [4:07]
Hört ich ein Kuckuck singen [3:37]
Ach Gott, wie gern ich wissen wollt [1:58]
Schöns Lieb, was hab ich dir getan [2:27]
Schwerlangwelig [2:44]
Kein Buhlerei ficht mich mehr an [2:04]
Frau, dein Gestalt [2:22]
Es trau’r was trauren soll [3:08]
Der Musik Feind seind Ignoranten [1:56]
Ein Verräter und ein Suppenfresser [2:49]
Unser lieben Hühnerchen [4:48]
Mein schönste Zier und Kleinod bist [3:08]
Selig is der gepreiset [5:02]
Das Vater unser [3:10]
Da pacem Domine/Verleih uns Frieden [3:41]
Staats- und Domchor Berlin; Lautten Compagney Berlin/Kai-Uwe Jirka
rec. September 2011, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin-Dahlem
Texts and translations
CARUS 83.449 [58:10]
Johannes Eccard, eminent Berlin Kapellmeister, had been counter-tenor in the Catholic Hofkapelle in Munich, a choir directed by Orlando di Lasso. It was a period that was profoundly important in his musical development. He was clearly influenced by Lasso in terms of musical word setting and textual fidelity and in the compositional craft necessary to deal justly with rhythm. He was also influenced strongly by Martin Luther’s call for hymnal simplicity. This new ethos, a sweeping away of excess and ‘modishly, elegant tones’, permeated Eccard’s motet and secular writing too. Polyphony is relegated, and the leading voice takes the melodic line in settings of directness and purity.
There are 18 settings in this selection, of which eight are premiere recordings. The music is in the safest of hands with the Staats- und Domchor Berlin and Lautten Compagney Berlin directed by Kai-Uwe Jirka. Ein feste Burg makes for an appropriate start, opening with a choral tutti and the orchestra’s appealing contribution focused clearly on the percussion and brass, in the best German tradition. De Profundis/Aus tiefer Not is a more ‘mixed’ setting with choral harmonies and orchestral polyphony demarcated throughout. Hört ich ein Kuckuck singen is genial and increasingly jubilant, spiced with tambourine and percussion. The cuckoo motif is brought out wittily. Melodies are lively, uncluttered and the text’s sentiment is conveyed with unambiguous directness — just what Luther ordered.
It was precisely this stripping away of what Luther saw as obfuscation that Eccard was so good at. Rarely does one find vocal polyphony at all, the music being stripped back to a rather utilitarian but not unattractive immediacy of meaning. The solo pieces with small instrumental accompaniment reprise the approach — on of the previously unrecorded songs, for example, is the sprightly Kein Buhlerei ficht mich mehr an, and its charm, allied to its simplicity, to which one can append the intelligence of its instrumental backing — Blockflöte, viola, viola da gamba and violone — measures its success. It surprises me that it’s never been recorded before.
There is no lack of wit in some of the settings. There’s a deliberately jokey, horrendously out of tune gag in Der Musik Feind seind Ignoranten which include a baton rap, a restart, and some suspiciously Swanee Whistle type noises later on. Is all this in the score? Unser lieben Hühnerchen seems to start with — am I right? — a kazoo. The demotic is certainly ever present, and the earthy, peasant offerings — this one details the sexual longing of forlorn, cock-less hens — make for entertaining listening.
A number of the texts are settings of Luther’s translations of the Psalms. One of the most imposing is Das Vater unser and it shows the grand, spacious, though still compact reach of which Eccard was capable, very well caught in the Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin-Dahlem. Indeed these affirmatory and amusing settings, sacred and secular alike, show his concentration on the essential message of the text and the most appropriate way it could be transmitted to a congregation. Eccard has been well served here — and do try to hear a companion disc of his sacred songs on this same label [83.265].
Jonathan Woolf
Affirmatory and amusing, sacred and secular.