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Die helle Sonn leuchtet - German hymns
see end of review for track listing
Stimmwerck (Franz Vitzthum (alto), Klaus Wenk, Gerhard Hölzle (tenor), Marcus Schmidl (bass-baritone)); Arno Paduch (cornett), Arno Jochem de La Rosée, Ann Fahrni (viola da gamba), Christoph Eglhuber (lute), Michael Eberth (organ)
rec. 8-11 October 2012, Dominikanerinnenkirche, Adlersberg, Germany. DDD
Texts and translations included
CPO 777 792-2 [66:11]

There are hardly any music-lovers who have never heard at least a few German hymns; often referred to as chorales. They figure prominently in the oeuvre of German baroque composers, and especially in that of Johann Sebastian Bach. They are the fruit of the Lutheran Reformation which also had far-reaching consequences for liturgical music. Two elements in Luther's views on liturgy are especially important: the use of the vernacular and the role of the congregation. He started to write and publish hymns in the early 1520s. His example was followed by others, for instance Johann Walter. Sometimes texts were provided with music right from the start. Other texts were set to music much later. The content can vary widely. Some hymns express the doctrines of the Lutheran Reformation. Others are prayers to God or intended to comfort the faithful in times of crisis, such as war and epidemic. The chorales, as we know them from the oeuvre of Bach and others, are often quite different from how they were originally conceived. Sometimes the melody was changed, often the rhythm; sometimes texts or some stanzas were also changed.
This makes it all the more worthwhile to devote a disc to the hymn repertoire in its more original form. The chorales chosen for this recording date from around 1524 - the year Luther published his first hymns - to the late 17th century. This was the heyday of chorale composing. However, even in those early days hymns appeared in various forms. Mit Ernst, o Menschenkinder is sung here in harmonisations by Hans-Leo Hassler and Johannes Eccard. These are quite different in several respects, both in melody and rhythm. In part they also make use of different texts. The third setting of that hymn is by the French composer Eustache du Caurroy. The track-list says that the melody is from the 16th century; in fact it is probably not of German origin, but from Italy, known there as La Monica. In Germany it was also known under another title: Von Gott will ich nicht lassen. This bears witness to the international character of many melodies in the 16th century and it is not always possible to track down their origins. Some tunes are known with a German text and were also included in the Genevan Psalter, the Psalm book of the French Huguenots. Various melodies from that collection found their way to Germany and were provided with German texts. Other melodies were originally used for a secular text. O Welt, ich muss dich lassen was written by Heinrich Isaac on the text Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen. One of the most famous chorales is O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden. The melody was originally set to a love poem by Hans-Leo Hassler.
It is interesting that this disc includes various specimens of Roman Catholic hymns, such as Es kompt ein Schiff geladen and Mein Hirt ist Gott der Herr. In the late 16th and early 17th centuries a considerable number of hymns were written, as part of the Counter-Reformation. Some melodies were structured in such a way that they looked older than they were. It is remarkable that the hymns written by Caspar Ulenberg - here performed in settings by Conrad Hagius - share some characteristics with the Genevan Psalter.
It is advisable to read carefully the liner-notes by Hans-Otto Korth. He puts this repertoire in its historical perspective. Two elements are especially noticeable. The generally held view that it was only thanks to Luther that the congregation started to sing is historically one-sided at least. Even before the Reformation some hymns were clearly intended to be sung by the congregation. Luther never wanted to break away completely from the old liturgical repertoire: he adapted such hymns and pre-Reformation texts to his doctrines and translated them into the vernacular. Nor should it be assumed that immediately after the Reformation all congregations started to sing hymns. Many people could not read and it took time before they were able to sing the new melodies. Korth states that in the early decades of the Reformation the hymns were more sung for than by the congregation.
Soon after the publication of hymns composers started to arrange them. Some were merely harmonisations, to be sung, for instance, by the faithful in domestic surroundings or in social gatherings. Others were more sophisticated and meant for performance by professional singers and players. This disc includes various examples of such settings, in particular by Michael Praetorius. In these pieces instruments such as cornett and viola da gamba are involved. Some stanzas in harmonisations are also divided between a singer and one or more instruments. This certainly reflects the varied ways in which this repertoire was performed across Germany. The large number of arrangements of several kinds bear witness to the huge popularity of these hymns.
The many changes they underwent through the ages show that they are part of a living tradition which is not confined to Germany. Many melodies have found their way into hymn books from all over the world, including in the English-speaking countries. Through this disc those who have learnt the hymns from their hymnbooks have the opportunity to become acquainted with these chorales as they were originally written.
This disc presents only a tiny proportion of what was included in the many hymnbooks published in the 16th and 17th centuries. Those hymns which were selected provide a good picture of the character of this repertoire. Stimmwerck and the cooperating instrumentalists deliver sensitive performances which show a good understanding of the character of the texts. Obviously they don't approach this repertoire from the angle of community singing. Congregations did not sing in four parts and will not have been as responsive to the texts as Stimmwerck. Some hymns they sing quite softly, because of their content. That is only possible with a rather small group of professional singers. Years ago Paul McCreesh made some interesting attempts to show how a congregation may have sung in the 17th century or in the days of Bach. What we have here is quite different, but no less interesting and revealing.
I find this disc quite fascinating and I hope that the huge hymn repertoire will continue to be explored.
Johan van Veen

Track listing
Johann Hermann SCHEIN (1586-1630)
Mir nach, spricht Christus, unser Held [2:23]
Conrad HAGIUS (1550-1616)
Hebt ewer heupt ihr pforten all [2:45]
Sethus CALVISIUS (1556-1615)/Johannes JEEP (1581/82-1644)
O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig [3:02]
Joachim BURMEISTER (1564-1629)
Christe, du Lamm Gottes [1:25]
Michael PRAETORIUS (1571-1621)
Christe, du Lamm Gottes [3:37]
Johann CRÜGER (1598-1662)
O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden [2:46]
Johannes ECCARD (1553-1611)
Christ ist erstanden [1:35]
Christ ist erstanden [1:48]
Melchior VULPIUS (c1570-1615)
Gelobt sei Gott im höchsten Thron [2:17]
Johann WALTER (1496-1570)
Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott [2:20]
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621)
Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr [3:23]
Hans-Leo HASSLER (1564-1612)/Eustache DU CAURROY (1549-1609)/Johannes ECCARD
Mit Ernst, o Menschenkinder [4:00]
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme [3:22]
Marcus GERRIURIUS (fl after 1628)
Es kompt ein Schiff geladen [2:55]
Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern [3:25]
Johannes ECCARD
Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier [2:55]
Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672)
Wohl denen, die da leben (SWV 217) [1:57]
Mein Hirt ist Gott der Herr [3:17]
Melchior VULPIUS
Christus der ist mein Leben [2:20]
Arnold VON BRUCK (1500?-1554)
Mitten wir im Leben sind [4:22]
Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir [2:59]
O Welt, ich muss dich lassen [2:21]
Melchior VULPIUS
Hinunter ist der Sonne Schein [2:31]
Die helle Sonn leucht jtzt herfür [2:23]