The name of Moritz, Landgrave of Hesse, is inextricably linked with two composers: Heinrich Schütz and John Dowland. In every account of these composers' lives and careers his name crops up. He played a crucial role in Schütz's development as a composer, whereas Dowland played at his court in Kassel for a little less than half a year in 1594/95. It is little known that Moritz was also active as a composer, although now and then small instrumental pieces are included in recordings of music from his time. This disc is the first entirely devoted to his compositional output, and probably also the first which includes vocal pieces from his pen.
Moritz was a man of the renaissance, and had all the characteristics of an uomo universale
. He was interested in science and art, knew Greek and Latin and spoke several modern languages fluently. His broad orientation was the result of an excellent education under the guidance of his father, Wilhelm IV, nicknamed 'The Wise'. Moritz was also given a nickname, 'Der Gelehrte' - the Learned. In 1587 he took his degree at the University of Marburg which had been founded by his grandfather.
When he succeeded his father as landgrave he established his own educational institution which soon gained more than regional importance. This was helpful in extending his network as some of the students from elsewhere were employed for some time at his court before they left. Kassel was a specially important place for Calvinists. Moritz's grandfather had turned the landgraviate into a heartland of Protestantism. Wilhelm IV had close contacts with French Huguenots and corresponded with the leading Calvinist theologian Theodore de Bèze. Under Moritz the Calvinist orientation became even stronger and some of its followers sought refuge in Kassel.
Music was especially important to Moritz. He received his musical education from Georg Otto who was Hofkapellmeister
since 1586. Under Moritz the chapel was continuously extended, also with foreign musicians. John Dowland was only one of many artists from outside the region who worked for some time at his court. In 1598 Moritz passed through Weissenfels where he heard Heinrich Schütz sing while visiting the inn of his father Christoph. Moritz was so impressed that he wanted Heinrich to enter his service as a choirboy. This happened in 1599. Schütz attended the school in Kassel which Moritz had founded and became a pupil of Georg Otto. Moritz came increasingly under the influence of Italian music and this inspired him to send Schütz to Venice, to become a pupil of Giovanni Gabrieli. This had a lasting influence on Schütz's development as a composer. After his return Schütz served Moritz for a couple of years, but after two years moved to the court in Dresden. Moritz let him go, unwillingly, but without any hard feelings. At that time his chapel had been extended to 28 members, both singers and instrumentalists.
The English author and musician Henry Peacham visited Kassel on his travels. In his The Compleat Gentleman
(enlarged edition, 1627) he wrote about Moritz: "But above others who carries away the palm for excellency, not only in music, but in whatsoever is to be wished in a brave Prince, is the yet living Maurice Landgrave of Hessen, of whose own compositions I have seen eight or ten several sets of motets, and solemn music, set purposely for his own chapel; where for the great honour of some festival and many times for his recreation only he is his own organist". At his court the latest music was performed, but as a composer Moritz was rather conservative. He never made use of the basso continuo, with the exception of his setting of Psalm 150, which closes the present disc. His admiration for the Venetian style explains that several of his compositions make use of the technique of cori spezzati
. The present disc includes various pieces for eight and twelve voices. Even in the six-part Caecus is est
he splits the ensemble into a high section and a low section. Considering the presence of many instruments at his court it is plausible to perform the vocal works with instruments which either support the voices or - in the polychoral pieces - replace some of them.
A specific part of his oeuvre are the strophic songs. In 1562 Ambrosius Lobwasser, although a Lutheran, had translated the Huguenot Psalter into German, with related melodies. He did so out of literary interest, but as soon as the collection was printed it found wide dissemination across Germany and Switzerland. Moritz composed melodies of his own to these versified psalms. An example is Zu Gott dem Herren
. Hymns in the Lutheran tradition are In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr
and Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott
, whose text is partly from Luther's pen.
The second half of this disc is devoted to secular music. It includes various madrigals on texts by Petrarca. These are clearly inspired by the oeuvre of Italian composers of the late 16th century, but in regard to text illustration - often referred to as madrigalisms
- Moritz is rather modest. Among the instrumental works are pieces for lute solo and for an ensemble of instruments, mostly dances.
Historically speaking this disc is very important as it reveals a part of Moritz's activities which is barely known. Its significance is not confined to that, because it also gives us some insight into the artistic climate of his time. Moritz was not the only aristocrat who excelled in various disciplines and who created the atmosphere in which musicians and other artists could blossom. From a musical point of view one should not compare his music to the oeuvre of the best composers of his time. Even so, its quality is quite respectable, and there is every reason to welcome this selection. Weser-Renaissance is the ideal advocate: Manfred Cordes always manages to attract the right people for his projects, and that leads to fully idiomatic and compelling interpretations.
Johan van Veen
Ich ruffe zu dem Herren a 12
In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr a 5
Kom heyliger Geist Herre Gott a 4
Caecus is est a 6
Concussam ventis a 6
Ut lanis ovium a 6
Cantate Domino a 8
Discipulis tribus a 6
Affectus cordis vitiosi a 6
Andreas simplex piscator a 5
Eia age, laetemur a 8
Zu Gott dem Herren a 4
Sey Lob, Ehr, Preiß und Herrlichkeit a 4
Unser Vatter a 4
Quam bona, quam suavis a 8
Pavana della Signora Elisabetha d'Hassia a 5
Una candida cerba a 4
Benedetto sia 'l giorno a 4
Pavana Malinconia a 5
Se 'l pensier che mi strugge a 4
Perch'al viso d'amor a 4
Fuga a 4 in a minor
Amor et io si pien di meraviglia a 4
Courrente de Mad. la premiere Fille d'Hessen
Aventuroso si piu d'altro terreno a 4
Paduana del molto valeroso Sigr. Gasparo Widemarchero - Gagliarda del Sopradetto
Lobe den Herren a 12