Johann Hermann SCHEIN (1586-1630) Ich will schweigen- Johann Hermann Schein and the Leipzig Stadtpfeifer Tradition
Alice Foccroulle, Béatrice Mayo-Felip (soprano), Reinoud Van Mechelen
InAlto/Lambert Colson; Marc Meisel (organ)*
rec. January 2014, Gottorf Castle, Schleswig, Germany. DDD
Texts and translations included RAMÉE RAM1401 [62:42]
The position of Thomaskantor in Leipzig was one of the most prestigious in central Germany in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was held by the most respected composers of the time. It is a little surprising that today, with the exception of Johann Sebastian Bach, little attention is given to their compositional oeuvre. Among his predecessors Johann Hermann Schein is probably the best-known and he is not badly represented on disc, although largely with one work (or pieces from it): the Israelis Brünlein. The present disc is not entirely devoted to him but he does play a key role.
The subtitle gives some indication of the concept of this disc. Its aim is to shed light on the activities of a group of musicians who took a central place in the musical life of German towns, the Stadtpfeifer, comparable with the town waits in England. They were supposed to master a number of instruments, both wind and strings. Grantley McDonald, in his liner-notes, mentions complaints about the questionable moral standards of many Stadtpfeifer but also their apparently limited musical qualities. Referring to comments by Johann Joachim Quanz he states that "the expectation that Stadtpfeifer should be able to play any number of instruments meant that they rarely played any one very well". One may question this observation listening to the music which was written in Germany during the 17th century by composers such as Schein and which was mostly to be played by these Stadtpfeifer. In Leipzig these were since the early 17th century joined by a group of string players, the Kunstgeiger. It could well be that the changing character of instrumental music required different qualities which these players did not possess. The music by composers of the 18th century was such that players needed to specialise in one particular instrument. However, even in Quantz's day there were many players, like Quantz himself, who mastered several instruments, such as recorder or transverse flute and oboe. Telemann was able to play most instruments of his time.
The Stadtpfeifer played a wide variety of music which reflects the range of their activities. "The list of duties of the Stadtpfeiferei included performance at official celebrations, festival parades, royal visits, civic weddings or baptisms, participation in church services and church and school festivities, as well as the education of musical apprentices." (New Grove). The present disc includes specimens of several genres which were part of their repertoire. The music which most closely reflects the origins of this institution comes from Gottfried Reiche, the trumpeter for whom Bach composed some of his most demanding music, such as the trumpet part of the solo cantata Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen. In 1696 he published a collection of Quatricinia, probably written with a didactic purpose and dominated by counterpoint. Such pieces could be used as Turmmusik (tower music).
In two of the sacred works by Johann Hermann Schein we hear what kind of music the Stadtpfeifer played in church. Ich will schweigen is a funeral motet for six voices and basso continuo which was printed in Jena in 1617. Here the parts are divided between voices and instruments: three parts are sung and the instruments play the remaining parts and also support the voices. The opening phrase "I am mute" is followed by a general pause, and the same happens in the next phrase: "I do not open my mouth". The same combination of voices and instruments is used in Mach dich auf, werde Licht, a setting of verses from Isaiah 60. In contrast to the funeral motet the participation of instruments is specified here. It is from the second volume of Opella Nova, a collection of sacred concertos in two volumes published in 1618 and 1626 respectively. The other pieces from these volumes are for voices and basso continuo. Exaudiat te Domine is a setting of the first half of Psalm 20 and bears witness to the fact that Latin was still used in Lutheran Germany. There is a clear contrast between the two sections of this piece and the tenor mostly imitates the soprano. Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott is an example of a chorale arranged in the modern monodic style which had emerged in Italy around 1600. The same goes for Herr Christ, der einig Gottes Sohn.
Schein also composed instrumental music. Part of his output was included in Cymbalum Sionium sive Cantiones sacrae, a collection of sacred music from 1615 (Canzon Corollarium) and in Venus Kräntzlein of 1609 which included secular songs. Banchetto musicale of 1617 is entirely devoted to instrumental music; from this collection the Suite VII and the Paduana à 4 are taken. Schein favoured performances by a consort of viols and the Paduana is explicitly scored for four crumhorns. However, the title says that they can be played auff allerley Instrumenten (on various kinds of instruments) which legitimizes the instruments used here. The suite comprises four dances: Padouana, Gagliarda, Courente and Allemande with Tripla. It is a bit odd that in this performance the instrumentation differs slightly from one dance to the other. The programme also includes what seems to be the only instrumental piece from the pen of Johann Schelle who was Thomaskantor in Leipzig from 1677 until his death in 1701. It is a six-part canon on the chorale Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland. In the same vein Johann Sebastian Bach's Fuga sopra Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt (BWV 705) is performed here using the instruments of the 17th century. It suits the piece well as it has a rather archaic character.
The programme includes also some organ pieces which are played here at the organ of the chapel of Gottorf Castle. It dates from 1567 and was extended in 1624-26 by the court organist, Johannes Hecklauer, a pupil of the famous organ builder Esaias Compenius. At the beginning of this century it was restored and reconstructed, and the result is a splendid instrument which is excellently suited to the repertoire played here. It has the appropriate mean-tone temperament with seven pure thirds. The organ pieces are given fine performances by Marc Meisel, but I wonder what they have to do with the subject of this disc. One could say the same about the vocal pieces with basso continuo. This disc is about the Stadtpfeifer tradition but they have no connection to organ music or vocal music if no instruments participate. Some Stadtpfeifer may have been also active as organists but that is no reason to include such pieces.
It is one of the reasons why this disc doesn't fully live up to my expectations. More music for voices and instruments and some additional instrumental works would have made for a more consistent programme. I am also slightly disappointed about the singers. They have very nice voices which are quite suitable for this kind of music but here they are a bit bland. More can be made of the sacred concertos by Schein. In the pieces with voices and instruments the balance between the two groups is not always ideal. Especially at the beginning of Ich will schweigen the wind instruments are so dominant that the text is barely understandable.
The main attraction of this disc is the instrumental playing of InAlto which delivers outstanding performances. The rhythms in the dances come across just as well as the solemn character of the chorales by Schelle and Bach. The addition of percussion in Schein's dances seems appropriate; fortunately it is not used indiscriminately.
Despite my reservations in regard to some aspects of this disc there is much to enjoy here.
Track listing Johann Hermann SCHEIN Canzon Corollarium [4:19] Ich will schweigen [3:53] Johann KRIEGER (1652-1735) Fantasia in d minor* [1:50] Johann Hermann SCHEIN Exaudiat te Dominus [8:16] Suite VII a 4 in a minor [7:48] Heinrich BACH (1615-1692) Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott* [3:05] Johann Hermann SCHEIN Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott [3:25] Gottfried REICHE (1667-1734) Fuga XII à 4 [3:13] Johann Hermann SCHEIN Herr Christ, der einig Gottes Sohn [1:58] Johann SCHELLE (1648-1701) Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland [2:15] Gottfried REICHE Sonatina à 4 [3:21] Johann Hermann SCHEIN Mach dich auf, werde Licht [6:32] Paduana à 4 [2:09] Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (1595-1663) Ich dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr (WV 8)* [5:42] Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Fuga sopra Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt (BWV 705) [2:47]