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Funeral Music from Gottorf
Johann Philipp FÖRTSCH (1652-1732)
Unser Leben währet siebenzig Jahr [16:36]
Michael ÖSTERREICH (1658-after 1709)
Ich habe einen guten Kampf gekämpfet [08:37]
Johann Philipp FÖRTSCH
Ich vergesse, was dahinten ist [06:04]
Georg ÖSTERREICH (1664-1735)
Unser keiner lebet ihm selber [18:41]
Plötzlich müssen die Leute sterben [19:06]
Weser-Renaissance Bremen/Manfred Cordes
rec. 2015, St Petri Dom, Schleswig, Germany
Texts and translations included
CPO 555 010-2 [68:26]

This year (2017) 500 years Reformation is celebrated. The present disc demonstrates the differences between funeral music in Protestant Germany and in the Catholic part of Europe.
 
According to the doctrine of the Catholic Church those ultimately destined for heaven must first undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The fate of those in purgatory can be affected by the actions of the faithful on earth. Therefore the performance of the Requiem mass was a central element in funeral music of Catholic monarchs and aristocrats. In contrast, according to Martin Luther, the sinner is justified by grace alone. Heaven is open to every individual who believes in Christ's death as an act of redemption. Therefore there is no avail to pray for the dead and Luther eliminated the idea of the purgatory.
 
In Protestant Germany funeral music had two functions. On the one hand it was an expression of the faith of the deceased. In some cases the composer received indications as to what texts he had to set. The most famous example are the Musicalische Exequien by Heinrich Schütz. On the other hand such texts also included a message to the bereaved. It was a mixture of sorrow about death and joy about life in heaven.
 
In his liner-notes Konrad Küster points out the importance of music in funeral services in Protestant Germany. Joy about redemption finds its superior expression in music. "God is eternal, and so it was unthinkable that the praise of God might be less eternal than the divinity himself. Therefore, the eternal concert of angels was regarded as the medium for such praise of God, and even theologians of the later seventeenth century described its music as something unimaginably beautiful. In accordance with this idea of redemption, all those who have seriously kept the faith join in this concert: after the end of the world God, the music, and those who perform it will remain - they are the redeemed."
 
This disc is part of a series devoted to music connected to the court of Gottorf. From the mid-16th century to the early 18th Gottorf was the seat of the Dukes of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf. The castle had its own chapel, which was directed by various composers who were highly rated in their day. The Dukes of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf were in permanent conflict with Denmark: in 1675 Gottorf was occupied by Danish troops and the Duke fled to Hamburg. The then Kapellmeister, Johann Theile, followed him and actively participated in the Hamburg Opera. When his employer returned to Gottorf he didn't follow him; in 1780 Johann Philipp Förtsch was appointed Kapellmeister in his place, but his activities came to an end when the Duke had to flee again. Förtsch - who had studied medicine before turning to music - decided to settle as a doctor in Husum. When the Duke once again returned to Gottorf in 1689 Georg Österreich was appointed Kapellmeister, at the age of just 25. It was his task to restore the chapel to its former glory. The fact that he was appointed at such a young age attests to his reputation.
 
The two composers who acted as Kapellmeister between the 1680 and 1702 are responsible for most of the funeral music recorded here. In 1684 Duchess Maria Elisabeth died, but as at that time the Gottorf territory was occupied by Danish troops there was no opportunity to hold a state funeral. A memorial service took place eight years later, on 5 February 1692, in Schleswig Cathedral. During that service a "grand funeral music" was performed, whose text and music were from the pen of Förtsch. It is not clear when he composed it as in 1692 he was not in the service of the Gottorf court. It is scored for seven voices (SSATTBB) and an instrumental ensemble of four violins, two violas, four viole da gamba, bassoon and basso continuo. The piece opens with a dictum, a quotation from the Bible, in this case Psalm 90, vs 10: "The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away." The last line is vividly depicted in the music. Then follow eight stanzas for one or two soloists and basso continuo, each of them followed by an instrumental ritornello. The closing stanza is again for the tutti. During the service Förtsch's Trauermusik was followed by a sacred concerto, written by Michael Österreich. He was the elder brother of Georg, and not a professional composer, but in the military administration. However, he had enjoyed a thorough musical education as he had been a boy chorister at the St Thomas's Church in Leipzig. Ich habe einen guten Kampf gekämpfet is a setting of the verses 7 and 8 from Paul's second letter to Timothy: "I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course. I have kept the faith. Henceforth the crown of righteousness is laid aside for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day. Not to me alone but also to all those who love his appearance". This piece is scored for three voices - alto, tenor and bass - and a small ensemble of violin, two violas and basso continuo.
 
Whereas the Duchy of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf survived the political troubles of the 17th century, it came to its end during the Great Northern War (1700-1721). Although officially neutral, the Duke supported Sweden, and when the latter was defeated by the alliance of Denmark and Russia the Duchy was occupied once again by Danish troops. In 1702 Duke Frederick IV, grandson of Maria Elisabeth, died in battle, leaving a heir who was just two years old. This caused quite a shock and, as Köster observes in the booklet, this is reflected by the music written for the funeral ceremony. The music was written by Georg Österreicher, who left his position as the direct result of this disaster. His 'musical concerto, consisting of some core quotations from the Scripture', is a sequence of biblical verses, scored for five voices (SSATB), two violins, two violas, cello and basso continuo. It opens with verse 7 from Paul's letter to the Romans: "None of us lives for himself, and no one dies for himself. If we live, then we live for the Lord; if we die, then we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are of the Lord." The ensuing biblical passages are scored for solo voices, except what seems the central piece: "Who will separate us from the love of God? Tribulation or fear or persecution or hunger or nakedness or danger or sword?" (Romans 8, vs 35). The penultimate dictum is something special. It opens with a solo for soprano, which includes extremely high notes ("Wail, you firs, for the cedars have fallen, and the magnificent forest edifice is no more".) It is followed by a passage for tenor solo; Österreich uses some strong dissonants to set the text "The shepherds are heard weeping, for their magnificent forest is no more". The piece ends with Revelation 14, vs 13: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth. Yes, the Spirit says that they rest from their toil, for their works follow them." The expression comes partly from the insertion of several general pauses.
 
This piece was followed by another 'musical concerto', this time about "the lament over Jonathan, fallen in battle". Jonathan is not explicitly identified with Duke Frederick, but that was not necessary; the audience will have made the connection immediately. It is scored for six voices (SSATBB), two oboes, two violins, two violas, two basses and two basso continuo groups. The latter indicates that Österreich makes use of the technique of cori spezzati; however, he does so only in the first stanza of the hymn included here (Herzlich tut mich verlangen). The inclusion of parts for two oboes suggests that this is a rather modern piece. The fact that Österreich makes use here of the form of the recitative also testifies to that. Towards the end, preceding the two closing hymn stanzas, we find a recitative for the tutti, allocated to different characters: the mother of the deceased, his brothers and sisters, his subjects, and - interestingly - the King of Sweden. This piece includes some strongly emotional moments, for instance the constant repetition of two equal notes in the accompaniment of the first hymn stanza and the tremolo in the basso continuo in the hymn stanza which brings this piece to an end.
 
The third work in the programme was not written for a member of the ducal family, but for Maria Elisabeth Niederstedt, daughter of the Gottorf court scholar Adam Olearius. She was a poet and married to one of the court's main diplomats. Like members of the ducal family she was buried in Schleswig Cathedral in 1682. Ich vergesse was dahinter ist is a sacred concerto by Förtsch; the text is from Paul's epistle to the Philippians (vs 13-14): "I forget what lies behind and strive toward what is ahead and pursue the marked goal with its prize of the heavenly calling of God in Christ Jesus. Amen." For the word "strive" the German text has "jage" (hunt), and that is clearly depicted in the music.
 
For several reasons this is a very intriguing disc. First of all, it demonstrates in a most eloquent way the core of Lutheran thinking about death and eternal life. It takes an important place in sacred music in Protestant Germany in the 17th and 18th centuries, and we meet it frequently in the cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach. Secondly, the pieces recorded here attest to the musical developments in the decades around 1700. It is telling that Förtsch in the first piece in the programme includes four viole da gamba in his scoring, which reflects the importance of these instruments in German music of the 17th century. Österreich, in the last piece recorded here, includes two oboes, instruments which were quite new at the time and made their appearance in German music at the very end of the 17th century. This and the use of the form of the recitative make him an important link between the music of the 17th and that of the 18th century. Thirdly, Försch and Georg Österreich have been recorded before, but they are certainly not household names. The five pieces on this disc are first recordings; Michael Österreich has even never been recorded before. However, they all deserve to be much better known, as they prove themselves to be masters in the expressive setting of texts. Every piece recorded here is a masterpiece of text expression and of the mixture of Italian expressiveness and German counterpoint.
 
It is hard to imagine better performances than we get here. The interpretations are spot on; the singers deliver outstanding performances, individually and together. Marie Luise Werneburg deserves to be specially mentioned because of her performance of the extremely demanding soprano part in Österreich's Unser keiner lebet ihm selber. The fact that the recording took place in the church where the funeral music on this disc was first performed, further contributes to its authenticity.
 
This disc is one of the most impressive recordings of Lutheran sacred music which have been released recently.
 
Johan van Veen
www.musica-dei-donum.org
twitter.com/johanvanveen
 

 

 




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