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Jean Paul Egide MARTINI (1741 - 1816)
Requiem pour Louis XVI. et Marie Antoinette
Christoph Willebald von GLUCK (1714-1787)
De profundis clamavi [7:28]
Jean Paul Egide MARTINI
Messe de Requiem [66:18]
Corinna Schreiter (soprano); Martin Platz (tenor), Markus Simon (bass)
Festivalchor Musica Franconia; La Banda/Wolfgang Riedelbauch
rec. live, 23 July 2016, Wallfahrtskirche Maria Hilf, Freystadt, Germany DDD
Texts included, only German translations

At about the same time three discs were released containing recordings of Requiem Masses for one and the same monarch: Louis XVI. He was the last King of France during the ancien régime, which was put to its end by the Revolution of 1789. In 1792 he lost his crown, when the monarchy was abolished, and on 21 January 1793 he lost his head, when he was guillotined; in October of that year Marie-Antoinette shared his fate.

The republic had a short life: in 1804 Napoleon Bonaparte became 'Imperial and Royal Majesty'. He reigned for just ten years: in 1814 the Allies captured Paris and forced him to abdicate. The next year the remains of the French army, loyal to the emperor, were defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. In the meantime representatives of the main powers of Europe gathered together in Vienna in order to fix a new political order. The outcome of the Congress of Vienna (September 1814 - June 1815) involved a partial restoration of what had been. France became a kingdom again, and the dynasty of the Bourbons regained the throne they had lost less than 25 years before. The new King was Louis XVIII, brother of Louis XVI.

At the Congress of Vienna France was represented by Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, once Napoleon’s top diplomat, who had become increasingly critical of the way Napoleon acted on the international scene. At the Congress he negotiated a favourable settlement for France while undoing Napoleon’s conquests. At the time of the Congress various commemorative events took place. In 1814 the Austrian-born composer Sigismund von Neukomm, who had settled in Paris in 1809, entered Talleyran’s service as a player of the keyboard. The Prince asked him to compose a Requiem Mass for Louis XVI. This has been recorded by Jean-Claude Malgoire (review).

The lack of a catalogue of Neukomm’s output is an indication that he still occupies only a marginal place in the musical life of our time, despite the efforts of in particular Malgoire. His fate is shared by Jean Paul Egide Martini. His name was new to me, but to my surprise he is represented on a large number of discs. However, it is just one song which is recorded over and over again: Plaisir d'amour, a Romance du chevrier, included in a collection of chansons and romances of 1784. He was born in Freystadt in Bavaria and arrived in Nancy in 1760. His musical gifts brought him to the attention of influential patrons. Gradually his fame increased which resulted in his music being performed at the court. In 1787 he became the unofficial director of the concerts de la reine. In 1788 he was to become surintendant de la musique du roi, but this didn’t materialize due to the outbreak of the Revolution.

During the early years of the Revolution he composed political chansons and hymns, such as a ‘hymn on agriculture’ and a piece on the anniversary of the foundation of the republic. “Martini adapted skilfully to the changing regimes,” New Grove states. That is one way to put it; I can think of less subtle descriptions. When the monarchy was restored, that was all forgiven and forgotten. Martini was appointed to the position he had been unable to take up 25 years earlier.

On 21 January 1815 Louis XVIII had the bodies of his brother and Marie-Antoinette removed from the Cimetière de la Madeleine and taken to Saint Denis, which since the 12th century was the traditional burial place of French monarchs. From 21 January 1816 onwards, every year a Requiem for Louis XVI was to be performed. This ritual was “part of a strategy to reinterpret the years of the Revolution and of Napoleon as an illegitimate phase of French history and stifle public memory of this period. In holding the annual remembrance ceremony for the last king of the Ancien Regime exactly on the anniversary of the execution, Louis XVIII was focusing on continuity in which he also saw his own rule, thereby highlighting the dynastic legitimacy of his claim to power”, Jörg Krämer states in the liner-notes to the Christophorus disc. Martini was given the honour of composing the Requiem for the first celebration in 1816.

The scoring of the Messe de Requiem is for three solo voices (soprano, tenor, bass), choir and orchestra. The work opens and ends in f minor, a key which Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart, in his Ideen zu einer Aesthetik der Tonkunst (1806), associates with “deep depression, funereal lament, groans of misery and longing for the grave”. The work opens in dramatic fashion, with the use of a tam-tam, an instrument which was frequently used in funeral music written during the time of the Revolution. The most dramatic part is the Dies irae; the episode ‘Liber scriptus proferetur’ is for bass solo, with an obbligato part for trombone. The pathetic ‘Ingemisco tamquam reus’ is written for soprano and tenor solo, and ends with the tutti. The Dies irae ends with ‘Amen’, preceded by a signal from the trumpet. The same word ends the whole work, and there Martini uses the tam-tam again.

This Messe de Requiem is an impressive work, which deserves to be performed in the concert hall. There is more than Mozart’s Requiem, after all. And this particular work also makes one curious about other parts of Martini’s oeuvre. The revolutionarty stuff is probably best ignored, but he also composed sacred music and works for the stage, some of them before the Revolution. His Messe de Requiem was performed again a couple of months after its premiere - on the occasion of the composer’s own death. In 1817 it was Cherubini's Requiem in c minor which was performed at the celebration on 21 January; this work was recorded recently by Hervé Niquet and (like Malgoire's recording of Neukomm's Requiem) released by Alpha (reviews).

The disc opens with a rare sacred work from the pen of Christoph Willibald von Gluck, who is almost exclusively known for his operas. His oeuvre includes a handful of sacred pieces. One of them is a setting of Psalm 130, ‘De profundis clamavi’. Gluck probably composed it during the last years of his life. It has been included here because it was performed at his burial on 17 November 1787. It is notable that it was published in Paris around 1804. It is in d minor (like Mozart's Requiem) and scored for strings without violins, bassoon, three trombones and horn; the oboe is the only treble instrument. It is largely homophonic and syllabic. The texture and the scoring lend this piece an almost archaic character.

The performances of both works are pretty good. The soloists are mostly satisfsctory, although Corinna Schreiter now and then uses a little too much vibrato. Markus Simon is impressive in the Dies irae. The orchestra is excellent, but I am less impressed by the choir. It is certainly a good ensemble, but the tutti lack transparency and overall the choral sections are a bit heavy-handed. This could be due to the acoustical circumstances. The picture in the booklet shows that the choir is pretty large, but that seems hardly inappropriate, as the early 19th century was a time when choirs tended to increase in size.

All in all, this disc is very well worthy of investigation.

Johan van Veen



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