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Johann ROSENMÜLLER (c.1619-1684)
German Sacred Concertos
Siehe an die Werke Gottes a 15 [5:39]
Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht a 5 [9:17]
Vater, ich habe gesündiget a 6 [7:51]
Sonata a 2 for violin and bassoon [5:15]
O Jesu süß, wer dein gedenket’ a 3 [6:03]
Entsetze dich Natur a 13 [19:22]
Was stehet ihr hie a 10 [7:15]
Ich weiß, daß mein Erlöser a 6 [5:07]
Daran ist erschienen die Liebe Gottes [6:16]
Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble/Arno Paduch
rec. 2000, Evangelische-Lutherische Bethanienkirche, Leipzig
Sung texts in German

Johann Rosenmüller was born in Oelsnitz in the Free State of Saxony. He attended the Grammar School in Oelsnitz, before enrolling for theological studies at the university in Leipzig. He also took music lessons in Leipzig, from Tobias Michael, then Kantor of the Thomaskirche. In 1653, indeed, the city council of Leipzig are said to have promised Rosenmüller that he would succeed Michael in his prestigious position. Rosenmüller’s career seemed to be developing very promisingly. However, just two years later things suddenly fell apart. He was accused of committing homosexual acts with schoolboys and imprisoned. He managed to escape and fled Leipzig; he is recorded in Hamburg before turning up in Venice in 1658.

Initially he played the trombone in St. Mark’s. He also taught; a number of his pupils were visiting Germans, such as Johann Philipp Krieger. He acted as a kind of musical agent for visiting aristocrats from Germany. Through both of these activities, he built up important contacts. He held a post at the Ospedale della Pietà from 1678 to 1682. He was apparently firmly embedded in the musical life of La Serenissima, so much so that in Julia Anne Sadie’s Companion to Baroque Music [1990], the entry on Rosenmüller appears in the section on Venice, not Leipzig. His years in Venice came to an end in 1682, when he was given the opportunity to return closer to the land of his birth. He was engaged by Anton Ulrich, Duke of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, as director of Music at his court in Wolfenbüttel in Lower Saxony, where he died two years later.

As Anton Paduch points out in his booklet essay, Telemann, looking back in 1740 on his youth put Rosenmüller’s name in distinguished, and revealing, company: “In movements by Steffani and Rosenmüller, by Corelli and Caldara, I … saw the models upon which I based the church and instrumental music I would write.” Not only are the other three names historically distinguished, they are also all Italian. That makes Telemann’s grouping of these names into an implicit recognition of how Italianate Rosenmüller’s music sounded to the young Telemann – as indeed it sounds to me, listening to this CD.

According to Paduch, only a fourth of Rosenmüller’s work sets texts in German. It might then be logical, at first glance, to assume that these works were written before he left the German-speaking world. However, for that to be true one would have to make two assumptions: that Rosenmüller was already a very accomplished and sophisticated composer by then; and that in his relative youth he had assimilated the Italian style so thoroughly that he could use it with remarkable confidence. I am no kind of Rosenmüller scholar but to me another explanation seems more likely: these works were composed during his Venetian years and were perhaps sent back to Germany as part of a campaign to make it possible for him to return there.

Irrespective of such considerations, one must stress that these are thoroughly rewarding works. They are full of an appropriate sense of the dramatic and an attractive emotional expressiveness, and they are, very largely, performed excellently on this recording. The Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble consists, on this occasion at least, of two sopranos, a male alto, two tenors and a bass plus an instrumental group made up of two violins, two viols, a violone (perhaps a bass viol?), two cornetts, three sackbuts/trombones, a dulcian, a chitarrone and an organ. Strangely, no mention is made of who plays the fagotto/bassoon in the Sonata; nor are we told which of the two sopranos is the very accomplished soloist in Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht. It is also a little disappointing that, though all the sung German texts are provided, there are no translations into other languages. Still, where the text is taken from the Bible there is, in German, an identification of the precise source, so that finding an English version is not difficult. In the case of Entsetze dich Natur, a setting of an anonymous German poem, I was largely lost – German O level was the only examination I ever failed, and I did so by some margin!

But never mind such difficulties, some of them the result of my own inadequacies, or the quibbles about the occasional lack of information, or even the fact that Martin Backhaus is, to my ears, a little out of tune at moments in Daran ist erschienen die Liebe Gottes. He is far better in Vater, ich habe gesündiget. All that did nothing to spoil my pleasure in a fine album. The Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble is impressive, and has a number of recordings on the Christophorus label, including one of Venetian evensong by Rosenmüller. It should be noted that this is the second reissue of this recording, so make sure you don’t already have it in your collection.

Glyn Pursglove
Previous review (previous release): Johan van Veen

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