Johann David Heinichen: Passion Oratorios

Johann David Heinichen was born in the small village of Krossuln, currently part of the town of Teuchern in Saxony-Anhalt, on 17 April 1683. His father Michael had studied at the celebrated Thomasschule in Leipzig and was pastor of the village church. The young Johann was also a student at the Thomasschule, and among his teachers one finds the eminent Johann Kuhnau. Heinichen enrolled in 1702 to study law at Leipzig University, and by 1706 he succeeded in qualifying as a lawyer. He practiced this profession until 1709, when he decided that music was his real vocation.

In 1710 he published the first edition of his major treatise on the thoroughbass. He went to Italy and spent seven formative years there, mostly in Venice, where he had great success, particularly as an opera composer. One of these stage-works, Mario, was even staged in Hamburg in 1716 with the German title ‘Calpurnia oder die romische Grossmut’. In 1712 he taught music to Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Kothen, who took him as composer. Indeed, the same Prince would later appoint J S Bach as Kapellmeister at the end of 1717. In 1716, Heinichen met in Venice Prince Augustus III of Poland, and thanks to him the composer was appointed the Royal-Polish and Electoral-Saxon Kapellmeister in Dresden, where, among his pupils, one finds Johann Georg Pisandel, who later was to become one of the leading Baroque German composers of his day.

In 1721, Heinichen got married and had an only child, but gradually his health started to deteriorate. He suffered greatly in the last few years of his life, and composing became almost impossible. On 16 July 1729, Heinichen died of tuberculosis aged only forty-six, leaving behind a large number of works in practically every genre. Sadly, with his demise his music was quickly forgotten.

It was only in 1992 that his works started to be better known and appreciated, thanks to Reinhard Goebel and his Musica Antiqua Köln, who recorded a selection of Dresden Concerti, followed by the Lamentationes and Passionmusik. His sole opera for Dresden, Flavio Crispo (1720), was never performed and was not recorded until 2018.

The Passion music that Heinichen wrote for the Dresden court is a document of cultural and confessional openness of the Saxon residence, and his two oratorios on this recording are surrogates of large-scale Passion music. Come? S’inbruna il ciel, composed a year before the composer’s death in 1728, is the latest of the so-called ‘Sepolcri’ to survive from the Dresden years.

On the other hand, L’aride tempie ignude is the first Passion to survive from the same period. Both texts are by Stefano Pallavicino, who was active at the Dresden court from 1719. In the first mentioned Passion, the meditation on the Passion events refers to the experience of the earthquake that occurred immediately after Jesus’s death. The description of the violent natural events gives the Virgin Mary, the beloved disciple John and Mary Magdalen the opportunity to reflect on their relationship to the Crucified Lord. The recurrent themes are those of love and affection.

The meditation in the second-named Passion is designed as an allegorical play of Death (Morte) and Hope (Speranza), Divine Love (Amor Divino) and Penance (Penitenza), and follows an easily comprehensible dramaturgy. The affinity to opera seria is evident in both Passions, not only in the arrangement of the pieces, but also in the keys, gestures and instrumentation that correspond to the models familiar from baroque musical theatre. This is music of the profoundest significance and importance, simply because it celebrates the most momentous event in human history. What happened on that little hill outside Jerusalem 2000 plus years ago has been reverberating through the ages, and will keep doing so till time ceases to exist.

Michael Alexander Willens, the soloists and his Kölner Akademie deliver engrossing performances that are as gripping as they are reverential. Willens lets the music flow in all its sorrowful magnificence, and his approach is consistently devotional, eloquent, affecting. Absolutely inspirational stuff from a composer who is still waiting for that respectful recognition he so richly deserves. Superb sound quality and presentation complete a superlative issue that should not be missed.

— Copyright © 27 May 2022 Gerald Fenech

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František Ignác Antonín Tůma: Requiem

František Ignác Antonín Tůma was one of the Czech composers to have considerably influenced 18th-century European music. Along with J. D. Zelenka and G T. Muffat, he has been named among the finest pupils of Johann Joseph Fux, and, just like Zelenka, he rubbed shoulders with the political and social elite of his time. He was highly esteemed in Vienna, with his sacred music even serving as a model for younger composers, including Joseph Haydn and W. A. Mozart.
A dexterous theorbist and gambist, at the age of 19 Tůma most likely participated in the celebrations marking the coronation in Prague of Emperor Charles VI in 1723. Nineteen years later, in 1742, Tůma’s Requiem in c accompanied the soul mass for the self-same monarch on the occasion of the transfer of his remains to the sarcophagus in the Capuchin Crypt in Vienna. At the time, Tůma worked as Kapellmeister of the music ensemble set up by Charles’s widow, Empress Elisabeth Christine.
The Requiem in D minor, whose instrumentation was commensurate to the significance of the event (the orchestra was enhanced by a cornett, two trombones, a bassoon and two natural trumpets), was again heard at the funeral of Elisabeth Christine herself, in 1750. Tůma enjoyed great respect on the part of Empress Maria Theresa, who probably personally commissioned from him the Miserere in c. It comes as no surprise that following four acclaimed recordings of F. X. Richter’s works Czech Ensemble Baroque have focused on Tůma. His music definitely deserves our attention.
A requiem for an Emperor – a breath of new life to an Imperial Kapellmeister.

Moravia and Bohemia, two regions that are now part of the Czech Republic, have always been fertile breeding grounds of performing musicians and composers. It suffices to mention here Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber and Jan Dismas Zelenka. From the mid-18th century quite a number of musicians from these regions settled elsewhere in Europe, where they played a substantial role at the music scene. Frantisek Ignac Antonin Tuma is one of them. He is relatively little-known, and until recently it was virtually only his instrumental music that was performed. In recent years some of his vocal music has been recorded, especially his Stabat mater in g minor. The disc under review here is a substantial contribution to our knowledge of the composer and his oeuvre.

Tuma was born in Kostelec nad Orlici in Bohemia and received his first music lessons from his father, who was an organist. He may have studied in Prague at the Jesuit seminary. Later he was probably a pupil of the organist Bohuslav Matej Cernohorský. Tuma was also active as a tenor and played the viola da gamba and the theorbo. At some time he settled in Vienna, where he became Kapellmeister to Count Ferdinand Kinsky, Chancellor of Bohemia, member of one of its leading aristocratic families, and Imperial envoy. He gave Tuma the opportunity to study with Johann Joseph Fux, the imperial court Kapellmeister. Fux had a substantial influence on Tuma’s development as a composer, and made him a skilled contrapuntalist. When his employer died in 1741, Tuma entered the service of the Empress Dowager, Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (Charles VI’s widow). He remained in her service until her death in 1750. He was rewarded for his service with a high annuity, which allowed him to continue his career as a free artist. In 1765 Empress Maria Theresa increased his pension. The way he was treated attests to the high esteem, in which he was held.

The main work on this disc is the Requiem in c minor, which dates from 1742. This means that it was written during his time in the service of Elisabeth Christine. The imperial court went through a period of financial troubles at the time. In particular the Wars of the Austrian Succession had been very costly, and as a result there was less money to be spent on music. Tuma had only a relatively small ensemble of singers and players at his disposal. Five singers (tenors and basses) were joined by boys, and the instrumental ensemble consisted of fifteen players, which included a cornett, two trombones and a bassoon. These also participate in the Requiem. It also includes two parts for trumpets. As his employer’s musical establishment did not have any trumpet players, these had to be attracted for the performance. That performance took place at the occasion of the transfer of the remains of Charles VI, who had died in October 1740, to the sarcophagus in the Capuchin Crypt in Vienna. The Requiem was sung on 20 October by his widow’s chapel. In 1750, when she herself died, the work was performed once again.

The Requiem opens in an intimate fashion by solo voices; then the choir and the ensemble enter. In ‘Te decet hymnus’ the tutti alternate with duets of soprano/bass and alto/tenor respectively. The first Kyrie is powerful, whereas – as in so many masses – the Christe eleison is a duet, here for alto and tenor. The second Kyrie opens with a descending figure. The ‘Dies irae’ opens in full power with the tutti. ‘Tuba mirum’ includes an obbligato part for trombone, whereas a trumpet participates in ‘Iudex ergo’. ‘Recordare, Iesu pie’ is an intimate section for three solo voices (STB) and basso continuo, fitting in with the text: “Remember, gentle Jesus, that I am the reason for your time on earth, do not cast me out on that day”. ‘Iuste iudex’ has the character of a prayer: it includes a solo for alto and passages for soprano, tenor and bass. In the second half the two trombones enter. The section ends with descending figures: “That day is one of weeping, on which shall rise again from the ashes the guilty man, to be judged”. ‘Domine Jesu Christe’ ends with the words “let the holy standard-bearer Michael lead them into the holy light”, which is a solo for the tenor. In the Sanctus the trumpets and timpani participate, and – again, as in many masses – the Benedictus is a solo, here for bass. The trombones return in the Agnus Dei; the ‘Lux aeterna’ is a duet of soprano and alto.

It makes much sense to add a setting of Psalm 50 (51), Miserere mei Deus, one of the seven penitential psalms. It is about sin and a prayer for forgiveness, and in that respect it perfectly fits in with essential sections of the Requiem. Tuma has written many settings of this psalm; to date seven have been discovered, and the choice of this setting was an obvious one, given that it is in the key of C minor, just like the Requiem. The text is divided into nine sections; the scoring is for strings, trombone and basso continuo, with an obbligato part for the transverse flute in the fifth section, ‘Auditui meo dabis’, a solo for tenor. The second section, ‘Amplius lava me’, is a solo for bass, with the strings playing in dotted rhythms. The trombone participates in the fourth section, ‘Ecce enim’, a solo for soprano. ‘Domine, labia mea aperies’ (O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise) is a duet for soprano and alto. The penultimate section is slow and subdued: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise”. In the concluding section the four solo voices participate and the work ends with a fugue on the last phrase: “then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar”.

It is quite surprising that Tuma’s vocal music has received little attention until recently. The two works performed here are of excellent quality. The Requiem is a wonderful piece that can compete with any other setting that I know. I am quite impressed with the way in which Tuma has treated the text, both in his scoring and in his responsive musical translation. Given its relative modest scoring, this work should be within the grasp of many ensembles. The solo parts are not that technically demanding. The setting of the Miserere is also very fine, and this work is a meaningful addition to what is available for the period of Lent and for Passiontide. It makes me curious for other settings of this text by Tuma.

I am not only happy with these two works, but also with the way they are performed here. I have heard this ensemble before, and it has never disappointed me. Its qualities are confirmed here. The singing of the vocal ensemble is outstanding, and those members who take care of the solos do a great job. The fact that they are part of the vocal ensemble guarantees that these pieces are treated as what they are: works for an ensemble of singers and players, not for solo voices, choir and orchestra. The instrumental ensemble is top-class as well; the obbligato parts are perfectly executed.

Here everything is as it should be. I am very much looking forward to more recordings of Tuma’s oeuvre.

— Johan van Veen (© 2022)


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Jean-Philippe Rameau: Suites d’Orchestre

“…With this two-disc hybrid SACD set, Jordi Savall turns his considerable gifts as a performer and scholar to the music of the French court during the reign of Louis XV in the middle years of the 18th century. The confluence of Louis XIV’s love of music and dance and the talent of Jean-Baptiste Lully had constituted the high point of royal French patronage of music; Louis XV was relatively indifferent to music and it wasn’t until Rameau was in his sixties when he was finally granted a royal appointment. Throughout his long career, though, he enjoyed great popular success and was considered France’s outstanding composer, and he produced a large body of work including over 20 operas. As the excellent program note to this recording diplomatically puts it, Rameau’s work was “profoundly original to the point of sometimes bordering on the strange,” and that strangeness contributes substantially to its appeal to modern audiences; his is a music of extremes that doesn’t sound quite like anyone else’s. The orchestral suites from his operas reveal him as a composer capable of an almost severe austerity and seriousness as well as eccentric whimsicality. His unpredictability may keep listeners constantly on their metaphoric toes, but an undeniable logic undergirds his music and makes it irresistibly compelling. (In this regard, he seems like a natural forbear of Berlioz, who lived just about a century later.) Some of the strangeness is a result of his orchestration, which can include musettes (small bagpipes) and relies more heavily than that of most of his contemporaries on winds and percussion. These superb performances by Le Concert des Nations make a strong case for Rameau as a composer who is not merely talked about but actually performed with far greater frequency. Savall and the orchestra give scrupulous and (from the energy of the playing) delighted attention to the details of the scores; phrases are lovingly shaped, lines surge and leap, and the music practically bristles with excitement. The performers’ use of historically appropriate instruments and their adherence to historically informed practice and ornamentation accentuate the foreignness of Rameau’s somewhat exotic aesthetic, but should delight listeners who aren’t afraid of being surprised. Alia Vox’s sound is impeccably clean, with exceptional liveliness…”

— Stephen Eddins,

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