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CD165   Hieronymus PrÆtorius: Sacred Music for Double Chorus

 

CD165

Hieronymus Prætorius
Sacred Music for Double Chorus

The Choir of The Church of the Advent, Boston
Edith Ho, Music Director
Ross Wood, Associate Conductor

CD165   $15.95

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CONTENTS
1. Angelus ad pastores ait
  Missa super Angelus ad pastores ait
2.   Kyrie
3.   Gloria
4.   Credo*
5.   Sanctus & Benedictus
6.   Agnus Dei
7. Laudate Dominum*
8. Ecce Dominus veniet
9. Ein Kindelein so löbelich
10. Ecce quam bonum*
11. Te Deum Patrem ingenitum*
12. Nunc dimittis*
13. Cantate Domino
  Ross Wood, Associate Conductor*

 

NOTES ON THE PROGRAM

Double-Choir Music
In the second half of the sixteenth century, works for divided or double choir became standard in the liturgical repertoire of large European churches. From the artistically progressive city of Venice the style spread throughout Italy and to many other countries, especially Germany. Between the 1560s and the 1630s hundreds of collections of double-choir music were published, and the genre continued to be favored in the eighteenth century.

The origins of divided-choir singing can be traced back many centuries, however, to the practice of psalm singing and the architectural layout of churches and cathedrals. Singers normally sat in choir stalls facing each other on the left and right sides of the chancel, with each side chanting alternate verses of psalms, hymns, responses, and other liturgical music. This practice created an antiphonal effect which was then adopted for polyphonic choral music, most commonly in eight parts, SATB/SATB. Both this expansion of performing space and the enhanced possibilities for emphasis on textural clarity and for contrast of expression made polychoral music a desirable vehicle for the rising Baroque aesthetic around 1600. German Protestant composers found the polychoral medium attractive and began to compose motets and masses for two, three, and four choirs for Lutheran church services. Several of them learned the style directly from the Italian masters, most notably Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli in Venice. Others became familiar with it through widely circulated collections of Italian sacred music, as well as the works of Roland de Lassus and Jakob Handl. Hans Leo Hassler, Michael Prætorius, Heinrich Schütz, Johann Hermann Schein, and Samuel Scheidt all benefited from the direct or indirect influence of these composers and gradually introduced distinctively Germanic elements into their own music, such as German texts, chorale melodies, and the use of a wide variety of instruments.

Hieronymus Prætorius (1560-1629)
Hieronymus Prætorius, an especially signficant composer who adopted the polychoral style, lived and worked in the large north German city of Hamburg. Of the four city organists from the Hamburg Prætorius family (unrelated to the more prolific Michael Prætorius), Hieronymous created the greatest musical legacy and became the first Hamburg musician of international renown. While he was organist at the largely Jacobikirche (St. James' Church) from 1586-1629, most of his surviving organ works were copied in The Visby Tablature (1611); more important and extensive are his early contributions to the German-Venetian polychoral style. His five-volume Opus musicum was published in Hamburg between 1599 and 1625 (in eight vocal partbooks and a basso continuo part). Created without any direct contact with Italian composers, this huge collection contains 100 Latin and German motets in five to twenty parts (for one to four choirs), six masses, and nine magnifcats for double choir. Prætorius's signficant body of little-known vocal works displays the early beginnings of Italian influences on north-German sacred music and exhbiits a fascinating and imaginative blend of old and new styles during the first two decades of the Baroque era. Succeeding generations adopted more progressive Italianate elements, but Prætorius was the most signficant and influential pioneer, both in choral and organ music.

The vocal works of Prætorius were owned by many north German churches and formed a standard part of their choral repertoire during the entire seventeenth century. For instance, works from Prætorius's opus musicum were sung in Lübeck Marienkirche (St. Mary's Church) during the Dieterich Buxtehude's time, as well as in Sweden, Denmark, and even the Netherlands. At least twenty single motets were reprinted in large popular anthologies of the time, and many manuscript copies are listed in European library catalogs and inventories.

Church Music in Hamburg
Long before better-known composers such as Georg Philipp Telemann, Johann Mattheson, and C.P.E. Bach brought musical fame to Hamburg, the city enjoyed a rich musical life centered in the four main churches, including the Jacobikirche. Traditionally, the Sunday Mass with Communion was celebrated from 7:00 in the morning until 10:00 or later, while the Saturday and Sunday Vespers began at 1:00 or 1:30 in the afternoon. In Hamburg and most other large cities, the liturgical orders and practices of the immediate post-Reformation times remained in force: the service orders were still based on the traditional Latin models, with only a few German-language substitutions and modifications. Not until 1699 were modernized and simpler service orders approved for Hamburg.

Performances of Prætorius's large-scale sacred works were directed by the city Cantor who led the choir of boys, a few teachers, and eight singers paid by the City Council. Also on call for church performances were eight city instrumentalists and a pool of free-lance players. Although the original printed editions designate no instrumentation and all parts have words, documents of the time describe instruments substituting for or supporting voice parts, and even the large organ playing the music of one complete choir. Because of these rich musical resources provided by the church and the city government, Hamburg's magnificent liturgical music rivaled that heard in other large cities and private court chapels and was considered an essential part of th city's religious and cultural life

Program Overview
This program's presentation of double-choir music by Hieronymus Prætorius contains one of his six masses and eight of his forty eight-part motets, six of which are receiving their first recording by the Choir of the Church of the Advent. The motets set psalm texts, canticles, and antiphons for specific seasons and services throughout the church year - Advent, Christmas, Easter and Trinity - including both Vespers and Sunday Communion texts. Although the music of the five-movement mass is based on a Christmas motet, it could be performed at other times without its seasonal connotations. Three motets contain two distinct sections, a standard feature of Latin motets (Angelus ad pastores ait, Nunc dimittis, and Ecce Dominus veniet), and three conclude with the lesser doxology, "Gloria Patri" (Laudate Dominum, Nunc dimittis, and Te Deum Patrem ingenitum). The mass movements are also divided at traditional points, as indicated in the Texts and Translations.

Prætorius's Double-Choir Style
Prætorius's style most closely resembles that of Lassus and Hassler, but it is more harmonically conceived and exhibits a greater variety of structures and styles within the same work. Following the early Baroque emphasis on text clarity, the words are most often set syllabically to rhythms that closely reflect speech, but not rigorously so. Longer note values and extended melismas are saved for pictorial purposes and for contrast with the regular metric flow of the music. Normally, lines of text are presented phrase by phrase in distinct sections, but Prætorius often departs from this regularity through repetitions of phrases, whole sections of test, or refrains. In addition to antiphonal echoing between choirs, the simple repetition of phrases creates balance, emphasis, an increase of intensity, or a sense of finality. Refrains are particuarly evident in Laudate Dominum and Cantate Domino, with their dancing, triple-meter sections on the opening words. Prætorius often thickens and animates the prevailing choral texture in his music by creating a kind of "broken homophony." In this broken style, varied rhythms, interpolated trests, syncopations, disjunctive text statements, and motivic interplay create more independence between parts than is common. The quasi-polyphonic result is mixed with homophonic and imitative sections to produce Prætorius's distinctive polychoral style, a style densely sonorous, often rhythmically exciting, and musically satisfying. Te Deum Patrem ingenitum best exemplifies the typical Prætorian double-choir style.

Harmonically, Prætorius's works are conservative as compared with contemporary Italian music, but they occasionally introduce dissonances to strengthen cadences and often employ close juxtaposition of major and minor triads for expressive impact. Changes of mode may also accompany expressions of mercy, sadness, or sin. To avoid over-use of simple echo techniques, Prætorius may alter the responding statements by a change of pitch level, rearrangement of voice parts, and embellishments or reworking of individual voice parts. In Nunc dimittis, the nine repetitions of the words "quia viderunt oculi mei" vividly illustrate Prætorius's imaginative skill in varied alternation. To sustain forward movement and avoid block treatment of the tests, the choir statements usually overlap instead of simply alternating. Normal overlapping on a single chord is occasionally shortened or extended to create a canon between the choirs, most clearly evident in Ein Kindelein so löbelich. Ordinarily voice parts sound only with their own choir, but single voices singing with the opposite choir are heard in Nunc dimittis, Ecce Dominus veniet, and Ein Kindelein so löbelich. To vary the texture and sonority (needed in a program of all double-choir works). Prætorius exploits the higher and lower vocal ranges. The sweet mood of Ein Kindelein so löbelich is matched by the comparatively high range of all the voices, while Laudate Dominum creates the effect of confident and majestic praise with its emphasis on the lower voice parts and thick textures. In Ecce quam bonum and Cantate Domino, the division into high and low choirs creates stunning contrasts of texture and sonority.

Text Expression
Double-choir works were not heard every week in Hamburg, but within the normal service context of chant, organ music, simple chorales, and the spoken word, their presence created a highly intensified moment of religious and emotional expression. Prætorius's musical evocation of the sacred texts is reserved, in keeping with his north German aesthetic, but frequent touches of both obvious and more subtle text expression appear. As expected, the full sonority of the combined choirs is typically used to create a broad, majestic final cadence at the end of a section or to illustrate ideas such as "with our whole heart," "all ye nations," and "all the earth." Melismatic passages can emphasize important words or sustain sequential patterns; contrasting rhythmic patterns,syncopations, and shifts of accentuation are often used to intensify or call attention to important words and phrases. Examples of Prætorius's imaginative rhythms abound in Laudate Dominum and in sections of Ecce Dominus veniet. Using the number of voices suggested by the text may be found in Te Deum Patrem ingenitum where three-voice groups symbolize the Trinity. Rising or falling scale lines apparently fascinated Prætorius, for they occur rather frequently in these motets. In Angelus ad pastores ait they are associated with the angels' descent to the shepherds, but then appear to very different words in the movements of the related parody mass. The opening of Ecce Dominus veniet uses scale lines to suggest coming or arriving, and later the lines depict the waters of the world descending from Mount Hermon. But the same device in the beautiful initial statements of "alleluia" creates an entirely different mood. "Descendit" with its expected falling notes fills the middle section of Ecce quam bonum to an almost excessive degree. Nunc dimittis illustrates a marvelous mood change over a longer span of time. The prayerful opening depicts Simeon accepting the end of his long life in slow note values and smooth melodic lines. After greater activity ends the first section, the second part briefly returns to thte initial mood, but becomes increasingly animated at the word "lumen" (light). The motet culminates in a triple-meter setting of "et gloriam plebis tuae Israel" and the closing doxology with its emphasis on "sæculorum. Amen."

The Christmas motet Ein Kindelein so löbelich is a rare example of Prætorius setting a German chorale melody. All the phrases of the original melody and text appear at least once in the sporano or bass parts, mostly in an imitative texture rather than the more common cantusfirmus (long-note) manner. The inventive variations of the chorale melody are a fascinating highlight of this motet. The surprising appearance of yet another German-Latin Christmas song, "Joseph, dearest Jospeh mine," which is then interrupted by a vocal fanfare, bring this exuberant motet to a lively, yet gentle, conclusion.

Cantate Domino, the final motet, displays the most imaginative characteristics of Prætorius's creatvity. The division into high and low choirs, enhanced by the virtuosity of the high choir, suggest alternation between soloists and full choir. The opening section becomes a refrain returning three further times, and the varied rhythmic and melismatic treatment of "cantate" vividly expresses the most joyful "singing to the Lord" one can imagine. The motet is a true masterpiece which few composers (even Prætorius's contemporary Italians) have matched.

The Parody or Imitation Mass: Missa super Angelus ad pastores ait
Renaissance and Baroque composers believed that good musical ideas should be heard in not just one compostiion, but reused in other works, either reproduced note-for-note or modified in a wide variety of ways. The new work was usually designated as being super (on, or based upon) the earlier composition, although with different words. When large portions of a composition were "recycled," the composer was not being lazy but rather preserving a good piece in another form, often improving or enlarging upon it. Such a mass was called a "parody" or "Imitation" mass.

All five movements of Prætorius's issa super Angelus ad pastores ait make extensive use of passages from the motet. Musicologists might spend days discovering where and how musical borrowings appear in the related mass setting, but what might an alert listener notice at one hearing? Most striking in Prætorius's mass are the rising scale-lines from the motet at the beginning of each mass movement. In the Sanctus, however, they reverse direction, and in Angus Dei I they move in longer note values, marvelously fitting the penitential content of the text, only to return to their original values and direction in Agnus Dei III. Other recognizable ideas are the rapid-paced alleluias which end both sections of the motet; these are appropriated for similar concluding positions in the mass movements, clearly heard at "Cum sancto Spiritu" in the Gloria. The mass also adopts a sequential passage with very long notes in the soprano part, set originally to the words "Salvator mundi" in the motet. It becomes the whole content of Kyrie II, tying "Salvator mundi" in the motet to "Christe" and creating an intensifying plea for mercy. Kyrie III seems to be a condensed version of part two of the motet without the alleluia music.

Between the opening and ending of the Gloria, much of the music is less directly related to the motet. It is either extensively reworked or newly composed, as well as being more adventurous harmonically. The same structure holds for the Credo, except where the words "qui propter nos homines" borrow the same sequential passage with long notes heard in the "Christe" section. The section from "Et incarnatus est" to "non erit finis" is totally new, including the traditional prolonged notes on "Et homo factus est," and there are lengthy passages for each choir alone. Just before the end, Prætorius inserts a stunning transformation of the triple-meter alleluias from the motet to the words "et vitam."

The Sanctus and Benedictus display the motet's scale-line idea in different tempos; the repeated Hosanna sections are set entirely in triple-meter, as expected, but surprisingly not to the music of the motet. Although short, the Agnus Dei is the most remarkable movement. The scale-line pattern appears at both slower and normal tempos,and a triple-meter alleluia section from the motet expresses both the words "miserere nobis" and "dona nobis pacem." Furthermore, after having mixed the minor mode with flashes of major throughout the work, Prætorius subtly concludes mostly in major for this comforting final phrase of the mass.

Hearing similar-sounding music at least six times in succession may seem overly repetitious, but during an actual service, segments of the liturgy and other musical selelctions would separate the movements. Repetition would become recollection and welcome familiarity for the listener. As the mass movements reappear within the liturgy, more echoes of the motet are recognized; although the music is familiar, it is also new and interesting. The parody or imitation technique therefore creates a large unified structure of recurring, similar music over an extended time span, building a familiarity in the hearer's mind and at the same time allowing the composer to explore, vary, develop,and expand his initial, fertile musical ideas.

--Frederick K. Gable, Professor of Music Emeritus,
University of California, Riverside

The Advent Choir on ARSIS recordings: