IN DULCI JUBILO – Music for the Christmas season by Buxtehude and friends
IN DULCI JUBILO – Music for the Christmas season by Buxtehude and friends
★★★★ “As classy as Christmas albums come” The Guardian
“Festive and fantastic!” Rondo Magazin
In the gloomy sky of a winter’s night a bright star emerges and ignites Advent’s anticipation of the Nativity – the year moves towards the rebirth of light just at the time of greatest darkness. With evocative works by the Baroque master Dietrich Buxtehude and the circle of 17th-century northern German composers around him, Paul Hillier conducts his Grammy award-winning ensemble Theatre of Voices in a stimulating addition to the traditional Christmas repertoire.
Theatre of Voices and Paul Hillier during the recording sessions at the Garrison Church (Garnisonskirken) in Copenhagen.
by Jakob Bloch Jespersen
THE ANNUNCIATION AND ADVENT
– Düben, Scheidemann, the Bach family – and Buxtehude’s friendship with Reincken
Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. (Luke 1, 30-33)
At the close of the liturgical year we are enveloped in November’s cold wetness and dark predictions of Judgement Day. But at the time of greatest darkness Advent’s anticipation of the Nativity shines like a bright star in a dark night sky, and the year moves towards the rebirth of light. Philipp Nicolai’s hymn Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (How brightly shines the morning star) is the epitome of this shift from darkness to light. In Christian Geist’s setting of Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern we hear the light breaking through in the two violin parts that surround the soprano’s cantus firmus. This elevating chorale setting comes from Christian Geist’s time at the German church in Gothenburg and is to be found in the Swedish Royal Conductor Gustav Düben’s comprehensive collection of works by the leading composers of the time. The composers in this programme are all represented in the Düben collection, and in the case of many of the works Düben’s copies are the only source material sur-vi-ving to our time. This applies for example to the great majority of the vocal works by Dietrich Buxtehude.
Johann Christoph Bach is also represented in the Düben collection. Although Buxtehude and Johann Christoph Bach did not know each other personally, there are several links between them. Buxte-hude’s music was greatly respected in the Bach family, and there are copies of more than 30 of Buxtehude’s organ works in the Bach family’s collections. A few years ago Buxtehude’s chorale setting of Nun freut euch lieben Christen Gmein (BuxWV 210) was found in a transcription dated c. 1698 by the 13-year-old Johann Sebastian Bach, so it was no accident that Johann Sebastian’s study trip seven years later took him to Lübeck. J.S. Bach copied and collected large quantities of music throughout his life and kept a record of the works of his own family members in his “Alt-Bachisches Archiv”, in which Johann Christoph Bach is represented by several works, including the chorale motet Merk auf, mein Herz. Johann Sebastian Bach considered the motet so good that he also included it in the choir repertoire of the Thomasschule. It is indeed a chorale motet with a unique wealth of ideas and humour. Johann Christoph Bach has assembled the text from a selection of verses from Martin Luther’s Christmas hymn Vom himmel hoch, da komm ich her, and has left his own mark on the individual verses by making use of a variety of time signatures and textural techniques for each verse, not to mention the many effects we hear along the way: for example the description of the ass in the fifth verse and of the infant Jesus falling asleep in the sixth.
Another of J.S. Bach’s very earliest transcriptions (from c. 1700) is Johann Adam Reincken’s great chorale fantasia An Wasserflüssen Babylon, which he composed in 1663 when applying for the post of his teacher Heinrich Scheidemann at the Katharinenkirche in Hamburg. Scheidemann had been a pupil of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck and through Scheidemann and the other great Sweelinck pupil and Hamburg organist, Jacob Praetorius (1586-1651), Sweelinck’s organ works were passed on to the next generation of organists. Buxtehude’s organ teacher Johann Lorentz the Younger studied with Praetorius (and in fact married his daughter), and brought organ works by Scheidemann and Praetorius with him to Copenhagen. In this way Buxtehude made the acquaintance of the Sweelinck organ school while he was still a youth. One gets an impression from Scheidemann’s Preambulum in F major of the elegance of his generation’s organ music. The virtuosic, playful style in his Preambulum in D minor also bears witness to a masterly composer.
The Buxtehude scholar Kerala Snyder believes it is likely that around 1654 Buxtehude studied with Scheidemann in Hamburg, just as Lorentz’s own son had done a few years earlier. The close friendship between Reincken and Buxtehude may have begun as early as this period, when they were both studying with Scheidemann; but whatever the case, that friendship only became closer when Buxte-hude moved to Lübeck in 1668. In the painting Musizierende Gesellschaft in Hamburg (Musical Company in Hamburg) painted by Johannes Voorhout in 1674 (see p. 8), we see two musical ‘brothers’: Buxtehude is playing the viola da gamba dressed in frills and a jacket with silver buttons, while Reincken, at the harpsichord, poses in a red embroidered silk kimono. The picture was very likely commissioned and paid for by the prosperous Reincken himself, as a celebration of their friendship. This is underscored by the sheet of music lying there, on which an 8-part canon is notated, with the inscription In honorem Dieterich Buxtehude et Johann Adam Reinken: Fratres (In honour of Dieterich Buxtehude and Johann Adam Reinken: Brothers).
The very fact that it is a canon that lies in the lap of the young man on the right in the picture alludes to their shared interest in the contrapuntal theory that the two cultivated in these years, and Reincken’s playfully light Fugue in G minor is a splendid example of the results of these studies.
The same is true of Buxtehude’s meditative chorale prelude based on Nun komm der Heiden Heiland (BuxWV 211). Martin Luther published this Advent hymn in 1524 as an adaptation of the medieval Gregorian hymn Veni, redemptor gentium. With the spread of Lutheranism it became widely known in northern Europe, and it is an integral element of the Advent celebrations of the Reformed Church to this very day.
– and the oratorio …
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will toward men. (Luke 2:8-14)
The description of the shepherds in the fields portrayed in the Gospel for Christmas Day has been set to music countless times. Everyone knows Händel’s iconic setting of the scene in the second part of The Messiah, and most will also know J.S. Bach’s Pastoral Cantata, which makes up the second part of his Christmas Oratorio. Buxtehude and Christian Geist approached the task very differently. In Fürchtet euch nicht (BuxWV 30) Buxtehude chooses not to dramatize his setting. Instead he turns to his frequent speciality the concert-aria cantata. Fürchtet euch nicht was written at the end of the 1670s and as such is one of the first examples of this cantata genre from Buxtehude. The concert-aria cantatas became more common for Buxtehude up through the 1680s, but already reached a peak in 1680 with the major work Membra Jesu Nostri (BuxWV 75), which consists of a sequence of seven concert-aria cantatas written with a dedication to Gustav Düben. Fürchtet euch nicht observes the form of this cantata genre: it begins with an instrumental prelude and continues into a concertante structure for the whole ensemble, where the angel, personified in double form by soprano and bass, is accom-panied by violins and continuo. This is followed by the aria, which takes the form of a simple strophic song to Adam Olearius’s Christmas hymn O gnadenreiches leben! accompanied only by the continuo group, before the concertante tutti move-ment is repeated as a conclusion.
In Pastores dicite quidnam vidistis Christian Geist dramatizes the very same scenario in a pure Italian oratorio style. Pioneered in Rome by Giovanni Francesco Anerio (1567-1630) and -Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674) the Italian oratorio developed as a quasi-dramatic genre parallel to the development of the opera. The style gained great currency and was of huge importance to northern European sacred music. While Buxtehude’s use of a hymn text set as a simple chorale gives his cantata a more reflective nature, Geist’s Pastores dicite quidnam vidistis can be seen as an unstaged operatic scene in miniature. It is played out as a dialogue between the Angel and the Shepherds, with the soprano, Angelus, spea-k-ing to the shepherds, Pastores, whereupon the three male voices reply. They all join in the concluding polyphonic invocation of “peace on earth and good will toward men!”
– Lübeck, Franz Tunder and the Evening Music
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:4-7)
Buxtehude’s Christmas and New Year cantata Das neugeborene Kindelein (BuxWV 13) was copied out by Gustav Düben in the period 1680-85. The setting of Cyriacus Schneegaß’s hymn from 1597 is one of the only cases where Buxtehude uses a hymn text without making use of the chorale melody as cantus firmus. Instead he has set the text as a through-composed aria, and thus preserves the strophic form of the text. Alternating with the instrumental ritornelli, the cantata as a whole becomes concertante-like and must be one of Buxtehude’s most frequently performed vocal works.
Franz Tunder was Buxtehude’s predecessor in the post as organist at the Marienkirche in Lübeck. Buxtehude arrived in Lübeck in 1668 a good six months after the death of Tunder and, in accordance with common practice in northern Germany at that time, the acceptance of the post as organist also entailed marrying his predecessor’s daughter Anna Margaretha Tunder, as well as the main-te-nance of Tunder’s widow Elisabeth for the next ten years. We have just under a dozen cantatas from Tunder, all of them works of the highest quality, written in several of the common early Baroque styles. Ein kleines Kindelein is a beautiful strophic aria with a ritornello in the strings. The text comes from Angelus Silesius’ Heilige Seelenlust (1657), where it is found, however, with the title Ein neues Kindelein. The aria praises the infant Jesus who redeems the sin of Adam and reconciles man with God.
In his time Franz Tunder had built up the well-established Kantorei that Buxtehude took over and had even introduced the so-called Abendmusiken – evening music – which became Buxtehude’s most important musical platform during his years in Lübeck. The Abendmusiken were church concerts paid for by the rich mer-chants of the city with free admission for the public. But these privately funded church concerts were not unique to Lübeck. The maestro Sweelinck had been famous for such concerts in the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam and with Jacob Praetorius the concept was passed on to Hamburg. Johann Lorentz the Younger was also well known for his organ soirées at the Nikolaj Church in Copenhagen, so Buxtehude must already in his younger years have been familiar with this early form of public concert.
In Lübeck the Abendmusiken took place at the conclusion and the beginning of the church year; that is, the five weeks beginning with the last Sunday after Trinity as well as the four Sundays in Advent. The actual works that made up Buxtehude’s Abendmusiken have unfortunately been lost. But programmes, text booklets and descrip-tions testify to grand-scale semi-theatrical oratorios which extended over the five Sundays mentioned. In 1705, when the 20-year-old J.S. Bach went on his famous journey on foot from Arnstadt to visit Buxtehude, he was in Lübeck exactly at the time of the Abendmusiken concerts of the year, and presumably Bach took part in these concerts as a musician. It also seems reasonable to suppose that Bach, in his Christmas oratorio from 1734, which extends over six holy days of Christmas, had Buxtehude’s Abendmusiken as his model.
The pre-Reformation Christmas song In dulci jubilo was first written down around the year 1400, but the melody probably goes further back. It is a macaronic hymn where the lines in the vernacular (in this case German) alternate with lines in Latin. Buxtehude’s setting of In dulci jubilo (BuxWV 52) was copied by Düben in 1683. It takes the form of a varied strophic chorale cantata where the violins, with their small interludes and ritornelli, give the piece a concertante stamp. Especially in the jubilant last verse, this can be heard in the triumphant trumpet signals in the violins.
NEW YEAR AND EPIPHANY
– Matthias Weckmann, J.P. Sweelinck and the counterpoint study group
And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying: “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.”
When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they pre-sented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:1-2 & 10-11)
The Circumcision and naming of Jesus took place as described in the Gospel of Luke, eight days after the Nativity – that is, on New Year’s Day. Traditionally, the celebration of the Holy Name of Jesus has taken place on the first Sunday after New Year, or, if this does not fall before the Epiphany, on 2 January. The medieval hymn Jesu dulcis memoria has traditionally been associated with this feast day. The poem was written by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and consists of between 42 and 53 verses, depending on the source. Buxtehude made two settings of this text; in the one we perform here (BuxWV 57) he sets seven verses and a concluding Gloria patri. Buxtehude calls the cantata “Ciacona “, and indeed it presents a bass ostinato of 13 notes which is repeated a total of 45 times. The other parts – two violins, alto, tenor and bass – weave freely elaborated inventions over the ostinato, and these in phrases and verses of varying length create a brilliantly dynamic set of variations.
The text for Matthias Weckmann’s Rex virtutum has also been taken from the hymn Jesu dulcis memoria. Weckmann’s small bass cantata is a trium-phant celebration of Jesus as the King foretold by the Angel Gabriel. Weck-mann was born in southern Germany and from 1627 became a pupil of Heinrich Schütz in Dresden. In 1642, when Schütz went to Copenhagen in connection with the Thirty Years’ War, Weckmann went with him and for five years was lent out to the Danish court, where he served under Crown Prince Christian in Nykøbing Falster until 1647. Weckmann returned to Dresden, but the next year, 1648, he visited Ham-burg and Lübeck, where he got married – with Franz Tunder as his best man. In 1655 he finally went to settle in the north, when he was appointed organist at the Jacobi-Kirche in Hamburg.
In Hamburg Weckmann became a member of a ‘study network’ that, apart from Weckmann, included composers such as Reincken, Bernhard, Theile and Buxtehude. This group of composers exchanged music with one another and studied counterpoint together, especially works and textbooks by Sweelinck. This network played a considerable part in establishing Sweelinck’s influence on the next generation of composers. Ab Oriente venerunt Magi (SwWV 153) is a formally perfect piece of vocal polyphony which shows Sweelinck as a true master; with elegant part-writing the Three Wise Men, each with his own musical motif, brings gold, frankin-cense and myrrh to the newborn Jesus.
However, it was primarily as an organist that Sweelinck was to become famous as the founder of a north European school of organ music. Among the northern German organ virtuosi Praetorius, Scheidemann, Weckmann and Tunder, the Chorale Fantasia was a fur-ther development of Sweelinck’s style, and this free, almost improvisational elabo-ration on a cantus firmus was continued by the masters of the next generation such as Reincken and Buxtehude – and later by J.S. Bach.
With Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (BuxWV 223) we end where we started: with Philipp Nicolai’s bright star; the one that lit up the dark night sky of Advent as a sign from God of the coming of Christ, and which guided the Wise Men to Bethlehem to acclaim the newborn Saviour whom God allowed to enter the world as a refugee child.
© Jakob Bloch Jespersen, 2017