Hanseatic Wedding Motets
Manfred Cordes, conductor
“Occasional music” defines a kind of composition that has been written for a specific ceremony and points out more or less indirectly to the ephemeral character of a work like this. It is true, some occasional music has been reused with another text for different purposes, as Veni in hortum meum, composed as a wedding motet in 1607, become an homage composition for the visit of King Gustavus Adolphus to Falun in 1623 and from then on included in the Swedish court repertoire, but several other works as those collected in Hanseatic Wedding Motets have never being listened before and are very rare to find, even those written by outstanding and influential composers as Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck.
The transitory memory of a wedding motet is intrinsic: the piece was performed only once, usually after the ceremony, and was presented with some pomp to the bridal couple as a gift from a poet or a composer. The opulence of the “material” gift, moreover, is the main reason why occasional music has been preserved to our days.
The composition of wedding motets was also a demonstration of the wealth of the Hanseatic middle-class, which has few occasions to show off itself, and this often caused the breaking of the strict rules that fixed not only the norms of composition, but also the number of musicians and performers (usually from four to eight depending on the circumstances).
The first composer of this recording is Johann Schop (ca. 1590-1667), who was also a violinist and musician in the Hofkapelle at Wolfenbüttel from 1614, Kappellmeister in 1619 and admired as a lute, cornett and trombone player. He was the leading municipal violinist in Hamburg from 1621. Schop was one of the most important violin composer of his time and one of the key figures of the earliest German violin music. It was for the complexity of his compositions that Leopold Mozart still remembered him a century after his death.
Hanseatic Wedding Motets features only one work written by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621), Diligam te Domine, but he was the last and most important composer of the golden era of Netherlandish music, celebrated not only as a leading keyboard composer, but also as a teacher. Among his pupils there were the founders of the so-called north German organ school of the 17th century that had its climax with Johann Sebastian Bach. Sweelinck was organist for forty-four years at the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, a post he kept until his death, and he never left the city except when his professional duties required it, but his influence increased during his lifetime and lasted until 1650.
Johann Stobäus (1580-1646) was a German composer and lutenist, pupil and successor of Johann Eccard (another of the composers of this collection) at the post of Kappellmeister in Königsberg. His production of occasional music seems not occasional at all as he wrote an incredible number of these works in addition to those he had to compose for divine services and teaching.
Johannes Schultz (1582-1653) was a German composer and organist at St. John’s Church in Dannenberg (Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg, now in Lower Saxony). He wrote instrumental dances as well as sacred and secular music.
Johann Steffens (1560-1616) was a German organist and composer. He was officially appointed organist of the Johanniskirche, Lüneburg, in 1595 and held the post for twenty years. He was one of the fifty-three experts who took part in the famous organ trial at Gröningen, near Halberstadt, in 1596 and he was a respected organ teacher.
Johannes Eccard (1553–1611) began his career as a chorister and was pupil, among the others, of the famous Orlando di Lasso while he was in Munich in 1573. He was appointed Kappellmeister in Königsberg in 1604 and was an early principal conductor at the Berlin court chapel. He wrote only vocal music as the centre of his production was the Lutheran chorale.
Johann Vierdanck (ca. 1605–1646) was a violinist, cornettist and composer who came from a musical family from Saxony or Thuringia. He was organist in Stralsund from 1635 to 1646, the year of his death. The present album features two of Vierdanck’s compositions: a Capriccio from his collection published in 1641 and Ich freue mich im Herren, written in 1643.
The performance of the works of the aforementioned composers by Weser-Reinassance under the conduction of Manfred Cordes is absolutely enjoyable. The recording begins with a festive introduction, Schop’s Paduan, played with grace and refinement, features that are immediately echoed in the next, delicate piece, Sweelinck’s Diligam te Domine. Among the finest pieces it is worth mentioning Eccard’s four motets (Wem eim tugendsam Weib, Lasst uns singen, Gott selber hat and Cui pia contigit) that can be found almost at the end of the album. Their elaborated counterpoint make them recognizable among the works and precisely their technical exquisiteness confers them their radiant joy. Other valuable pieces are Steffen’s elegant Audi dulcis amica mea, the solemn Paduan by Schultz and the Paduana & Gaillard by Steffens.
What is surprising is that this music does not remind of Protestant severity, but is instead light, lovely and rich in delicate and sympathetic nuances. Hanseatic Wedding Motets is therefore a warm and amazing introduction to the music of the Hanseatic world, broadening the horizon beyond the mercantile and commercial vocation for which these cities are still remembered to illustrate their musical preferences, an aspect that is little known or even neglected.