Society Associate Conductor John Finney indulges in the rich sonorities of Germany for this delightful program — from the late Renaissance and early baroque brilliance of Praetorius and Schütz, to the masters of later baroque, Buxtehude and Bach. Hear Bach’s Cantata No. 140 (Sleepers Awake!) with its famous uplifting chorale — a Society premiere! Bach’s Christmas Cantata, No. 122 (Das neugeborne Kindelein) and Schein’s glorious chorus of angels and shepherds help to create a holiday program of joyous sounds.
John Finney, conductor
Handel and Haydn Society Chorus
- J.S. Bach: Cantata No. 140, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme
Teresa Wakim, sopranoStefan Reed, tenorNikolas Nackley, bass
- J.S. Bach: Cantata No. 122, Das neugeborne Kindelein
Susan Consoli, sopranoKit Emory, altoRyan Turner, tenorBradford Gleim, bass
- Buxtehude: Das neugeborne Kindelein
- Buxtehude: In Dulci Jubilo
- Telemann: Concerto in B-flat Major for 3 Oboes and 3 Violin
Stephen Hammer, Kathleen Staten, Owen Watkins, oboeJulie Leven, Guiomar Turgeon, Krista Buckland Reisner, violin
- Schein: Ehr sei Gott in der Höh allein
- Schütz Ein Kind ist uns geboren
- Praetorius: Psallite unigenito, En natus est Immanuel, In Natali Domin, In Dulci Jubilo, and Von Himmel kommt en neuer Engel geflogen
One hour before the start of each performance inside Jordan Hall.
The composers on today’s program are masters of their musical style and there are interesting connections between them. All were famous in their day and composed for some of the most important musical centers of Lutheran Northern Germany. The significance of the Lutheran hymn in each composer’s ouvre cannot be underestimated.
Separated by a generation, Dietrich Buxtehude (1637–1707) and Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) both had reputations for being master organists and prolific composers. Buxtehude’s organ works were highly influential on the next generation of composers, including Bach. Buxtehude was organist at Marienkirche in Lübeck for almost 40 years; his playing was so remarkable that the young Bach traveled some 300 miles to Lübeck in 1705 in order to meet and perhaps hear the master play. Bach had requested a four-week leave in order to make the journey, but, to the displeasure of his employer, he was away for four months!
Both composers also wrote numerous cantatas or sacred vocal music used in the Lutheran church service (Bach) or private devotions (Buxtehude). The original text and melody of In dulci jubilo is attributed to the 14th century mystic Henry Suso. Legend says that angels sang the tune to Suso who began to dance with his “celestial visitors.” Buxtehude’s setting is based on the medieval text and melody, now scored for 2 sopranos, bass, 2 violins, and basso continuo.
Bach and Buxtehude both set the 16th century text “Das neugeborne Kindelein” for the Christmas season. Buxtehude composed his cantata for New Year’s Day; his setting for four-part chorus and strings conveys the hope and promise of a new year. Each stanza of the text is unique in its setting; however, the stanzas are linked by instrumental passages and unified through Buxtehude’s adherence to the regularity of the poetic text.
When Bach accepted a position in Leipzig in 1723, he became responsible for music at four churches in that city. In addition to providing service music, he was required to perform a cantata each week at one of the two main Leipzig churches, St. Thomas and St. Nicolas. As a composer, Bach undertook this part of his job with particular zeal. For the first five years of his tenure in Leipzig, Bach composed a new cantata for each Sunday and feast day of the church year. This amounted to some sixty cantatas each year; unfortunately, only about three years of cantatas are extant.
Written in 1724, Bach Cantata 122, Das neugeborne Kindelein, uses three of the four verses of the original text. Between these, Bach adds movements with texts by an unknown author. This, plus Bach’s musical setting of the whole, evokes the idea of hope and renewal differently from Buxtehude. In the first movement, based on a hymn tune, Bach recalls Jesus as the Good Shepherd by scoring the movement for three oboes and paints the text of the newborn infant with a gently flowing rhythm. Expounding on the final stanza that says, “Now is the time to sing because the infant Jesus wards off all sorrows,” the interpolated texts remind us why the promise of a new year is vital to the believer.
Cantata 140, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, composed in 1731, reminds the faithful to be ready for the coming of Jesus using reference to the story of the Bridegroom and the wise and foolish brides. The story of the preparations of the brides and procession of the Bridegroom is presented in the opening movement of the cantata. Here the long-short-long rhythm brings to mind the procession. This is matched with a moving line in the upper strings before the chorus enters with a steady soprano line paired with the alto, tenor, and bass singing in imitation. Like many works on today’s program, this cantata is based on a well-known hymn tune that could be easily recognized by Bach’s Leipzig congregation.
Johann Hermann Schein (1586–1630) worked in some of the same cities as Bach. A highly respected composer and poet, Schein’s musical career began in 1599 when he was invited to sing soprano in the Hofkapelle of the Elector of Saxony. He continued to study music and the humanities while at the University of Leipzig. For just over one year he held the post of Kapellmeister to Duke Johann Ernst the Younger at Weimar. In 1616, he was appointed Kantor at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. Schein’s Ehr sei Gott in der Höh’ allein was published in 1615 as part of his first collection of sacred vocal works.
Schein and Heinrich Schütz (1585–1672) were born within a year and 50 miles of each other. They were close friends; Schütz composed a motet to honor his friend after Schein’s death in 1630. Schütz was also friends with Michael Praetorius (1571–1621). Although the two may have met as early as 1605, they probably worked together in 1614 when Schütz was invited to the court of Johann Georg I, Elector of Saxony where Praetorius was a visiting deputy music director. In 1618, the two composers came together again, to help revitalize music at the Magdeburg Cathedral. In the following year they visited Leipzig, Nuremberg, and other German cities. Like Schütz, whose father was an innkeeper, Praetorius came from a non-musical family.
Praetorius employs a trumpet-like motive in all four voices on the word “Psallite” in the motetPsallite, unigenito. En natus est Emanuel emphasizes selected words in various ways: with additional voices and long notes values (“Dominus”), by separating the word with rests (“Eia”), by repetition (“Juda”), and by changing to a triple, dancelike meter (“Virga Jessae”). Similarly, Praetorius combines hymn-like, homophonic textures with polyphony and imitation in In natali Domini to express the text; the voices are paired at the beginning of the stanza and then come together in faster note values to conclude the motet.
Schütz travelled to Venice in 1609 in order to study with Giovanni Gabrieli. The two-year trip, which was funded by Schütz’s employer Landgrave Moritz of Hesse at Kassel, was important to his development as a composer, so much so that Gabrieli was the only teacher Schütz ever acknowledged.
Beginning in 1614, Schütz’s talent and employment became the focus of a tug-of-war between two music-loving patrons. While he was employed at the court of Landgrave Moritz of Hesse at Kassel, he came to the attention of Elector Johann Georg I of Saxony who valued music and whose court was a vital musical center in Protestant Germany. Between 1614 and 1619 the two rulers exchanged a series of letters concerning where Schütz would work. Finally, in 1617 the elector prevailed in having “solely in his employ.” Schütz remained at the court until the financial demands of the Thirty Years War forced the elector to reduce his Kapelle.
Each composer on today’s program contributed to the long and varied traditions of German music in the Baroque. Although a hundred years separate the births of Praetorius and Bach, the connections and influences between the careers and compositions of these composers is truly remarkable.
Program notes prepared by Teresa M. Neff, Ph.D.
2010–2011 Historically Informed Performance Fellow
Artists, dates, and programming are subject to change.
In Dulci Jubilo