An Early Baroque Christmas

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Program: #18-52   Air Date: Dec 17, 2018

Cantatas from one of Bach’s predecessors at Leipzig, early 17th century Spanish villancicos, and seasonal music from the Danish Pietist movement.

I. Gaspar Fernández & Alonso de Bonilla: Chanzonetas (Ensemble la Danserye/Capella Prolationum). IBS CD 182017.

Gaspar Fernández & Alonso de Bonilla. Chanzonetas (1614-1616)

The selection of Christmas carols collected in this volume has the peculiarity of constituting a particular cycle within the poetic-musical Cancionero de Gaspar Fernández. The musicalization of the texts of Alonso de Bonilla, works of a deep and refined religious message, gives these musical pieces a special feature of unity within their catalog, which presents a good opportunity to rediscover partially the Gaspar Fernández interpreted and recorded until the date. The structure of the works themselves, when the musicalization of the original poem is complete, has an introduction to solo or duet (without instrumental accompaniment), followed by a chorus written for all voices and some verses (from one to three voices) ). This structure allows to alternate between solo voices (introduction and couplets) and the complete chapel set (voices and instruments) in the refrains. The participation of the complete musical chapel (singers and minstrels) in the solemnities for the Christmas, Kings and Corpus Christi festivals, is a generalized and sufficiently documented event in any of the important ecclesiastical institutions in Spain and the New World, and Puebla Los Angeles was not going to be an exception. As particular cases where all the members of the chapel do not participate, it is worth mentioning the absence of text in some of the voices of two of the carols: [18] Let's suppose it is Christmas Eve, which has the text only written in the tenor's voice for the verses with three voices and [13] Today the queen in her day, with five voices, where the text is only given to the voices of tiple and tenor, which are precisely the dialogues in the introduction and the couplets , interpreting the rest of voices with a set of flutes. At the other extreme, some of the carols only have the text applied to the refrain of the poem, with no music appearing for the couplets. In these cases, the performance is performed only with voices (one singer per voice) together with the accompaniment of the two-order harp. In the present recording, apart from the wind instruments used by the ministrile ensembles (cornets, chirimías, sacabuches, bajoncillos and bassoon, flutes), the sporadic presence of the harp and the guitar has been incorporated, as an example of its occasional use in the most solemn festivals (as for example in Corpus Christi). In the case of the harp, its presence in Puebla dates back to documents dated in 1595, although until 1634 it would not be part of the musical chapel. On the other hand, documents dated in 1609 attest, in addition, the presence in Mexico City of the guitar next to the harp in the carols, "animating with their chanzonetas and carols" in the festivities of the octave of Corpus Christi. Lastly, it has been preferred not to use percussion instruments in Christmas carols given the lack of conclusive information about their use. However, they have been included in two of the instrumental works, one of which is a dance, as indicated in the manuscript through the annotation 'Dança a 3, Responsión a 5' ([19]: A Sunday of morning).
  • Villancicos del nacimiento de Cristo. Si a Belén Carillo vas ; Virgen, a parir te atreves ; Oh, qué gozo tan profundo ; Sabes, Bras, cómo entre el heno ; Si de amor la viva fragua
  • Villancicos del santísimo Sacramento. Aunque por extraños modos ; Corramos, Gil, tras de aquel ; Señor, si el alma os agrada ; A San Pedro
  • Villancicos de los Reyes. Si es que a adorarme os provoco ; En tres casas de ajedrez ; Quién es la Iglesia romana
  • Villancico del nacimiento de la Virgen. Hoy a la reina en su día
  • Villancicos del nacimiento de Cristo. De San Pedro ; Verbo en carne soberano ; De estas ovejas de acá ; Qué juzgas tú, Juan pastor ; Cenemos, que es Nochebuena ; Un domingo de mañana
  • Villancicos del santísimo Sacramento. Algún bocado de pan ; Cual es la comida ; Hombre, no estés descuidado.

II. Johann Schelle: Actus Musicus auf Weyh-Nachten (Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens). CPO CD 555.155-2.

Johann Schelle: Actus Musicus Auf Weyh-Nachten Product Image
In 1677 Johann Schelle became the music director at the Church of St. Thomas in Leipzig, succeeding his teacher Sebastian Knüpfer and preceding Johann Kuhnau in this post. His own pupils included important composers like Johann Christoph Graupner, Johann David Heinichen, Reinhard Keiser, Johann Theodor Roemhildt, and Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow. More than 180 compositions by Schelle are documented, but only forty-eight of these works are extant. Schelle’s importance lies above all in two areas: in the combination of biblical texts and free sacred poems during his progressive development of the genre of the sacred concerto, which qualifies as an early form of the later Protestant church cantata, and in the setting of chorale cantatas. This CD presents a recording of Schelle’s known compositions for Advent and Christmas. The featured work, the Actus Musicus auf Weyh-Nachten, is a musical representation of the birth of Christ. Its textual basis is formed not only by the familiar biblical text from the Gospel of Luke (2:1-20) but also by the fifteen stanzas of Luther’s hymn ‘Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her’.
From MusicWeb International: The German musicologist Peter Wollny recently stated, in his liner-notes to a disc containing mostly German music from the second half of the 17th century, that “[ensemble] music between Schütz and Bach, an area long neglected by both scholarship and practice, time and again proves to be an almost inexhaustible treasure trove of skilfully crafted, expressive compositions that even today have lost none of their original fascination”. One of the composers who has suffered from this relative neglect is Johann Schelle, who from 1676 until his death acted as Thomaskantor in Leipzig. From that angle this disc has to be welcomed, even though the programme does not include as many first recordings as Klaus Winkler claims in his liner-notes (oddly enough this part of his notes has not been included in the English translation). In fact, so far as I know only three pieces are new to the catalogue: the version for three voices of Uns ist ein Kind geboren (track 4), Da die Zeit erfüllet ward and Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe. The largest work, Actus Musicus auf Weyh-Nachten, has actually been recorded twice before.

Schelle was born in Geising in Saxony. He spent his formative years in the electoral chapel in Dresden, which was then under the direction of Heinrich Schütz. At the age of 16 he entered the Thomasschule in Leipzig, and he continued his studies in music with the then Thomaskantor Sebastian Knüpfer. When just 22 years old he was appointed Kantor in Eilenburg and in 1676 was elected to succeed Knüpfer as Thomaskantor. The Leipzig town council had made an excellent choice as Schelle’s reputation soon spread throughout central Germany. “One contemporary witness reports that listeners ‘flew in like bees’ for the ‘sweet honey’ of Schelle’s church music”, Peter Wollny writes in his liner-notes to Robert King’s recording of sacred music by Schelle (Hyperion, 2001, reissued 2011). He connects it with Schelle’s style of composing. “What was presented to the audience was a new style – a sweet and delightful sound, combined with carefully-chosen texts and performed with a well-developed sense for big effects and refinement”.

One of the reforms under Schelle’s direction was the replacement of Latin hymns with his own settings on German texts. That brought him into conflict with the mayor, but he won the support of the city’s theologians. In his extant oeuvre we only find a few Latin pieces; the great majority is in German. The programme shows that the chorale took a central place in his output, in contrast to that of his teacher Schütz.

The Actus Musicus auf Weyh-Nachten connects him to Schütz. The latter composed his Christmas Oratorio (Historia der freuden- und gnadenreichen Geburt Gottes und Marien Sohnes, Jesu Christi) in 1664, and Schelle performed the Actus Musicus in Leipzig on Christmas Eve 1683. As in Schütz’ Historia Schelle places the story of Jesus’ birth in the centre, based on the gospel of Luke. However, in contrast to Schütz, whose oratorio was performed at the court in Dresden, he frequently uses Christmas hymns, which were popular among the faithful in Leipzig. One of them is the thread of this work, ‘Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her’. The stanzas of Luther’s hymn are set in various forms: free aria, four-part harmonization, sacred concerto or instrumental quotation. In addition several other hymns are quoted: ‘In dulci jubilo’, ‘Gelobet seist du Jesu Christ’, ‘Lobt Gott ihr Christen allzugleich’ and ‘Wir Christenleut’. These were part of a Leipzig hymnbook which had been published the year before. The instrumental scoring is remarkable as it was rather old-fashioned in Schelle’s time and included cornetts, sackbuts and viols, but also shawms (Schreyerpfeifen). Unfortunately the latter are not used in this recording, unlike in the two previous recordings (Roland Wilson, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, 1993; Howard Arman, Capriccio, 1994).

Uns ist ein Kind geboren takes its starting point at verse 6 of Isaiah 9. There are two concertos with this title in Schelle’s oeuvre. The first is a setting for five voices, six instruments and basso continuo. From this one we get only the opening tutti section (track 1); Roland Wilson recorded the entire piece. The second setting is for two tenors, bass, two oboes or violins and basso continuo. After the text from Isaiah (the dictum) there are four verses on a free text, allocated to tenor I, tenor II, bass and the three voices together respectively, and separated by ritornellos.

Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar is for 19 voices and instruments, which is reminiscent of Michael Praetorius’s large-scale chorale arrangements. The voices constitute one choir, the instruments are divided into three choirs (strings, cornetts and sackbuts, trumpets and timpani). In the six verses soli and tutti alternate; they are separated by ritornellos.

Schelle often repeats the opening section at the end. That is the case, for instance, in Da die Zeit erfüllet ward for five voices. It opens with a sonata, which is followed by a section for soprano I and tutti. Next are four verses, again for solo voice (from soprano II to bass) and tutti, and the piece closes with the opening section. The same happens with Machet die Tore weit, a setting of Psalm 24, vs 9, a piece for the first Sunday of Advent. The opening dictum is for soli and tutti and is repeated at the end. In between are verses for the four voices (soprano to bass), separated by ritornellos. Every verse consists of two sections, the second is always the same.

Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe is obviously for Christmas and deals with the announcement of Jesus’ birth by the angels. It opens with a sonata after which the two sopranos sing the chorus of the angels. The three lower voices probably symbolize the shepherds, who hear the message of the angels. This is one of the few pieces in Schelle’s oeuvre which explicitly require five ripienists, in addition to the solo voices. The instrumental scoring includes two trumpets, three sackbuts and timpani, two violins and basso continuo.

Every disc devoted to Schelle is most welcome, and that goes for the present production as well. It may include not as many first recordings as the liner-notes suggest, but it is nice that three fine pieces are now available for the first time. Overall I have enjoyed these performances. The Kölner Akademie is a good ensemble, whose instrumentalists are joined by those admirable specialists on cornett and sackbut of Concerto Palatino. Among the singers I would like to mention especially the two sopranos Monika Mauch and Myriam Arbouz, as well as Georg Poplutz, in particular because of his role as Evangelist in the Actus Musicus. I am less enthusiastic about Raimonds Spogis, whose singing lacks some subtlety, and about Marian Dijkhuizen, whose slight but clearly audible vibrato damages the ensemble. It is regrettable that in the Actus Musicus shawms are omitted; their parts are played by recorders, but that is not the same. In that respect I prefer the older recordings of this piece. In particular Roland Wilson’s recording is a bit more consistent in regard to interpretation.

The CPO booklet includes several errors. The most annoying is the error in the numbering of the tracks: two tracks have number [6], which is especially inconvenient if you are looking for a particular track.

All said and done, if you look for something less familiar for the Christmas period, this is certainly a disc to investigate.

Johan van Veen

1. Uns Ist Ein Kind Geboren 2:22  
2. Vom Himmel Kam Der Engel Schar 8:19  
3. Da Die Zeit Erfüllet Ward 12:39  
4. Uns Ist Ein Kind Geboren 7:47  
5. Machet Die Tore Weit 9:26  
6. Ehre Sei Gott In Der Höhe 10:22  
7. Actus Musicus Auf Weyh-Nachten

III. Brorson: The Rare Treasure of Faith (Phemius Consort). Dacapo CD 8.226123. 


The music and poetry of Pietism offers a beauty that hardly any form of Lutheran religiosity can rival. It is rarely found more radiantly beautiful than in the great collection of hymns Troens rare Klenodie (The Rare Treasure of Faith) by the most important Danish representative of the Pietist movement, Hans Adolph Brorson (1694-1764). The melodies of the sacred Pietist songs are, in their strongly affective nature, in perfect accordance with the fervent and sensual mode of expression found in the texts. Selected from J.A. Freylinghausen’s Geistreiches Gesangbuch and among J.S. Bach’s contributions to Schemelli’s Musicalisches Gesangbuch those melodies are to be heard here, along with related galant music for flute, harpsichord and guitar from the court of the Pietist Danish King Christian VI.

From MusicWeb International: When reviewing a disc, I prefer to look at the booklet notes last after making my initial notes on the music; here, however, the booklet essays are all important, as they not only discuss the man, but also place him firmly in in the historical context of Danish Pietism, which is important here, as this is a history that needs to be understood.

Hans Adolph Brorson was the leading figure of the Pietist movement in Denmark in the first half of the eighteenth century; he had studied theology at the University of Copenhagen in the hope of following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps as the local clergymen, however he became somewhat disillusioned with the orthodox Lutheranism of the day and it was only after his introduction to the teachings of the new revivalist Pietism that was gaining ground in northern Germany and Denmark that Brorson settled on a future in the church, rising to the rank of Bishop. Pietism grew out of the Lutheran movement and was seen as a radical sect and one that the established church had to put a stop to as their belief in justification by Faith Alone, which had been the major tenet of Martin Luther’s teaching, was not enough, and that faith along with personal piety and living a vigorous Christian life was equally important.

It was during his time as a clergyman that Brorson began to write his hymns and publish them in pamphlet form, much in the way that Luther had before him and this would be something that would become his lasting legacy, and that would prove important to the likes of Søren Kierkegaard who chose one of Brorson’s verses for his gravestone, and Hans Christian Andersen who referenced texts by Brorson in his fairy tales. It was when Brorson became a bishop that he collected these 83 hymns together, along with a number of German Pietist hymns, 195 that he translated into Danish, and five hymns by his brothers, into his best-known work Troens rare Klenodie that gives this disc its title, The Rare Treasure of Faith. It is from this edition of 1739 that the texts included in this recording have been taken. Like Luther’s hymns, Brorson’s have been used as the basis for music by other composers, such as Edvard Grieg, who set lyrics by Brorson in the first two of his Fire Salmer, ‘Guds søn har gjort mig fri’ (God’s son has set me free) and ‘Hvad est du dog skjøn’ (O but you are beautiful).

If the booklet essay is essential reading for understanding the man, then the music presented here is lovely and, if not easy listening, is easy to listen to. The Pietists adopted the galant style for its melodies, despite their fervent spirituality, perhaps this was done to further their message through popular-sounding tunes; it certainly marked a development in the Lutheran style of congregational singing. Of the 283 hymns in the Troens rare Klenodie, Brorson suggests around 200 suitable tunes for the texts from different sources, from Reformist hymn tunes and Pietist tunes especially those of Freylinghausen and Schemelli and it is through the latter that the hymn tunes of JS Bach have come in to Brorson’s collection, and they shine here, even if performed in an unfamiliar way, in Danish, his ‘Dig, dig min HErre vil jeg prise’ is excellent, especially when sung by Beate Mordal. Her performance of ‘Vor JEsus kand ey noget herberg finde’ by an unknown hand has the right plaintive tone, making it one of my favourite tracks on the disc, whilst ‘Stille er min siel til Gud’ where she sings partly without accompaniment, displays the beauty of both the text and her voice. Jakob Bloch Jespersen proves the ideal partner for Mordal, his bass voice bringing out every nuance of Bach’s lament ‘Dig min søde skat at møde’, following this up with an excellent rendition of Freylinghausen’s more up tempo ‘Som liliens hierte kand holdes i Grøde’.

The hymns are interspersed with instrumental works, which themselves are composed in the galant style. This works well with the instrumental music having been carefully chosen to complement the vocal line resulting in a very attractive disc, especially when performed by the players of the Phemius Consort, who show that they are sympathetic accompanists to the vocalists as well as excellent chamber performers. The chamber pieces themselves have been chosen from two collections in the Danish Royal Library because of their close affinity to the melodies found in Brorson’s collection.

This is an excellent and most rewarding disc, one that brings us music from a hitherto forgotten era and genre of Danish music. Both Beate Mordal and Jakob Bloch Jespersen are excellent, whilst the Phemius Consort are certainly one to watch, and on this evidence, I will soon be investing in their previous disc for DaCapo, Thomas Kingo’s Sacred Song Books (8.226121), which reading through the notes of this release seems to be related, as Kingo’s name appears more than once. The recorded sound is excellent, and as already stated, the twelve pages of notes in English and Danish are exemplary, it is a real shame then that the texts of the hymns are only presented in Danish.

Stuart Sillitoe

1 CHARLES DIEUPART (1667-1740):
 Deuxième Suite in D major – Ouverture 2:26
2 Op! thi dagen nu frembryder, TRK 3 3:45 
DIEUPART: Deuxième Suite in D major – Passepied 1:01 TroensMidler (The Means of Faith) 
4 Dig, dig min HErre vil jeg prise, TRK 135 2:17
MORTEN RÆHS (1702-66): Sonata II 2:12 
6 GUds riges evangelium, TRK 131 3:32 
DIEUPART: Deuxième Suite in D major – Allemande 2:30 Jul og Helligtrekonger (Christmas and Epiphany) 
8 Vor JEsus kand ey noget herberg finde, TRK 13 3:16 
RÆHS: Sonata III – Adagio 4:29 
10 Dig min søde skat at møde, TRK 20 4:24
11 DIEUPART: Deuxième Suite in D major 1:56 TroensHerlighed (The Glory of Faith) 
12 Som liliens hierte kand holdes i Grøde, TRK 245 var. 2:54 
13 RÆHS: Sonata IX – Spirituoso 2:09 Påske og Pinse (Easter and Whitsun) 
14 Du est, opstandne seyers helt, TRK 49 2:38
15 DIEUPART: Deuxième Suite in D major 1:28 
16 Kom regn af det høye, TRK 63 3:39 TroensFrugt (The Fruit of Faith) 
17 Stille er min siel til Gud, TRK 182 2:39 
18 ANON. / arr. by J. F. FIBIGER (c. 1680-1738): Sonata no. 19, Libro 3 3:26 
19 I HErrens udvalde, som hellighed øve, TRK 188 3:03 TroensKamp og Sejr (The Struggle and Victory of Faith) 
20 JEsu, al min fryd og ære, TRK 216 5:50 
21 JOHANN ADOLPH SCHEIBE (1708-76): Sonata I – Andante 3:23 Dødenog Opstandelsen (Death and Resurrection)
22 Når mit Øje, Træt af Møje, SS 62 3:25 
23 SCHEIBE: Sonata II – Affettuoso 3:21 
24 Allevegne, hvor jeg vanker, TRK 247 4:13 Total 74:05

Composer Info

Cancionero de Gaspar Fernández, Alonso de Bonilla, Johann Schelle, Hans Adolph Brorson (1694-1764), CHARLES DIEUPART (1667-1740), J. F. FIBIGER (c. 1680-1738),JOHANN ADOLPH SCHEIBE (1708-76),

CD Info

IBS CD 182017, CPO CD 555.155-2, Dacapo CD 8.226123