About this Recording
8.551398 - Instrumental Ensemble Music (Baroque) (A German Christmas) (Margaretha Consort, Broekroelofs)
English  German 

“Music is a real gift of God”*

In the 17th century the organist was an integral part of musical life. Amongst the supporting role of the organ in accompanying instrumentalists and singers, the instrument also approached very closely the sound ideal of the time: the impassive and unmoving organ tone expressed exactly the non-temporality, the supra-personal that were alive in the baroque era. The organist as ‘kappelmeister’ supported the choir and congregational singing. However, gradually there started to be a greater focus on the organ as a solo instrument and repertoire began to be composed for the beginning and ending of services and occasionally for other moments during the liturgy. In the time of the reformation, the leading theologians were not very happy with these developments. Johannes Calvin (1509–1564) for example was not in favour of polyphonic singing and the use of organ in the church service. Fortunately Martin Luther (1483–1546) had other thoughts on the topic. He said that the gospel should be heard in both text and music. Thus in the Lutheran tradition there has always been room for congregation singing, mixed voiced choirs and organ music (with choral arrangements).

Singing as a congregation was at that time not yet standard practice. Until this moment, music in the church was only performed by the church clerics and choir. Luther started a new tradition and wrote hymns that could be sung by the congregation. He translated Latin songs into German and even wrote new texts all together! He was convinced that the church hymn was the most effective way to proclaim and spread God’s Word. “A song is praise, catechism, prayer and sermon all together”, he said. The new German hymns were to be sung in the home and during church worship. This subsequently inspired composers to write vocal and instrumental arrangements on these new hymns. Composers like Michael Praetorius, Heinrich Schütz, Hans Leo Hassler, Johann Ulrich Steigleder, Jacob Praetorius and many more developed this into a whole new tradition. These musicians proved themselves important Lutheran composers of the 17th century in the field of church music and have subsequently left the church and the whole mankind a fantastic legacy. Many of these carols are still sung today especially during Advent and Christmas.

The pieces on this album originate largely from the Christmette by Michael Praetorius. In addition, nativity hymns by a range of different composers from the same era have been compiled. In Lutheran style the compositions on this album include solo- pieces, choir arrangements, double-choral motets, instrumental pieces and of course the church organ repertoire. The listener can also hear pieces, which were not necessarily meant for Christmas, but fit the program very well. The function of some of the pieces is liturgical, like “Gloria” (9), “Our Father” (11) or the mighty Entrance-Prelude (1). Two other pieces are meditative moments about the name of Jesus (3, 7).

Many of the songs are well-known. However, the arrangements for soloists and/ or choir from Praetorius and his contemporaries are rarely performed. In addition, no two performances of this music sound the same. This is due to the musician of the 17th century having great freedom in choices of ensemble specification, tempo and ornamentation. On this note the Margaretha Consort has made choices that will differ from another ensemble. We have, for example, chosen one vocal and one instrumental “choir” in a double-choral motet (“In dulci jubilo”), put an instrumental choir with one vocal soloist and a vocal choir with one instrumental soloist (“Nun komm der Heiden Heiland”) and the beautiful “Puer natus” has been arranged for three solo sopranos instead of two. All these things make this early music sound as new and fresh as if written yesterday.

Besides the familiar pieces, there are some less well-known ones on this album. Little gems such as „Nobilissime Jesu“ and „Illibata ter beata“ appear which were never published and thus hardly ever performed. In addition the hymn „Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr“ written by composer Michael Praetorius has also remained quite unknown in this six-voiced version.

This album has been recorded in the Oude Helena Church in Aalten (the Netherlands), a spacious pseudo basilica style building with generous acoustics. By carefully positioning two miniature microphones, by preventing the so-called short reflections and by allowing the walls and vaults to do the work, this 17th century music, which varies from being extremely intimate to completely overwhelming, shows its true character to the listeners and gives them the experience of being in the church itself.

Marit Broekroelofs

* Martin Luther


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