Music of Love and Loss in the Shadow of the Thirty Years’ War
War is one of the oldest things we know. For too many reasons, few good, we of the human race are drawn into conflict with and against each other to resolve, or to gain. Especially when we lose the ability to accept that words, compassion, patience, and compromise can achieve similar goals without the sword and gun's skill for drawing blood and ending life.
One of the counters that we possess to balance such ugliness is art. Music, especially, has had the ability to help those affected by war to sort, change, galvanize, and even distract from all of the feelings and emotions that emerge from the presence of war. It is in these dark times that we truly see the immense power that music has in its ability to motivate, comfort, and heal.
Recently, we began a period of remembrance for the 100 year anniversary of the First World War. Between the years of 1914-1918, we saw the first true global war that involved nearly every continent on Earth. With this remembrance, we also revisit the art that arose in response to this war, as well as all that came in its wake and memory.
As 2018 closes the 100 year anniversary of WWI, it begins the anniversary of a much older, yet no less important conflict involving Western civilization. The year 2018 is the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War. This war still stands as one of the longest and most destructive in European history. A bloody conflict that surrounded the unrest between Protestant and Catholic regions in the Holy Roman Empire, a death toll of roughly 8 million people, and a nearly 40% decrease in the overall population in German states, is still too high a cost against our modern day population. Even in the shadow of the two Great Wars of the 20th century.
Yet, just as with WWI, in the shadow of the violence of the Thirty Years’ War, beauty persists. Music and art shines ever brighter as a balm for the afeard, and does its due diligence in helping the people of that time to sort through their grief.
As with every project and recording released by the fantastic Bay Area ensemble, Agave Baroque, the major goal is to honor great music and release more beauty into the universe. This project is no exception, and I consider myself fortunate to be included in this foray. However, I have a secondary motive. There is something that has existed along with humanity that predates things like war, slavery, and injustice. Feelings and emotion has been our constant companion for as long as we've been around. And despite the change in tactics and tools, war has not changed from the Thirty Years’ War to the Great War, and neither has feeling. Hate, love, pain, joy, grief, and comfort have existed long before, and remain the same to this day. It is the bind that links us to all of those who have come before us. Feelings and emotions are the glue of the human experience.
This project and recording is our first note heard round the world in our approach to the 400 year anniversary in 2018. We seek to give further exposure to the beauty of the writing of many of the composers who were af- fected by the events of the Thirty Years’ War. From the powerful grief of Johann Christoph Bach's mighty lament "Ach, dass ich Wassers gnug hätte," to the feelings of sacred resignation and subtle exultation in David Pohle's "Herr, wenn ich nur dich habe,” we get a chance to share in the myriad emotions of these musicians, and the people at large, who were affected by terrible conflict. I hope that we get to not only share their music with you, but also to be a conduit to link you, personally, to the very emotions and feelings they felt during this time. A chance to share in the joy and pain of who came before us, so that we can learn the compassion and empathy to help shape a better future for those who are to come long after us.
— Reginald Mobley
Heinrich Bach (1615-1692) was born in the Thuringian town of Wechmar, and worked most of his life in Arnstadt, where he was the organist at the Liebfraukirche and Oberkirche for over fifty years. Heinrich was also the great uncle of Johann Sebastian Bach. Originally for organ solo, the chorale prelude on the penitential Erbarm dich mein, O Herre Gott was conceived, as were many similar preludes, as an introduction to the congregational singing of the hymn, and uses only the first phrase of the chorale as a point of imitation. We have chosen to score it for strings without basso continuo to bring out the intimate consort-like nature of Bach’s writing.
Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703) was the eldest of three of Heinrich Bach’s sons who became musicians. As a composer, Johann Christoph was held in the highest esteem by many, including Johann Sebastian Bach, who married the daughter of Christoph’s younger brother Johann Michael (1648-1694). The profound and moving lament Ach, daß ich Wassers gnug hätte evokes the despondency of a generation ravaged by war. Equally intense, the virtuosic and passionate ciaccona from his cantata Meine Freundin, du bist schön, written most likely for a Bach family wedding, uses text from the Song of Songs to paint love and lovesickness in many colors. Yet it never quite escapes the shadow of darkness that seems to linger right around the corner. In contrast, the strophic aria Es ist nun aus, bidding farewell to life and anticipating the joy of the afterlife, radiates a warm peace with its gentle farewell Welt, gute nacht (world, good night.)
Samuel Scheidt was born in Halle and studied with the renowned Dutch organist Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck in Amsterdam. Before and after the war, he served as court organist and Kapellmeister to the Margrave of Brandenburg. Unlike Heinrich Schütz and Matthias Weckmann, Scheidt remained in Germany throughout the Thirty Years’ War, working in his native Halle until peace was restored. Scheidt was one of the most important developers of the unique north German style of music that relied less on the Italian models that influenced much of southern Germany and more on the traditions of Holland and England. His Paduan à 4 pays homage, both in form and style, to the Elizabethan consort tradition of John Dowland and his contemporaries.
Born in Thuringia, Matthias Weckmann (1616-1674) sang and studied under Heinrich Schütz in Dresden and Jacob Praetorius in Hamburg. During the Thirty Years War, he worked in Dresden and in Denmark, and after the end of the war, he settled in Hamburg, where he would spend the rest of his life as organist of the Jacobkirche and founder and director of the Hamburg Collegium Musicum, an amateur musical society. Schütz’ influence can be clearly felt in Weckmann’s chamber music, blending Italian and French stylistic elements with rigorous counterpoint. His Fantasia ex D was originally written for organ solo, full of daring harmonic experimentation, surprising rhythmic turns, and expressive use of silence.
Like Weckmann, David Pohle studied with Schütz in Dresden, and spent most of his professional life as Kapellmeister for the Saxe-Weissenfels and Saxe-Merseburg courts at Halle, Kassel, and Merseburg, where he worked until his death in 1695. In addition to sacred music for voices and instruments, he wrote many sonatas and Singspiel operas for court entertainment. None of his music was published in his lifetime. Most of his surviving sacred music can be found in the Düben collection in Uppsala, Sweden, including the beautiful motet on this program, one of two surviving settings of this particular text. Pohle’s music shows a talented and adventurous composer unafraid to take risks with form and harmony, and who is just beginning to get the recognition his work deserves.
As a young man, Johann Rosenmüller studied at the University of Leipzig and worked as organist at Leipzig’s Nikolaikirche. He would have become Kantor, the position held 75 years later by Johann Sebastian Bach, but was imprisoned for alleged homosexual activity. He escaped from prison and fled to Venice, where he worked at St. Mark’s basilica under Giovanni Rovetta and taught at the Ospedale della Pièta, where Vivaldi would later work and teach. Christum Ducem, qui per Crucem comes from Rosenmüller’s Andere Kern-Spruche, first published in Leipzig in 1652. Like many collections of music published during and after the war, it offers music for relatively humble performing forces, a reality of trying to make music in the social and economic aftermath of war.
One of the 17th century's most important violin virtuosos and composers, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber was born in Bohemia and worked for the court of Prince-Bishop Karl von Liechtenstein-Kastelkorn in Kroměříž before settling in Salzburg, Austria. His younger daughter, Maria Anna Magdalena (1677-1742), was a gifted alto singer and violinist. In 1696, she became a nun and entered Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg, renowned for its music. For the occasion, her father composed his grand Missa Sancti Henrici. Anna Magdalena (who took the name Maria Rosa Henrica) rose through the ranks to become director of the Abbey choir. This extraordinary setting of the Marian antiphon Salve Regina survives in an anonymous manuscript in the archive of Nonnberg Abbey. Biber's earliest surviving work, a fragment of a Salve Regina for soprano, solo viola da gamba, and organ (1663) may have inspired the scoring of this piece, and it may have been sung at Nonnberg by his daughter.
— Henry Lebedinsky