Gwendolyn Toth

Gwendolyn Toth is the director of the New York City-based early music ensemble, ARTEK, and a soloist on early keyboards (organ, harpsichord, fortepiano). She is married to harpsichordist Dongsok Shin, and they have three children.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Rosenmüller - Unknown, yet overwhelmingly wonderful

In February 2012, ARTEK presented a 2-day festival of the music of Johann Rosenmüller.

Here is an excerpt from the performances, and my notes from the program book.
ARTEK - Johann Rosenmüller excerpt

In the spring of 2010, our countertenor Ryland Angel came to me and said, “We need to perform and record these great alto cantatas by Rosenmüller!” Of course, like most baroque musicians, I knew a few of his instrumental pieces for strings, which are played fairly often. And I knew other early German cantatas by contemporaries of Rosenmüller. But ARTEK’s main focus for performing and recording has always been the works of Monteverdi.

After listening to a few recordings of alto cantatas, Rosenmüller’s music had totally fired my interest, and I decided to go forward with the project – enlarging it to include not only alto cantatas but also soprano cantatas for our mezzo-soprano, Barbara Hollinshead. Thanks to Ellis Hilton of Drew University, our next CD of Solo Cantatas by Johann Rosenmüller has been recorded and will probably be released in fall 2012. Hopefully this will be volume 1 of more recordings of this fabulous repertoire!

It was a natural outgrowth of my interest in the solo cantatas to further investigate the music of Rosenmüller, which seemed to speak to me in a personal way much like the music of mid-17th-century organ composer Heinrich Scheidemann also appeals to my heart. That led me to Yale University and Kerala Snyder, who provided me with microfilms of many of the large Vespers settings. The result is the two programs you will hear on this two-day mini-festival.

Johann Rosenmüller, born about 1619, graduated from the University of Leipzig in theology in 1640, and by 1642 was working at St. Thomas Church – the same church where Bach would work from the 1720s on. By 1653 the city council had promised him the position of Kantor when it would become available. By 1654, Rosenmüller had published his collections of small sacred cantatas, Kern-Sprüche and Andere Kern-Sprüche, as well as several instrumental collections. A promising career for a young musician! If his history had gone on in this expected manner, perhaps we would all know TWO celebrated German composers who worked in Leipzig the greater part of their lifetimes.

All was derailed when in 1655 Rosenmüller was accused of homosexual activities, as were several of the schoolboys. He was imprisoned, but managed to escape. Eventually he made his way to Venice. Some authors have speculated that the charges may have been caused by political jealousy – what better way to remove a rival for the position of Kantor? – but others have pointed out that Venice, in the 17th century, was a city where by and large the authorities were very tolerant of many kinds of lifestyles that were anathema to pious Lutheran Germany. The answer will never be known. What is certain, however, is that Rosenmüller had to start all over as a musician, beginning as a trombonist in the employ of St. Mark’s Cathedral, not becoming established as a composer until 1660. Moreover, in modern times, he remains far less known and studied as a composer, likely as a consequence of the stain on his personal reputation.

Rosenmüller stayed in Venice until approximately 1682, when he returned to Wolfenbüttel, Germany for the final two years of his life. Rosenmüller’s large concerted music with winds, strings, and singers date from this period in Venice, as do some of the smaller cantatas not printed in the Kern-Sprüche collections. Most of Rosenmüller’s manuscripts are of German provenance, either from the time when he returned to Germany, or from other musicians who visited or studied with him in Venice and brought back his music. Though his life was greatly affected by the scandal of his young years, Rosenmüller nevertheless does seem to have been greatly admired in Germany by the end of his life.

Friday’s concert of music for smaller forces includes music from the Kern-Sprüche (1648)/Andere Kern-Sprüche (1652-3) collections and Rosenmüller’s published set of instrumental sonatas in 2, 3, 4 and 5 parts (published in Nüremberg in 1682) and cantatas found only in manuscript versions. Rosenmüller’s solo cantatas take the early German solo cantata as developed by Schütz (who was himself greatly influenced by his sojourn in Venice with Gabrieli in the early part of his life) into the mid-17th-century style typical of Italian composers such as Carissimi, with a clearer distinction between recitative and arioso/aria. The program includes cantatas written in both German and Latin; since the Kern-Sprüche collections published before Rosenmüller left for Venice include both German and Latin language cantatas, one cannot conclude, for example, that Latin cantatas are from Venice, and German cantatas from Leipzig or Wolfenbüttel.

Saturday’s concert includes a selection of music that one might conjecture would be heard in festive liturgical services at a large Venetian church – perhaps even St. Mark’s. The large cantatas are incredibly reminiscent of Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers and 1640 Selva morale. They also reflect the fl owing triple-time practice of Cavalli, Monteverdi’s direct successor at St. Mark’s. I chose several of the largest cantatas, with 8-part voices and 5-part string and 5-part wind choirs, in the polychoral style first popularized by Gabrieli but also used by Monteverdi with great effect. Then I also chose several 4-voice cantatas for contrast, where the beautiful interplay between strings and voices is entirely engaging. In the place where a Venetian Vespers service would have a small vocal concerto as a substitute for the antiphon, we are performing several of Rosenmüller’s smaller cantatas for one or two voices.

Lastly I chose to include the interesting piece Jube Domne. This is actually an invocation piece for Compline, but not having any Rosenmüller setting of Deus in adjutorium, I felt that something was needed to begin our concert and this piece fit that need admirably. Lastly, of the two large Magnificats we have of Rosenmüller, the one we present in C minor was the most interesting, with its extremely chromatic instrumental ritornello recurring several times.

We had many problems to solve for this performance: first and foremost, obtaining scores (some I transcribed, some were specially transcribed for us by Brian Clark, and some were available in the limited amount of Rosenmüller material in modern editions). Our second problem was pitch. Knowing that German and Venetian pitch was generally very high, about A = 465 Hz, and having our Piffaro friends with their instruments available also only at that pitch, it seemed logical that most pieces would be best at high pitch. However, I have become convinced that the situation in either Germany or Venice or possibly both was much more complex, with performers of the time likely playing in multiple pitches at the same time. Our Friday night soloists and our strings were happiest at A = 415, a whole tone down. Therefore our strings are always playing at A=415, our winds always at A=463. In some cases, however, the singers are singing at A=415, a few at A=390 (which was also known in Venice in certain situations) and also a few at A=463. Our continuo players are likewise sometimes at A=415 and other times at A=463. That is why you will see us switching instruments! All this required a huge amount of part-making and transposition, making adjustments through our week of rehearsals as necessary.

On the instrumentation of the cantatas, there is also some directorial input. Jube Domne uses instruments in a “colla parte” manner, doubling voices as was frequently done. All the other pieces have written out instrumental parts, although we chose to split the parts & voices of Beatus Vir between two choirs to present it as an antiphonal psalm setting in the typical “St. Mark’s” style. Rosenmüller used fagotto or violone interchangeably for his bass line, even as the bass for a 5-part string ensemble, and we likewise do sometimes fagotto (dulcian) and sometimes violone, which means 8’ violone, not 16’. But we do also include 16’ violone and 16’ dulcian doubling the bass for color in the largest pieces (we are fortunate to have the only copy in the world of a 16’ dulcian available to us!) It is also typical in music of this period to use sacbuts and dulcians interchangeably on tenor and bass parts. Therefore, some cantatas have a perfectly plausible wind accompaniment rather than string for the sake of variety.

As appropriate for music being performed to reflect Venetian 17th-century performance, the pronunciation of the Latin is adjusted for Venetian dialect. What we now think of as sung Italianate church Latin is typical of Florentine Italian pronunciation, which gradually became the common Italian language in all of Italy. In the 17th century, however, Venice was its own Republic, with its own language. Venetian is thought to be a Romance language from a branch that is not directly related to Florentine Italian. So the use of Florentine rules in pronouncing church Latin for Venice is quite anachronistic. Although much research needs to be done in this area of performance practice, it is possible to make some conclusions about correct pronunciation, which may sound different to audiences accustomed to solely German, French or (Florentine) Italian.

All of these concerns pale besides the main task of presenting Rosenmüller’s nearly forgotten masterpieces to a North American audience – perhaps, in some cases, the first public hearing since the 17th century. The music astounds us with its graceful melodic flow and exquisite harmonies. Surely we are listening to music by one of the greatest of 17th-century composers.

I would like to especially thank those who have assisted in the preparation of these concerts: Sara Ruhle Kyle and Susan Hellauer, our lecturers; Kerala Snyder and Jeffrey Kurtzman, whose musicological assistance is invaluable; Brian Clark, Kim Patrick Clough, Christine Kwon, and Grant Herreid, who assisted in preparing scores and parts; Francesca Galesi, Nancy Tooney and Erin Hanke, for assistance behind the scenes; Gene Murrow, Paul Ross, and Naomi Morse, who so ably manage our box office stage management; Christine Hoff man, for preparation of the program; Jeffrey Gall, for assistance with Venetian pronunciation; Charles Weaver and Brian Clark, for their program notes; Doug Keilitz and the staff of St. Ignatius of Antioch Church; Christopher Schulze, Pastor Gregory Fryer, and Karen Rombey of Immanuel Lutheran Church; and lastly to my dear husband Dongsok Shin, who labors mightily to provide for every need I might imagine. - Gwendolyn Toth 

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