DARMSTADT: Christmas Cantatas of Briegel & Graupner
Der Engel sprach Carl Wolfgang Briegel (1626–1712)
Wer sich aus Hochmut selbst erhölt Christoph Graupner (1683–1760)
Aria con variazioni Graupner
Siehe, lobet den Herren Briegel
Fröhlich soll mein Herze springen Graupner
Shari Wilson, soprano
Martin Near, countertenor
Jason McStoots, tenor
Brian Church, baritone
Tatiana Daubek & Sarah Darling, violin
Joy Grimes, viola
Audrey Cienniwa, cello
Bálint Karosi, organ
Sunday, December 6, 2009 at 5:30pm
First Lutheran Church of Boston, 299 Berkeley Street, Boston, MA
Notes on the Program
Formed in 1567, the Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt was one of four principalities divided among the four sons of Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse: Hesse-Darmstadt was assigned to Philip’s youngest son, George. The city of Darmstadt was the capital of this region; founded in 1330, it was unsuitable for agriculture and did not become prosperous until it became the seat of the Landgraves of Hesse-Darmstadt in the sixteenth century. Its musical and theatrical traditions date from the seventeenth century, when Singballette, tournaments and masquerades were performed. The Pädagogium, founded in 1629, had a boys' choir to provide sacred music. In 1670 a comedy theatre was established; among works performed there were Das triumphierende Siegesspiel der wahren Liebe (1673) by Wolfgang Carl Briegel, Hofkapellmeister from 1671 to 1712, and Lully's Acis et Galatée (1687). Under Count Ernst Ludwig, himself a composer, court music flourished, particularly opera. In 1712 the count appointed as Hofkapellmeister Christoph Graupner, who composed hundreds of church cantatas, at least three operas and other works for Darmstadt.
Born in Königsberg in 1626, Wolfgang Carl Briegel attended grammar school at Nuremberg and was a treble at the Frauenkirche there under J. A. Herbst. After studying at Altdorf University, he became organist of St. Johannis, Schweinfurt, and taught at the grammar school there. At the end of 1650, Duke Ernst the Pious summoned him to his court at Gotha as cantor and music tutor to his family. He gradually rose to the post of Kapellmeister, and his work there made him widely known; his publication Evangelische Gespräch, dialogue cantatas for the liturgical year, attracted particular attention, and his solo settings of odes by Andreas Gryphius is the only set of German Baroque songs that might be regarded as a cycle. In 1671, Duke Ernst’s eldest daughter, who was married to Landgrave Ludwig VI of Hesse-Darmstadt, called Briegel to Darmstadt as Kapellmeister, a post he held until his death in 1712.
At Darmstadt Briegel produced several stage works. None of the music has survived, but his dramatic dialogues and lively Tafelkonfekt possibly give an idea of what some of it was like. As soon as Briegel arrived at Darmstadt, the landgrave and his wife gave him the task of renewing their church music, which had been allowed to lapse. He accordingly brought out cantatas for the liturgical year for the choirs of the towns and villages, which showed that he was willing to restrict himself to a simple medium. His settings of J. S. Kriegsmann, Christian Rehefeld, and J. G. Braun are short, but the Trostquelle and Lebensbrunn comprise cantatas in several movements deployed in new formal groupings. Here as in other works his gift for devising clear and eloquent melodies is evident. Das grosse Cantional, written at the request of the landgravine, is an essentially traditional collection. Briegel's late works, such as the Busspsalmen and the Concentus apostolico-musicus, include contrapuntal choruses which are direct forerunners of those of Bach (Briegel became acquainted with members of the Bach family during his time in Gotha). Briegel’s music enjoyed an extraordinarily wide circulation throughout Germany and in Scandinavia, but is seldom-heard in the United States, and virtually none has been recorded.
Der Engel sprach comes from Briegel’s Evangelischer Blumengarten, published in Gotha in 1666 and which consists of motets and meditative choral songs. The text for the first part of the piece is taken from the Gospel of Luke; the piece opens with the lower three voices announcing the voice of the angel who has come to tell the shepherds of the coming of the Savior. The message is then declared by the four voices, with alternations between homophony and imitative counterpoint, as well as duple and triple meter. The final part of the motet is a three-verse aria, or a simple chorale setting in the Lutheran tradition.
Christoph Graupner was born into a family of tailors and clothmakers in Kirchberg. He received his earliest musical training from the local Kantor Michael Mylius and the organist Nikolaus Kuster. In 1694 Graupner followed Kuster to Richenbach until he was admitted as an alumnus to the Thomasschule in Leipzig in 1696, where he studied with Johann Schelle and Johann Kuhnau. He later studied law at the University of Leipzig, until a Swedish military invasion cut his studies short in 1706. Graupner then moved to Hamburg, where he succeeded J. C. Schiefferdecker as harpsichordist of the Gänsemarktoper. There he composed five operas, and possibly collaborated on three others with Reinhold Keiser. In 1709, he accepted an invitation from Ernst Ludwig, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt, for the position of vice-Kapellmeister to Briegel. Graupner succeeded Briegel as Kapellmeister upon the elder composer’s death in 1712, and remained in that post until his own death in 1760.
Under Graupner’s direction, the Darmstadt Hofkapelle experienced a period of vigorous expansion. At its peak between 1714 and 1718, the Kapelle employed forty musicians adept in several different instruments. Italian operas were performed frequently during this time, and Graupner focused his attentions on operatic compositions. After 1719, financial pressures forced a reduction in the size of the Kapelle; as a result, Graupner stopped composing operas and focused instead on smaller vocal and instrumental forms, including the cantata. Due to deteriorating relations between the Landgrave and the musicians, Graupner applied for the Thomaskirche cantorate in Leipzig, receiving the appointment over J. S. Bach. However, the Landgrave refused to accept Graupner’s resignation, granting him instead a significant salary increase and perks. Until his blindness in 1754, Graupner remained extraordinarily prolific, producing over 1,400 church cantatas, 24 secular cantatas, 113 symphonies, about 50 concertos, 86 overture-suites, 36 instrumental sonatas, and a substantial collection of keyboard music.
The text of Wer sich aus Hochmut selbst erhölt comes from the church cycle for 1712 by Georg Christian Lehms, who favored a form using rhymed recitatives, arias, biblical quotations, and chorales. The format and relative simplicity of the cantata is reminiscent of Telemann’s Fortsetzung des Harmonischen Gottes-Dienstes (the two composers were well-acquainted from their shared times in Leipzig and Hamburg), featuring two contrasting arias separated by a secco recitative. Though not as elaborate or complex as some of Graupner’s cantatas, it demonstrates the composer’s sensitivity to the text setting and skillful dialogue between the voice and obbligato instruments.
Briegel’s Siehe, lobet den Herren is found in the 1661 publication Evangelische Gespräche. Following the instrumental introduction, each of the three voices (baritone, tenor, and alto) presents a solo passage based on a psalm (Psalms 134, 34, and 111 respectively) interspersed with imitative instrumental interludes. The trio comes together for the second part of the piece, but each with its own text, and a slightly embellished version of In dulci jubilo in the alto part. The resulting work is an excellent representation of Briegel’s ingenuity and showcases his eloquent writing.
Fröhlich soll mein Herze springen represents Graupner’s highly stylized “figured chorales.” Unlike the chorales of Bach, Graupner conceived of his settings to be connected by obbligato instrumental writing that introduces, accompanies, interrupts, and ends the chorale. The dominant role in these chorales falls to the first violin, and is actually the “concertizing” partner of the choir while the other instruments lose their independence with the entrances of the choir.