Johann Joseph FUX (1660-1741) Ave Regina
Hana Blažíková (soprano)
Accentus Austria/Thomas Wimmer
rec. 8 January 2017, Chapel of the Albertus Magnus-Gymnasium, Vienna. DDD
Texts and translations included DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI 88985411892 [57:24]
For several centuries the Habsburg dynasty was one of
the dominating forces on the European music scene. Its power was reflected
by the splendour of the court in Vienna, and music was an important
part of that. The emperors appointed some of the best performing musicians
and composers from Italy and Austria. Famous musicians and the music
they composed and performed were an important instrument of representation
and reputation. This aspect of Habsburg power is well documented on
disc. This recording by Hana Blaziková and Accentus Austria, directed
by Thomas Wimmer, sheds light on one of the lesser-known aspects of
musical life in Vienna and - even more importantly - the religious convictions
of the emperors.
Marian devotion was an important part of the Catholic faith. It had
its roots in the early Middle Ages, but became increasingly important
as part of the Counter Reformation, with which the Church tried to regain
the ground they had lost to the Protestant Reformation. The veneration
of Mary was especially important to the Habsburg emperors, in particular
Charles VI who ruled from 1711 until his death in 1740. This is pointed
out by Thomas Wimmer in his liner-notes. “In the course of the
17th century the adoration of Mary became increasingly important to
the Habsburgs. It reached its apogee in Charles VI, who placed not only
himself but his entire realm under the protection of Virgin Mary the
Victorious. To symbolise this he laid his diamond-encrusted dagger on
the church altar in Montserrat, thereby submitting to the command of
the Virgin. On several occasions he sought permission from the Pope
to allow all priests in his hereditary lands to hold a Mass for the
Immaculate Conception every Saturday. Like his grandfather Ferdinand
III, he too sought to have the Immaculate Conception elevated to church
dogma and even proscribed any debate on the subject, whether in public
or in private! Every victory of his armies was attributed to the intervention
or assistance of the Virgin Mary; important decisions were often made
only on her feast days”. He also writes that in some years Charles
took part in more than 100 public church services, in addition to his
daily private worship.
One of the composers who played a central role at the court in Vienna
was Johann Joseph Fux. In 1698 he was appointed court composer by Charles's
father Joseph I. This is all the more remarkable, as since the early
17th century musical life at the court was dominated by musicians from
Italy. In 1711, after the death of Joseph, Fux was appointed vice-Hofkapellmeister,
and in 1715 Charles VI appointed him Hofkapellmeister, a position
he held until his death.
The programme gives some idea of the music performed in services at
the court. We get different settings of two Marian antiphons, Ave
Regina caelorum and Alma Redemptoris mater. The latter
is sung at the end of Vespers in the period from the beginning of Advent
to Candlemas (2 February). The former was sung from Candlemas until
The two settings of Alma Redemptoris mater are conceived as
a unity; only in the second (K 187) the last three lines constitute
a different section. In all the settings of Ave Regina caelorum
the eight lines are divided into three sections, either 4/2/2 or 2/2/4.
Whereas most of these pieces are written in a lively rhythm and fast
tempo (“Hail, O queen of heaven - Hail, thou root - Rejoice, O
glorious virgin”), the closing lines have the character of a prayer
and are much more restrained: “Farewell, most beautiful maiden,
and pray for us to Christ”.
Pia Mater fons amoris is a non-liturgical text and here Fux
takes more freedom in regard to structure. Two dacapo arias embrace
a short recitative, and the piece closes with a fourth section on the
word ‘Amen’. This is the form of the Italian motet we know
from, for instance, Vivaldi. However, whereas the latter’s motets
and comparable pieces by other composers were often virtuosic and vehicles
for singers to show their skills, this motet by Fux is clearly intended
for ecclesiastical use and is therefore much more moderate in its technical
requirements. The fact that the vocal items on this disc were written
for the church comes also to the fore in the rather moderate written-out
ornamentation. Notable is the fourth setting of Ave Regina caelorum
performed here (K 205). The melodic material is given to the
violins whereas the soprano only sings the plainchant melody.
In most of the vocal items the instrumental parts are for two violins
and bc. Sometimes Fux adds a viola (K 208) and in
K 185 two recorders play colla parte with the violins. In K
206 the soprano is supported by the basso continuo alone. Wimmer notes
that the instrumental parts were usually performed by four instruments
to a part. “However, we know from copied sets of parts in nonViennese
archives that smaller forces were also permissible”. That is the
way they are performed here.
The instrumental music in the programme was also written for liturgical
use, although some pieces may have been originally intended for secular
use or have been part of larger-scale vocal works, such as oratorios.
They often comprise three sections of a different character, mostly
in the order slow - fast - slow. In the Sonata pastorale the
two upper parts are played by recorders.
Hana Blažíková is one of the brightest stars on the early music
scene. Her performances here are a perfect demonstration of her qualities.
She is blessed with an extraordinarily beautiful voice, her diction
and articulation are perfect and as a result the text is always clearly
understandable. Her voice is also very flexible, which results in immaculate
performances of the small ornaments in the pieces performed here. The
plainchant in K 205 comes off just as well. Accentus Austria deserves
much praise for the lively and engaging performances of the instrumental
parts and the sonatas.
For a long time Fux has suffered from being best known as a theorist.
His treatise Gradus ad Parnassum found wide dissemination in
his own time; Johann Sebastian Bach was one of many colleagues who owned
a copy. Fux’s own compositions have not received that much attention.
It has been mainly his Kaiserrequiem and some instrumental
works which have made their way onto disc. That makes this recording
all the more important, as we get here a number of pieces which are
little known - if at all - but deserve to be. This disc is the best
possible argument for Fux’s qualities as a composer in his own