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Hieronymus PRAETORIUS (1560-1629)
Missa in Festo Sanctissimae Trinitatis
Weser-Renaissance Bremen/Manfred Cordes
Volker Jänig (Organ)
rec. Church of St Mary, Lemgo, Germany
CPO 777 954-2 [70.27]

First, let's sort out our Praetorius’s. Hieronymus hailed from a North German family and he worked in Hamburg being organist at St. James’ Church (Jacobkirchen). He was a prolific composer of 100 Latin and German motets and masses, and this in a strongly Protestant country. There are also nine Magnificat settings for double-choir and pieces for his own instrument, the organ.
He had a composer son Jacob who died 1651. Neither is related to the more famous Michael Praetorius who has become known for his oft-recorded ‘Terpsichorean Dances’ but also wrote motets and the famous treatise ‘Syntagma Musicum’. He came from Thuringia in what was East Germany.

Hieronymus often composed for double choir at the same time, it seems as Andrea Gabrieli (d.1585) and Giovanni, yet he is not known to have travelled to Italy. His usual technique is to “alternate and echo smaller groups of three of four voices of higher and lower ranges” ….creating…. “a varied repetition of phrases” which in turn aids “balance, emphasis, or an increase in intensity” (booklet essay by Frederick Gable).

Hieronymus’s music was extensively published in his lifetime as his considerable fame grew, that is in 1616 with six mass settings and others in 1599 and 1602 which were largely motets. In 1611 a so-called complete edition came out which included his organ works. Latin was still acceptable in the German church although in a revised form and was still studied in the schools.

This Missa In Festo Sanctissimae Trinitatis set for the Trinity Sunday, which falls a week after Pentecost, is put into a liturgical context meaning that parts of the service like the Epistle and Gospel are chanted. However other gaps in the service are filled with motets.

Because the composer did not write a three-fold Agnus Dei the middle one is filled out with an organ setting, this also happens more extensively in the Kyrie where a nine-fold declamation (split into three tracks) is shared by the polyphonic setting for the choir, some plainchant and an organ solo. The Creed (Wir gläuben all an einem Gott) is a hymn-like setting which paraphrases the traditional text. The closing Te Deum Patrem likewise. Some passages of the Pater Noster are often chanted on one pitch and this could have made it suitable for congregational use.

The organ used dictated the recording project in the Marienkirche in Lemgo. This church is Gothic in origin and as it happens I have visited it only recently and seen the instrument at close hand. It is of a type, as Harald Vogel reminds us in his brief essay, known as a ‘Swallows–nest organ” , that is, it lies not in a west gallery but in its own freestanding space fixed between the vaulting and the pillars. It dates from the period of Praetorius’s lifetime and is an obvious rarity the organ therefore is one of the instruments also used within the instrumental ensemble. As Gable says, we do not know with certainty which instruments might have been used by Praetorius but the city authorities (in Hamburg) employed cornetti and string players so it can be assumed that they were used especially on special feast days.

Cortes adds to his excellent six-voiced vocal ensemble seven other instruments including a ‘zink’, that is simple cornetto and two posaune (trombones). The sound is impressive and spacious but there are times when the quite small vocal ensemble is too recessed against the instruments. Not only is the balance spoiled but the diction is lost all too often. I should imagine therefore that the church acoustic was a challenge but also a joy to work with.

The booklet has the complete texts, well translated, photographs including one of the organ and the aforementioned useful and detailed essays. However, as an introduction to Hieronymus Praetorius, I’m not sure if this is a good place to start.

Gary Higginson


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