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Gott sey uns gnädig - Chorale cantatas Paul HAINLEIN (1626-1686)
Sonata à 5 Battallia ex C [6:16] Johann Samuel WELTER (1650 - 1720)
Herr Jesu Christ du höchstes Gut [10:02] Johann Michael NICOLAI (1629-1685)
Sonata 14 à 2 [7:52] Johann Samuel WELTER
Gott seÿ uns gnädig [6:53] Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER (1623-1665)
Sonata à 3 [6:27] Johann Samuel WELTER
Auff, auff ihr Gottes Haußgenossen [5:47] anon
Sonata à 2 Viole da gamba [8:42] Johann Samuel WELTER
Auff meinen lieben Gott [6:55] Antonio BERTALI (1605-1669)
Sonata 101 à 6 [4:41] Johann Samuel WELTER
Wenn wir in höchsten Nöthen seÿn [9:12]
ecco la musica/Heike Hümmer & Matthias Sprinz
rec. 2018, SWR studios, Stuttgart, Germany
Texts and translations included CHRISTOPHORUS CHR77440 [73:37]
For a long time, the sacred music written in protestant Germany between Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) and Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) has received not that much attention. It is only the year of the commemoration of his death in 2007 which brought the sacred cantatas by Dieterich Buxtehude to the attention of a wider public. Since then they are regularly performed, although only a relatively small part of his output has become really well-known. Other composers of his time still wait to be rediscovered, such as Johann Philipp Krieger (1649-1725). An even lesser-known contemporary is Johann Samuel Welter, to whom the present disc is devoted. It is telling that his name is not included in New Grove, and with this recording his music appears on disc for the first time.
Welter was born in Obersontheim, near (Schwäbisch) Hall, where his father was active as organist. Apparently he was a very bright boy, and had a special talent for "singing and fiddling". At the age of nine he was able to attend the local grammar school in Schwäbisch Hall. He entered the boarding house, which suggests that his family's financial means were rather limited. For his further musical education, he went to Nuremberg, and lived with his uncle, Johann Welter, who worked there as Stadtmusicus. This gave him access to the repertoire of the Ratsmusik, and he became also acquainted with Paul Hainlein, one of the city's main organists. When he was 15 years of age, he returned home, which again indicates that he was a fast learner. Soon he entered the service of Count Joachim Albrecht von Hohenlohe in Kirchberg, and there he composed his first (instrumental) music, which unfortunately has been lost. In 1675, Welter was appointed organist of St Michael's Church in Schwäbisch Hall, and he held this post until his death in 1720. An obituary says: "It was God alone who wished to grant this artist to our beautiful St Michael's Church".
The population of Schwäbisch Hall apparently was relatively well-educated: most people were able to read and write. There was a lively music scene, and alongside Welter, the town had some other musicians in its service: a cornett player and his son, a player of the sackbut, and two further musicians, whose instruments are not known, as well as an organ builder. Taking this into account, it does not surprise that cornetts and sackbuts play an important role in Welter's sacred cantatas. According to a contemporary source, he wrote 400 works. Today only a relatively small proportion of this output is extant.
The ensemble ecco la musica recorded five sacred cantatas. They are mostly in four or five vocal parts, with instruments and basso continuo. Several of them are arrangements of hymns. That goes for Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut, Auff meinen lieben Gott and Wenn wir in höchsten Nöthen seÿn. The latter two hymns are rather well-known in keyboard arrangements. Dieterich Buxtehude composed a keyboard suite on Auf meinen lieben Gott, and Johann Sebastian Bach's chorale arrangement Wenn wir in höchsten Nöthen sein is also known as Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit. Welter quotes the hymn melody, but some stanzas are treated more freely, and are scored either for the entire ensemble or for one or two solo voices. The cantatas usually open with a sinfonia, and in Wenn wir in höchsten Nöthen seÿn, the strings make use of bow vibrato, which was a common device in German 17th-century music in pieces of a lamenting nature.
These cantatas are rooted in the tradition of the 17th-century German sacred concerto. They are strophic, with the exception of Gott seÿ uns gnädig, which is a setting of Psalm 67, and is through-composed. The instruments are given obbligato parts, but also play colla voce, especially in tutti sections. The performers decided to include instruments which are not required in the score. "According to contemporary practice, viola da gambas play colla parte in the ripieno passages. In a similar manner, the ensemble ecco la musica supplements the vocal lines with cornetts and trombones in a few other cantatas on this recording."
The cantatas by Welter are put in their historical context through the inclusion of instrumental music by composers that Welter must have known, such as Hainlein, or music from his environment. The selection of pieces is based on an inventory of the music library of Welter's former employer, Count Joachim Albrecht. Most of the music has been lost, but several pieces mentioned in the inventory have been preserved in other sources. Obviously, their scoring shows similarity to that of Welter's cantatas. Again, viole da gamba take a major role, such as in the anonymous Sonata à 2 Viole da gamba. Hainlein is represented with a sonata in the form of a battaglia, a very popular genre at the time. It is in six parts, and here winds and strings are juxtaposed. The same is the case with Antonio Bertali's Sonata 101 à 6. This piece, and the Sonata à 3 by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, document the presence of music by composers working at the imperial court in Vienna in the Count's library, whereas Johann Michael Nicolai worked at the court in Stuttgart.
Considering that Welter is entirely unknown, one could argue that it would have been a good idea to record more of his cantatas, instead of including instrumental music by contemporaries. I certainly would like to hear more of him. It is to be hoped that this is not going to be the only recording of his oeuvre. On the other hand, the programme gives an excellent impression of his musical world, and all the instrumental works are of fine quality in their own right, and deserve to be performed. I have nothing but praise for the way the music, either instrumental or vocal, is performed here. The ensemble includes five outstanding singers who know exactly how to bring these cantatas to life. The instrumentalist act at the same level, and substantially contribute to the success of this recording.
This disc is a major contribution to our knowledge of German music of the late 17th century.