A Joyful Christmas from Germany

Listen to audio excerpts: 

Friday, December 15, Emmanuel Church, Boston
Saturday, December 16, First Parish, Sudbury


Concerto Noël Allemand    Michel Corrette (1709-1795)
  Allegro • Adagio • Allegro   

Gib, daß ich mich und dich erkenne (4th Sunday in Advent)     Johann Sartorius (1712-1787)
Hochgeborner Gottessohn (Christmas)       
Gott der Juden, Gott der Heiden (Epiphany)

Fürchtet euch nicht    Christoph Bernhard (1627-1692)

Sonata Pastorale    Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (c.1620-1680)

Muntre Gedanken    Georg Philipp Telemann  (1681-1767)


Mystery Sonata III for violin and continuo    Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644-1704)
  [Without tempo indication] – Presto • Courente – Double • Adagio   
Ihr Völker, hört    Telemann
Kleines Magnificat    Georg Melchior Hoffmann (1679-1715)

Pamela Dellal, mezzo-soprano
Suzanne Stumpf, traverso; Christina Day Martinson, and Guiomar Turgeon, violins
Daniel Ryan, cello; Michael Bahmann, harpsichord


Program Notes

In the German-speaking countries of Baroque Europe, there was a tremendous wealth and variety of music composed for the feast of Christmas and the related seasons of Advent and Epiphany. These works run the gamut from large-scale cantatas and oratorios composed for large public worship services to cantatas, arias, and instrumental works written for smaller scale liturgical observances and domestic gatherings. This program presents a sampling of intimate vocal and instrumental works for the season in a variety of musical styles and settings.

The French Baroque composer Michel Corrette was an important proponent of the concerto in France and wrote dozens of works in the genre for many instrumental combinations. Several of his instrumental works feature noël settings, often with melodies drawn from foreign sources. His Concerto Noël Allemand is based on the German chorale Lobt Gott Ihr Christen allzugleich (Praise God, you Christians, all together) and is cast as a series of variations on the tune.

Johann Sartorius lived and worked in the ethnically German city of Hermannstadt in the region of Transylvania, Romania. The three arias chosen for this program are from a large collection of seventy he wrote for the Sundays and feast days of the church calendar. In the arias chosen for this program Sartorius shows sensitivity the pietistic texts of Benjamin Schmolck.
Christoph Bernhard worked principally as Kapellmeister at courts in Dresden and Hamburg. While in the former city he absorbed the Italian style through contact with the court’s Italian musicians and through travels in Rome and Venice. His cantata Fürchtet euch nicht is a musical setting of Luke’s account of the angel’s proclamation of Christ’s birth. This richly-textured work shows the Italian influence through the alternation of vocal aria and recitative with a recurring instrumental ritornello.

The sixteen Mystery Sonatas of the violin virtuoso Heinrich Biber are among the most significant works of the Baroque violin repertory. The most extraordinary feature of the cycle is Biber’s use of a variety of unusual violin tunings in most of the sonatas. These mis-tunings (known as scordatura) impart a unique instrumental sonority to each work. The third Mystery Sonata, focused on the birth of Christ, is an intimate work written in the key of B Minor. It is structured as a dance movement framed on either side with free, rhapsodic sections. Biber indicates a tuning that outlines a B Minor chord. This work takes full advantage of its coloristic possibilities through a generally chordal style of writing and frequent arpeggiation.
Biber probably composed the Mystery Sonatas while at in the service of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. His fellow countryman Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, also famed as a virtuoso violinist, spent most of his career in Vienna in the service of the Hapsburg emperors. His brief Sonata Pastorale is in a decidedly more earthy, light-hearted vein.

The prolific and seemingly tireless Georg Philipp Telemann composed at least twenty annual cycles of cantatas totaling over 1,700 for the cities of Eisenach, Frankfurt, and Hamburg. Due to Telemann’s talent and industry as a publisher, his cantatas received wide circulation throughout Germany. The two Telemann cantatas presented on this program are from two published cycles Telemann engraved and sold by subscription. Both written for the feast of the Epiphany, these charming works abound with text painting, such as the jaunty rhythmic figurations on the word lacht (laugh) in Muntre Gedanken, and the extraordinary central section of the recitative in Ihr Völker, hört, which evocatively portrays the rustling masses coming out of Sheba.

The manuscript for the Kleines Magnificat was only discovered in the mid-20th century, and the piece was initially though to be by J. S. Bach. It has only recently been identified as a work by Georg Melchior Hoffmann, along with two other Bach mis-attrubutions. Although Hoffmann died at the young age of 36, he was well-respected during his time both as a composer and as a director of the Leipzig Collegium Musicum. His Kleines Magnificat is among the handful of surviving cantatas. The work’s considerable expressive range and skillful construction offer a tantalizing glimpse at the genius of this neglected master.

© Daniel Ryan and Suzanne Stumpf