Vertonungen durch die Jahrhunderte · Settings from different Centuries
Guillaume Dufay, Brian Elias, Wilhelm Keller, Leonhard Lechner, Joanne Metcalf, Ivan Moody, Dominique Phinot, John Plummer, Jean Richafort, Heinrich Schütz, Ludwig Senfl
After its CD with works of Rihm, Sciarrino and others – which won an ECHO prize –, vocal sextet Singer Pur produced two CDs of lighter works for OehmsClassics. Its fourth CD on the Munich label returns to sacred music. This anthology of settings from the “Song of Solomon” contains works from the 16th to 21st centuries. As multifaceted as the sounds encountered in this collection
are, just as surprising are the musical links and parallels in the musical reflections to the immense subject of ever-present love – a theme spanning both space and time.
The Song of Songs
What an extraordinary song collection it is that can be found after Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament of the Bible! Its Hebrew name is “Shir ha Shirim“, translated in Latin as “Canticum Canticorum“, and in English as “Song of Songs”. It is sometimes called the Song of Solomon to whom it has been attributed.
In German it has since Luther’s translation
of the Bible been called the “Hohelied”, the High Song, or “Das hohe Lied der Liebe” the High Song of Love. It seems to have been written down around the 5th century BC, probably
after a long oral tradition.
It starts: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” and what follows is remarkable erotic poetry. Alternately a man, a woman and a kind of chorus speak. There is certainly no sense of hostility towards desire that Christian tradition is often criticised for. Accordingly the interpretation of these texts has always been fervently controversial, in Jewish as in Christian circles alike. (Men under 30 were at a time forbidden to read them!) According to the allegorical interpretation in antiquity and the Middle Ages the unequivocal language of sexual desire between man and woman was interpreted by Jews and Christians as the relationship between God and his selected people (in Judaism) or the church as the bride of Christ (in Christianity) or between God and the soul. In Middle Ages Christianity Sulamith (that’s the name of the beloved) represented the Virgin Mary. Especially in monastic circles and in Christian mysticism the Song of Songs played a central role.
Today there are many theologians of various
denominations who share Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s
perception of the Song of Songs: “I would actually like to read it as a secular love song.” Opposing both the traditional religious interpretations and a purely worldly understanding,
the Jewish religious philosopher Franz Rosenzweig formulates: “Not although, but because the Song of Songs was a ‘real’, that is to say: a ‘worldly’ love song, for that very reason it was a real ‘sacred’ song of God’s love for mankind. Mankind loves because and in the way that God loves. His human soul is the soul loved and awakened by God.” Maybe it is best expressed in the words of Helmut Gollwitzer: “If we do not deny any more that we are dealing with a fervent conversation between human lovers, exactly then it may appear to us as something marvellous that precisely such passionate love songs could be taken as a simile for the exchange of love between the loving God and man awakened to requited love. This causes a glow in both directions.
So beautiful, so free, so undepraved is the ardour of sensuous love that it can lend its blazing language to the divine love. And so full of blood, so sensuous, so passionate and enthralling can community with God be that it finds its most appropriate language in the most passionate human language, the language of love’s ecstasy.”
But quite apart from all this variety of interpretation
it is most important to us that these timeless and evocative texts have been a creative source for composers of all periods,
regions and styles. The fact that this open “celebration of sensuous love” (Gollwitzer) with its sensual dialogue between lover and beloved simply demands musical expression doesn’t surprise anybody who knows and loves these texts. We have selected some of these masterpieces, amongst them some wonderful new ones which were composed for Singer Pur, and now have the pleasure of presenting these to our honoured listeners as delightful balm for ear and soul.
About the early motets on this recording
That the Song of Songs was so popular as inspiration
for compositions of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance is likely to be due not only to its allegorical interpretation already described earlier (bride – bridegroom = God – Church/Israel). The subtle eroticism of these dialogues between bride and bridegroom has, of course, primarily something deeply human about it, and one can take it for granted that this “secular” aspect of the text was attractive
to composers even then.
The oldest settings on this recording are the two three-part motets by Guillaume Dufay
(c. 1398–1474) and John Plummer
(c. 1410–1484), both likely to have been composed in the second half of the 15th century. Dufay, probably the most important composer of his time, came (like many of his colleagues) from Franco-Flemish lands and spent many years
in Italy. He bases his antiphon motet Anima mea liquefacta est on the Gregorian tune of the same name that appears in imitation in all voices. His English contemporary Plummer was only a few years younger than him. The “sweet” English style of composition that expresses
itself in plentiful thirds and sixths and a certain tendency towards the ornamental (quite in contrast to the supposedly more sober
works of the continental composers of the time) is to be made out clearly.
Passion, charm and rapture characterise near all the motets of our small selection. Dominique Phinot
(c. 1510–1555) as well as Jean Richafort
(c. 1480–1547) hails from the Franco-Flemish region. They both allow the six part polyphony in their pieces to flow in large melodic
phrasing. While Phinot goes for compact splendour of sound, his colleague Richafort repeatedly constructs pairings of voices, only occasionally bringing them all together in a full sound, a technique that can be seen in many works of his teacher Josquin Desprez (c. 1457-1521). Richafort’s motet ends in a sumptuously jubilant Alleluia in lively triple time.
The Swiss born composer Ludwig Sennfl
(c. 1486–1542) was a member of the court chapel of Emperor Maximilian. There he was a colleague
of Heinrich Isaac and after Isaac’s death took over as head of this famous chapel of singers. His remarkable career ended in Munich as Kapellmeister of Duke William IV. Tota pulchra es is no doubt one of his most consummate and beautiful works. Singer and listener alike can’t but be intoxicated by the sonority and greatness of this music.
(1553–1606), like Sennfl, is still regarded as an insider tip amongst connoisseurs. Lechner, probably the most important student of the great Orlando di Lasso (1532–1594), made his career, after converting to Protestantism, at the Württemberg court in Stuttgart. Already the unusual
course of the melody at the beginning of the motet Surge, propera mea is typical of Lechner’s unconventional and at the same time progressive
style of composition.
The magnificent setting of Ego dormio (et cor meum vigilat) is part of the famous “Cantiones Sacrae“ by Heinrich Schütz
(1585–1672). This collection of forty Latin four-part motets, largely without basso continuo, might already at its publication in 1625 have been considered
outdated. However, there is nothing in the sacred music of the time of comparable modernity and expressivity. Great virtuosity is required of the singers to realise the brilliant
word-music relationship and the musical imagery, a mastery in which Heinrich Schütz might be considered unequalled.
Some notes on the contemporary composers on this CD
, born in London in 1964, studied with Brian Dennis as well as Sir John Tavener. The liturgy of the Orthodox Church has played a major role in his work. Many of his compositions
are related to liturgical themes. He has also contributed musicological essays to the newest editions of international music encyclopaedias.
He has written several works for Singer Pur. His Lamentation of the Virgin, written for Singer Pur in 1995, is on the CD for which we were awarded the ECHO Klassik CD award in 2005.
He writes about his cycle: “Canticum Canticorum
II was commissioned by the Hilliard Ensemble in 1994, a sequel to Canticum Canticorum
I which I had written ten years earlier
and which has, I believe, been performed and recorded more than any other work of mine. Whereas the first set was in Latin, the second is in English, and employs an arched structure, with the first movement (the Prologue)
reflected in the sixth (Epilogue) and the second in the fourth, interspersed with a setting
of I am black but comely (movement 2), with deliberately stylized ‘Eastern’ inflections and, in contrast, a lush and excited version of Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth. These various kinds of musical treatments reflect, I hope, both the richness and the mystery of the poetry of the Song of Songs.” (Estoril, February
was born in 1948 in Bombay. He studied at the Royal College of Music in London,
but went on to work for a financial company
in New York for a few years. After that he returned to England to re-establish his musical career. The development of his language can be traced through his major orchestral works.
He writes: “One of the many intriguing features
of the Song of Solomon is its ambiguity – are the words those of a lover to his or her beloved or of the soul to God? This same ambiguity
is present in hymns to Krishna (known as bhajans) which I heard in India. These bhajans were accompanied by various kinds of drone instruments and it is this which has influenced my decision to have the vocal line accompanied
by a quiet, sustained perfect fourth. This interval sounds almost throughout the piece, and the music for the voice is constructed around it. The drone is played on a Symphonie,
a type of hurdy gurdy used extensively in mediaeval times.
Song was commissioned by the 1986 B’nai B’rith Music Festival. It was composed during the early part of 1986 and first performed by Andrea Baron in the Wigmore Hall on 13 July 1986.”
For this recording the drone was played on a so called Shruti Box, a drone instrument activated
was born in 1958. She holds the PhD in Music Composition from Duke University
and among her many awards and prizes
has been a Fulbright Fellowship for study at the Royal Conservatory of Music in The Hague in 1993. Today she is a professor at the Lawrence
Conservatory in Appleton, Wisconsin. She has written several works for Singer Pur. Her work Il nome del bel fior, composed for Singer Pur and the Hilliard Ensemble in 1998, is on the CD for which we were awarded the ECHO Klassik CD award in 2005.
She writes: “Ego dilecto meo gives verses 7:10–12 of the Canticum canticorum a deliberately
bittersweet setting, one full of both hope and longing. Extended melismas predominate, alternating with concentrated bursts of the text’s beautiful naturalistic imagery. Short repeated
figures, often interrupted and subtly varied, are traded among the male singers, allowing the beauty of individual voices to shine through the dense texture. The ecstatic soprano line ascends and soars overhead, its freely-conceived cross rhythms eventually overtaking the entire ensemble.”
was born in 1920 in Wels (Upper
Austria) and grew up in Salzburg, where he also taught as professor at the College for music and the performing arts “Mozarteum” (Orff-Institute) until 1981. As a composer he concentrated on the musical interpretation of verbal, scenic and liturgical material, i.e. on vocal, theatre, film, church and children’s music. For Singer Pur he wrote several a cappella compositions. Gesang der Gesänge (translated into German by Martin Buber) was composed in 1999.
To sing vocal music by Wilhelm Keller always requires the highest degree of text declamation. The pieces that the composer has written for our group in the past all stylistically
recall the musical dramas of Carl Orff. By choosing the translation of the Jewish
religious philosopher Martin Buber of the Song of Songs for his setting of Gesang der Gesänge, Keller demonstrates his fine sense for the sensuality of the texts. Who can remain unmoved when hearing about “the fragrance of your breath” that is “like apples”? Wilhelm Keller has enriched us and our repertoire.
Claudia Reinhard, soprano (1)
Klaus Wenk, tenor (2)
Markus Zapp, tenor (3)
Manuel Warwitz, tenor (4)
Reiner Schneider-Waterberg, baritone (5)
Marcus Schmidl, bass (6)