Klassik  Chor/Lied
Susanne Bernhard & Harald Feller & Maria Graf Geistliche Lieder der Romantik OC 806 CD
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FormatAudio CD
Ordering NumberOC 806
Release date06/04/2009
Players/ContributorsMusicians Composer
  • Dvořák, Antonín
  • Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Felix
  • Reger, Max
  • Wolf, Hugo

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      Antonín Dvorák: Biblical Songs op. 99
      Hugo Wolf: Five songs from the „Spanisches Liederbuch“ and from „Vier geistliche Gesänge“
      Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy: Two Sacred Songs op. 112
      Max Reger: “Ich sehe dich in tausend Bildern” op. 105/2
      Two Christmas Songs
      Susanne Bernhard, soprano
      Maria Graf, harp
      Harald Feller, organ

      Religious song is an attractive type of music „between the genres“, as it were. During the course of the 19th century, the sacred song continued to find entrance into the repertoire performed in the concert halls, until Max Reger’s songs for organ brought religious song back into the church. We know of several sacred songs with piano score by Mendelssohn which he also expressly declared suitable for performance with an organ. Harald Feller arranged songs by other composers from the Romantic era in a version for voice with organ and harp, a combination that contributes to vividly expressing both the orchestral and the chamber musical element.
      Soprano Susanne Bernhard became a member of the ensemble at the opera hall in Kiel at the age of 23. In 2008, she made her debut in the role of Violeta at the Oper Frankfurt. In her work, she concentrates on concert and oratorio song and has already performed at many internationally renowned concert halls (Berliner Philharmonie, WDR, Saarländischer Rundfunk, and Bayerischer Rundfunk).
      Maria Graf used to be the solo harpist in the philharmonic orchestras of Munich and Berlin and is regarded as one of the most famous soloists on her instrument.

      Sacred Songs od the Romantic Period

      The sacred song, or hymn, was a traditional art form in the church into the baroque era. During the 19th century, it underwent a synthesis with the Lied, the genre which reached full flower during the romantic age. Ludwig van Beethoven’s six songs on texts by Gellert are an early example of this development. This meant that the concert hall increasingly began to replace the sacred sphere – even becoming a sort of temple itself.

      At the end of the 19th century, it was Max Reger who tried to bring the hymn back into the church with his ‘orgellied’, or organ-hymn. In regard to his own works in this genre, he said to his publisher, “I wrote the sacred songs because there is not exactly a great selection of ‘solo songs’ for use in church concerts.” Reger was also a prominent arranger of a number of sacred songs by Hugo Wolf, whom he greatly admired. He related: “… I must also tell you that I have received a commission to arrange the sacred songs from Hugo Wolf ’s Spanisches Liederbuch for organ. Splendid!” One of Reger’s early arrangements of a work by Wolf, completed at the beginning of nearly two decades of constant, intense study of the latter’s works, was an organ setting of the piano accompaniment of Wolf ’s four sacred songs after poems by Eduard Mörike.

      This recording includes three original organ-hymns by Mendelssohn and Reger. Although both of Mendelssohn’s songs are actually written for piano, Mendelssohn gives the performer the option of playing the accompaniment on either piano or organ. In the latter case, the organ’s registration is up to the performer. The instrumental parts of the other songs are all arrangements. Four of these (H. Wolf ) are in the quasi-historical arrangement by Reger. Most of the thirteen songs on this recording (Dvor?ák, Wolf, Reger) have new arrangements for organ and harp that I have created from the piano parts. In the Biblische Lieder, I have also based my arrangement on Dvor?ák’s orchestral work.

      These instrumental versions highlight both the orchestral aspects of some songs as well as their intimate chamber-musical moments even more vividly. The harp and the organ complement each other ideally, because the static quality of the organ is enlivened through the harp’s dynamic possibilities and the rapidly fading sound of the harp is supported by the organ.

      The newly built Max Reger Commemorative Organ in Weiden, Germany (built by Weimbs) combines the typical sound of the late romantic German era with the technical possibilities of modern organ-building technology. It has characteristically soft colors that predestine it for realizing the multifaceted organ part.

      Antonin Dvor?ák is one of the most important representatives of an independent style of Czech music, which – without directly relying on folk music or folk dance – reflects the idioms of Slavic and Czech folklore.

      The composer’s inexhaustible imagination, rooted in the traditions of his native land, imparts a melodiousness to his pieces to which form is generally subordinate. This inventiveness is also what gives Dvor?ák’s music its immediacy and lasting popularity.

      Brahms said about him: “That guy has more ideas than the rest of us combined. Anyone else could make main themes from Dvor?ák’s trash.” The melancholic folksong comes through in the intimate lyricism of his slow movements just as does an unadulterated and – in the best sense of the word – naïve piety.

      Dvor?ák first studied sacred music at that age’s renowned school of organ in the Prague conservatory. He subsequently joined the band of a dance composer, was a violist at the Czech Opera and was finally appointed as organist at St. Adalbert in Prague. All of these activities would prepare the ground for his many-sided compositional works. After first successes in his homeland, Dvor?ák received international recognition in 1876 with his Stabat mater.

      Well into his late period, Dvor?ák’s deeply religious attitude led him to add large sacred works to his primarily symphonic oeuvre. In 1894, during his travels in America, he wrote ten songs for solo voice and piano, the Biblische Lieder, which are based on texts from the book of Psalms. They are the apex of the composer’s composition in this genre; their melodic abundance and great expressiveness make them among the most popular songs of this kind. They have an enormous spectrum of expression despite their small form, manifesting a quiet, intimate trust in God (Nos. 4, 9), dramatic outbreaks of despair (Nos. 3, 8) or joyous songs of praise (Nos. 5, 10), for example.

      The songs of Hugo Wolf are a late culmination of this rich genre, which is so important for the 19th century. Wolf ’s enthusiasm for both the musical-dramatic works of Richard Wagner, the influence of which is unmistakable, as well as the poetry of Robert Schumann, who – as a literary song composer was particularly dear to Wolf ’s heart – are highly evident in his compositional style.

      Wolf stands at the end of developments in the Lied. The exceptionally romantic refinement of his works, with their harmonic color and frequently hovering melodies, approaches impressionism. His dynamic spectrum ranges from the tenderest lyricism all the way to orchestral settings. Wolf ’s expressive harmonies also reflect developments in the 19th century, which were characterized by a continual increase of chromaticism, alteration, enharmonics, modulation and unresolved dissonances. The vocal line unfolds more and more from the rhythm of the text. It thus becomes increasingly rhythmically differentiated, tending more to a declamatory, recitative style.

      Wolf’s Mörike-Lieder and Spanisches Liederbuch were composed in 1889–90. The composer succeeds in creating perfect musical poetry for the Mörike texts. His “Enchanting Good Friday” unfolds with birdsong reminiscent of Wagner’s Parsifal (“Am Charfreitag”). A floating vocal line above an ascending, chorale-like movement intimately and tenderly depicts the baby Jesus (“Schlafendes Jesuskind”). An inspiring organ melody at the upper reaches of the instrument expresses the polarity between joy and sorrow (“Gebet”).

      Wolf was inspired to compose the Spanisches Liederbuch after reading poems by Geibel and Heyse, who had freely adapted Spanish folksongs and classical Italian poetry.

      The ten sacred songs are at the beginning of the songbook. They musically express images and signs of Spanish piety from personal experience and religious sensitivity. These include scenes and persons from the Bible, such as Maria trying to protect her child from the ruthless cold of the world (No. 4) or confessions and prayers uttered by sinful man seeking his redemption in God (No. 7). The musical settings are full of lyrical color and dramatic intensity.

      The Zwei geistlichen Lieder by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy are psalm settings that were originally foreseen as arias in the composer’s oratorio Paulus. When the oratorio was about to go to print, Mendelssohn took the two pieces out for dramaturgical reasons. No. 2, “Der du die Menschen läßest sterben” (Psalm 90) was originally an arioso that followed the chorale “Dir Herr, Dir will ich mich ergeben”, sung after Stephanus’ funeral. In verse 5 of this psalm (“Du läßest sie ziehn wie einen Strom”), parts of the chorale melody can be recognized, thus linking the arioso to the chorale. The first song, “Doch der Herr, er leitet die Irrenden recht” (Psalm 25,8) was an arioso sung by the alto after recitative No. 13, shortly before Saul went blind on his way to Damascus. Mendelssohn replaces this arioso with the setting of “Doch der Herr vergisst die Seinen nicht”. Four years after the premiere of Paulus in 1836, Mendelssohn played Ignaz Moscheles all of the movements he had rejected. The latter remarked, “… they may well be more suited as individual works in the concert hall than they would be in the oratorio.” Both of the arias were published by Simrock much later under the title Zwei geistliche Lieder for soprano and piano (or organ), op. 112.

      Max Reger’s ample array of songs has still not prevailed to the present day, possibly due to the harmonically rich accompaniments to which the melodic lines are frequently subordinate. But some of these sacred songs are the exception and have achieved popularity. The setting of the Novalis text “Ich sehe dich in tausend Bildern” has an enchanting vocal line more reminiscent of declamation than song. It is heard over a hovering, harmonically colorful and bright organ accompaniment.

      The “Mariä Wiegenlied” from the Schlichte Weisen leans heavily on the Christmas song “Resonet in laudibus” (also known as “Singen wir mit Fröhlichkeit” or “Josef, lieber Josef mein”. The composer achieves such a great degree of intimacy with his spare but surprising harmonic turns of phrase and subtle fortspinning of the Christmas melody that this song has become one of his most popular works.

      The Christmas song also holds a particular status. With a dramaticism that sometimes sounds like Richard Wagner, Reger paints a very Christmassy mood. This leads three times to the angels’ song. The voice intones the line “Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe” at the same time as the organ cites the chorale “Vom Himmel hoch”. At first, the chorale resounds twice at the top of the instrument’s range – as though soaring through the heavens above the vocal line. The last time, after the words “nun sind alle Menschen gleich”, it makes a forte descent, allowing the vocal line to joyfully ascend above it.

      Harald Feller

      Tracklist hide

      CD 1
      • Antonín Dvorák (1841–1904)
        Biblische Lieder op. 99 (arr.: H. Feller)
        • 1.1. Feuer geht vor ihm her02:04
        • 2.2. Sieh auf mich01:58
        • 3.3. Gott, erhöre mein inniges Flehn03:06
        • 4.4. Gott ist mein Hirte02:57
        • 5.5. Herr, o mein Gott02:30
        • 6.6. Hör, o Vater, wie ich dich bitte03:12
        • 7.7. An den Wassern zu Babylon02:47
        • 8.8. Wende dich zu mir02:36
        • 9.9. Mein Auge hebt zu den Bergen sich02:19
        • 10.10. Singet ein neues Lied02:01
      • Hugo Wolf (1860–1903)
        aus dem Spanischen Liederbuch
        • 11.Die ihr schwebet um diese Palmen (arr.: H. Feller)02:46
        • 12.Mühvoll komm ich und beladen
          aus: Vier geistliche Gesänge (E. Mörike) (arr.: M. Reger)
        • 13.Schlafendes Jesuskind03:04
        • 14.Charwoche04:40
        • 15.Gebet02:27
      • Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809–1847)
        Zwei geistliche Lieder op. 112
        • 16.Doch der Herr leitet die Irrenden recht02:44
        • 17.Der du die Menschen lässest sterben03:34
      • Max Reger (1873–1916)
        aus Zwei geistliche Lieder op. 105
        • 18.Ich sehe dich in tausend Bildern op. 105 Nr. 102:19
      • Zwei Weihnachtslieder (arr.: H. Feller)
        • 19.Mariä Wiegenlied op. 56/5202:27
        • 20.Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe05:51
      • Total:01:00:26