Notes and Editorial Reviews
When I am going to listen to a CD I usually start by reading
the liner-notes, in particular if I am not that familiar with
the repertoire. Knowing the background of the music and its
composer can help to understand what you are going to hear.
Sometimes it is probably better to start listening without reading
the booklet. That is the case here.
The liner-notes by Eckhardt van den Hoogen are seven-and-a-half
pages long. Poor translator! Sometimes less is more. I have
read the original German text, and it is hard to find the relevant
information. I wondered whether the author took his subject
really seriously. He talks at length about the troublesome relationship
between Heinrich von Herzogenberg and Johannes Brahms. Herzogenberg
considered Brahms his friend, and he regularly sent him his
latest compositions. Unfortunately Brahms didn't have that much
to say about them, and if he said something it was mostly not
very nice. By writing so extensively about Brahms' view on Herzogenberg
as a composer one almost automatically starts to listen to his
music with Brahms' verdicts in mind. That is not the best way
to approach this repertoire. Van den Hoogen also pays much attention
to Herzogenberg's character and even his appearance. It is hard
not to get the impression that he was a kind of loser. But he
wasn't. The rather negative verdict about the man's character
probably tells more about our own times than about Herzogenberg.
He was of Austrian origin and born in Graz. After attending
various gymnasiums he studied law at Vienna University and composition
at the conservatory. He then settled in Graz as a freelance
composer and moved to Leipzig in 1872. There he came into contact
with Philipp Spitta, who wrote an influential biography of Johann
Sebastian Bach. Together they founded the Bach-Verein, whose
leader he became in 1875. In 1885 he was appointed professor
of composition at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin. His
oeuvre comprises sacred and secular vocal works as well as orchestral
and chamber music. In particular in the latter the influence
of Brahms is evident.
The disc begins with six secular songs, partly arrangements
of folksongs, like Entlaubet ist der Walde, partly on
texts by famous poets: Goethe (Nachtgesang) and Mörike
(Frühling: Er ist's). There is some naivety in them,
but that can be quite charming, in particular if they are sung
with the appropriate lightness as here by the Rheinische Kantorei.
The six songs op. 57 are all on texts by some of the best German
poets: Rückert, Goethe and Eichendorff. One is from the
collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn. The Weihnachtslied
is by the 17th-century poet Ernst Christoph Homburg. The music
is also a little more substantial than in the Op. 10.
The rest of the programme is devoted to sacred music. Psalm
116 is in three sections and written in a mixture of homophony
and imitative polyphony. In the second section the last line
- "O Lord, save my soul" - is mixed with the first: "Snares
of death had closed in around me". This way the prayer is directly
related to the situation described in the first line. The last
section ends with "Halleluia!" which surprisingly ends piano.
The Liturgische Gesänge op. 99 are for harvest thanksgiving
(Erntedank), and comprise seven songs. The first four
are on texts from the Bible: Psalm 65, Revelation 4 (vs 11),
James 1 (vs 17) and Psalm 34 (vs 9). Danket dem Herrn
is a chorale arrangement: in the first section the chorale appears
as cantus firmus in various voices, and the second section
is a chorale setting. The collection closes with short compositions
on a single word: Halleluja and Amen. The disc
ends with four chorale motets. The melody of the original chorales
is used in various ways. It is in pieces like these that Herzogenberg
shows that he is justly rated among the conservative school
of German composers.
In view of Herzogenberg's connection to the music of the past
there is some logic in the fact that this repertoire is performed
by the Rheinische Kantorei, a chamber choir which mostly sings
music of the 17th and 18th centuries. Among the ideals of its
conductor, Hermann Max, are transparency and good delivery.
That pays off in these recordings. The lyrics are printed in
the booklet, but if you understand German you don't really need
them. One could probably say that the style of performance is
too much 18th-century. Even so, this kind of interpretation
is far better than traditional performances with a large choir
and a heavy sound.
It would be an exaggeration to say that this music is unmissable.
It is quite nice to listen to thanks to the fine performances
of the Rheinische Kantorei. It sheds light on an interesting
aspect of German music life in the 19th century: the writing
of choral music which was often strongly influenced by some
of the best German composers of the baroque era, Bach and Schütz.
Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International Read less
Works on This Recording
Lieder (6), Op. 10 by Heinrich Herzogenberg
Written: by 1870
Gesänge (6), Op. 57 by Heinrich Herzogenberg
Written: by 1888
Psalm 116, Op. 34 by Heinrich Herzogenberg
Zum Erntedank by Heinrich Herzogenberg
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