Notes and Editorial Reviews
Lieder und Oden
Sibylla Rubens (sop); Kaus Mertens (bs); Maya Amrein (vc); Rudolf Lutz (hpd)
CPO 6120378032 (61:54
Text and Translation)
The name Lorenz Christoph Mizler (1711–1778) may be perhaps totally unfamiliar to most, even if he was one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s friends and associates. The reason may be that Mizler was not exactly a composer, or rather, musical composition was possibly one of his least prominent skills. Born in a small central German town, he came to Leipzig in 1731, where he made Bach’s acquaintance, not so much due to his musical abilities—he played violin, flute, and keyboard—but rather because he focused on philosophy and mathematics. Such ideas were, of course, much prized by Bach, who in 1738 actually joined Mizler’s Corresponding Society of Musical Sciences. By this time, Mizler had completed a dissertation on the mathematical science of music, but he also became known for his debates with Johann Mattheson and Johann Adolph Scheibe, both of whom were hardly happy with how Bach composed. By 1740 he had published three sets of songs and odes, from which this disc was taken, but his reputation suffered when the critics noted that these were mostly constructed (and not composed, mind you) according to Mizler’s own mathematical musical principles. Lexicographer Ernst Ludwig Gerber, writing half a century later, noted that his musical achievements were met with “a good deal of rotten luck,” calling Mizler “weak-minded.” This put paid to Mizler’s musical ambitions, evidently, and by 1743 he was to be found in Poland as a court physician and eventually a printer of a journal. Needless to say, he died in relative obscurity.
The biggest question one might have is why such music upon which such scorn was heaped ought to be revived at all. The answer probably has two answers. First, one should probably know what all the fuss was about after three centuries, to see if the assessments by Gerber and others were accurate. Second, like most music, it deserves a hearing on aesthetic grounds alone. Before this, however, one also has to look at the texts, since these presumably were the inspiration for the musical setting. Unfortunately, these may also have been the reason for the rejection of the songs. Titles such as
That freedom is better than falling in love, On self-contentment,
The art of sculpture
(to give their English translations) are hardly on anyone’s “most sought after” list, and to be frank, the texts themselves are often turgid and impenetrable from a literary standpoint. Even a translation by Daniel Wilhelm Triller of an ode by Horace (
The Golden Mean
) doesn’t enliven these weighty sentiments. To make matters worse, these poems are often seven or eight stanzas long, which means that a pithy, dramatic rendition would be hard to accomplish musically. From this point of view, however, Mizler doesn’t even try. Unlike the texts, the music he writes is tuneful, often quite interesting harmonically, and well suited for the Lied of its time. For someone who proclaimed himself a composer according to logical, mathematical principles, these works demonstrate a much more creative mind, though I suppose that the strophic nature of the works lends itself to the inevitable conventional (and perhaps even boring) repetition. For instance, the plaintive
Die unglückliche Liebe
(Unfortunate Love) sounds quite like it was taken from a Bach Passion, while
(that is, the Art of Sculpture) is a rather smooth, flowing gigue, with the line reminiscent of Telemann in contour. In another,
Schweigen und Hoffen
(Silence and Hope) one hears the simple echoes of the
in the repeated line with limited range.
The performances by soprano Sibylla Rubens, who has a rather rich soprano just right for Lieder recitals, and baritone Klaus Mertens, are excellent. The nuances of the latter are particularly appealing since this brings more life to the songs, and when the two alternate strophes it is rather a nice musical contrast. The continuo group of Rudolf Lutz and Maya Amrein are nicely discreet, allowing the sometimes thinner textures to concentrate on the vocal lines rather than the accompaniment. As always, the technical aspects of the recording are up to CPO’s fine standards. Such Lieder are perhaps not for everyone, and one will have to consider where this fine disc might fit into their collections. But there is enough of interest here to disprove the judgment of Mizler’s contemporaries, and while it won’t be enough to place him alongside other proponents of the 18th-century Lied, such as C. P. E. Bach or Gottfried Christian Krause, it is certainly worth a hearing.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer