After Johann David Heinichen (active from 1717 until his death in 1729) and Johann Adolf Hasse (1731/1734 to 1764), Johann Gottlieb Naumann was the third of the great Dresden court capellmeisters in the eighteenth century. In the difficult times following the Seven-Years’ War, which for Saxony was devastating, and in a period of stylistic reorientation Naumann achieved great feats to secure for musical life at the Dresden court the high standing it had maintained for more than two centuries.
Johann Gottlieb Naumann was born on April 17, 1741, as the son of a cottager in the fishing village of Blasewitz situated east of Dresden. He went to the local village school at Loschwitz across the Elbe river, where, it is said, he already played the organ during service. His parents wanted him to become a craftsman, but he managed to convince them to send him to a Dresden Latin school, where he was thoroughly educated in the tradition of Protestant church music. In 1756, a self-appointed „patron“ offered to take the boy to Italy and have him instructed there. Naumann managed to get out of this adventure and instead to become a student of the famous Giuseppe Tartini at Padua. Subsequently he was able to study at Bologna with Padre Giovanni Battista Martini and at Venice with Johann Adolf Hasse.
When more than seven years later Naumann returned home, equipped with recommendations by his teachers, the Seven-Years’ War was over, King August III of Poland and his son, Elector Friedrich Christian of Saxony, were buried, and, a consequence of the period of general hardship, chief capellmeister Hasse had been dismissed. Yet the Dresden court couldn’t and wouldn’t do without suitable music. In 1764 the promising young Naumann was given, for a small salary, the office of „church composer“ (a position first held by Jan Dismas Zelenka) and thus together with Johann Georg Schürer had to direct and compose the music at the Catholic Hofkirche. In addition, as early as in 1769 he had his Dresden debut with an Italian opera, commissioned for the wedding of the young elector Friedrich August III (later King Friedrich August I of Saxony), his life-long employer. The court granted him two further sojourns in Italy (1765–1767 and 1771–1774), this time not for studying but rather for (well-paid) composing, as Naumann received commissions to write operas from Venice to Palermo.
Upon suggestion of the Swedish envoy at the Dresden court Naumann was called to Stockholm by King Gustav III in 1777–1778 and again in 1782–1783 to establish a court chapel after the Dresden model and with it to perform his own works. Of these the most prominent are the operas „Amphion“, „Cora och Alonso“ and „Gustaf Wasa“, the last advancing to the status of Swedish national opera. For Naumann these visits to Sweden were particularly important as he became acquainted with the newest trends in French opera represented by Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny, Christoph Willibald Gluck, Nicola Piccini und André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry. These inspired Naumann in his own future work.
From Copenhagen Naumann received commissions as well. In 1785–1786 he reorganized the Copenhagen court orchestra and, among other works, performed his opera „Orpheus og Eurydike“, though turning down an offer of a permanent position. Court capellmeister at Dresden from 1776, and from 1786 chief capellmeister with most favorable terms of employment, Naumann resisted any attempts to entice him away, even by the Prussian Court. His last work was the early Romantic opera „Aci e Galatea“, composed in 1801. He died on October 23, 1801.
Naumann left a rich and diverse oeuvre. Particularly noteworthy are his Italian operas for Italy, Dresden and Berlin, as well as his stage works on Swedish and Danish texts for Stockholm and Copenhagen. Further there are, among others, his numerous compositions for the Dresden Catholic Hofkirche and remarkable song settings. A highlight is his large-scale cantata „Vater unser“ for solo voices, two choruses and orchestra on a text by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1798). For many decades this piece remained in the repertoire of major choral societies within Germany and abroad. The cantata, which Naumann composed on his own initiative, constitutes a kind of spiritual climax and conclusion to a series of works written for a north German court.
On his first trip to Sweden Naumann had, rather by chance, interrupted his journey at the Mecklenburg-Schwerin residence of Ludwigslust. Here he met with a type of musical life that at the time had no parallel at the Dresden court: the Concerts spirituels, founded by Duke Friedrich the Pious and performed with reduced forces by the court chapel. They were dedicated to the performance of devotional music inspired by Lutheran thought. The five works (two psalm settings and three cantatas) that Naumann wrote for Ludwigslust between 1778 and 1794 count among the best music commissioned by this court.
The cantata „Zeit und Ewigkeit“ (1782/83), Naumanns second composition for the Mecklenburg residence, enjoyed a prolonged period of success that was never surpassed. The numerous performances drew audiences even from afar. Admittedly, the presentations of the piece, the first of which was directed by the composer himself, in the course of time probably were perfected to an unusual degree and thus gave the listeners particular enjoyment. These conditions also applied to other works by Naumann, however, as well as to pieces by other composers in the Ludwigslust repertoire, without achieving comparable results. On what, then, rested the unparalleled success of the cantata „Zeit und Ewigkeit“?
One reason for this is the enormous intensity of Naumann’s setting of the text, another the disposition of the music itself, which is full of emotional depth and, with all its adherence to traditional counterpoint and superior treatment of chorale harmonization, displays a wealth of new, well-elaborated musical „inventions“, which stylistically seem to belong already to the nineteenth century. Apart from this, Naumann succeeded in creating a unified, self-contained work easily accessible to the audience. The beauties of the music in connection with the superb treatment of the text disclosed themselves not only to the connoisseurs. In addition, from the beginning the audience felt touched personally by the subject: The unconcern of the „earthly child“ while age is still distant; the slowly dawning consciousness of the end of life; the plea for redemption through death, which in the end is experienced as a relief.
The librettist of the work, Henrich (Heinrich) Julius Tode, was born on May 31, 1733, in Zollenspieker near Bergedorf in the Vierlanden district southeast of Hamburg. After studying theology in Göttingen he served for a number of decades as a parson in the Mecklenburg town of Pritzier (near Hagenow) and subsequently in Schwerin as cathedral and court preacher and as superintendent. He died on December 30, 1797. His botanic studies earned him wide recognition. When count Friedrich the Pious became aware of Tode’s talents as a poet of hymn texts, he and his successor Friedrich Franz asked him regularly to write cantata texts. Commissions to set these to music were given to composers of the court chapel such as Johann Wilhelm Hertel, Carl August Westenholtz and Antonio Rosetti, as well as to external musicians like the Weimar court capellmeister Ernst Wilhelm Wolf, the Berlin court capellmeister Johann Friedrich Reichardt and Johann Gottlieb Naumann from Dresden. While the poetic quality of Tode’s texts does not reach the highest level, they convince by their clear, „preaching“ statement and their avoidance of any triviality. The earnestness of the theologically-based message is recognizable everywhere. In addition, Tode incorporates original passages from the Bible and hymn texts, which in their own way supply literary quality. In the libretto of „Zeit und Ewigkeit“, the combination of all these elements appears particularly felicitous.
To a composer as sensitive to the qualities of texts and their musical interpretation as Naumann, the particular character of this text did not remain concealed. Thus he readily took up the first of Tode’s libretti as well as the two that followed later and let himself be inspired by them to create compositions which, together with the two psalm settings written for Ludwigslust, despite their small number constitute a significant chapter in Naumann’s oeuvre. An important feature of the cantatas – especially in „Zeit und Ewigkeit“ – is the design of the „recitatives“, which almost escape the boundaries of their genre. Naumann follows the model of the French „Récitatif mésuré“ which he had come upon in Stockholm. By including triple meter, cantabile vocal lines and obbligato instrumental accompaniment, Naumann in these recitative-„ariosi“ fulfils in an ideal manner the intention of the poet. In the recitatives and arias the „lyrical I“ is divided among all the soloists. At the center of the work lies the conflict between man’s temporal existence and the inevitability of death. This tension is resolved in the Christian hope for redemption.
It is remarkable that the composer, who was familiar with the conditions at Ludwigslust, paid attention to the varying capabilities of the individual musicians and singers. Around 1783, the Ludwigslust court chapel comprised eleven singers, eleven string players, eight wind players (complemented by two trumpeters and a timpanist if needed), a continuo player and the capellmeister. Upon closer inspection one realizes that Naumann demanded a lot from the strings and considerably less from the winds, while he apparently provided the vocal soloists, who also sang the choruses, with individually „tailored“ parts. After the (temporary) resignation of the coloratura soprano Felicitas Benda, Naumann expressed, in a letter, his satisfaction that in future compositions he would be able to omit the „gurglings“ owed this singer. Hence it is surprising that fourteen years later, when revising the score for a Dresden performance, he reduced the coloratura passages of the aria „Auf, auf, er kommt“ only marginally instead of deleting them entirely. In the disposition of the work this aria has an important function: in a manner unique for the time it marks the beginning of a slowly rising climax at the end of the work. Beginning with this soprano aria, the remaining movements follow without interruption: the chorale setting „Herr, Herr, wir warten auf dein Heil“, the bass arioso „Siehe, ich komme bald“, and the choral fugue with bass solo „Amen, ja, komm, Herr Jesu“.
The edition of a major work like „Zeit und Ewigkeit“ provides a welcome opportunity to discover a composer, whose sphere of activity once reached from Italy to Scandinavia, yet who today is barely known even to the specialist. If one wishes to learn what was musically possible at Dresden towards the end of Hasse’s time and in northern Germany during the awakening interest in Mozart, one cannot but mention Naumann’s name. In the cantata „Zeit und Ewigkeit“ we can experience the rise of a new melodic style which, without renouncing the singer’s virtuosity, in a novel treatment of the instruments serves to illustrate a poetic text relating the path from the fear of perishing to the hope of redemption.
(Ortrun Landmann, translation by Stephanie Wollny)