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Musik zwischen Elbe und Oder vol. 43
Johann David Heinichen (1683 - 1729)
Due Cantate al Sepolcro di nostro Signore
Come? s’imbruna il ciel! Occhi piangete! (1728) / L’aride tempie ignude (ca. 1724)
for soloists (satb), 2 fl, 2 ob, strings and bc
Edited by Michael Heinemann
ISMN 979-0-502342-16-6
Hardcover, XVI+81 pages
incl. VAT plus shipping costs 65,00 EUR

The passion oratorios that Johann David Heinichen wrote for the Dresden court attest to the cultural and confessional liberty of the Saxon residence. Heinichen was born in 1683 in the Saxon town of Krössuln and was raised in the Lutheran faith; he attended the Leipzig St. Thomas School and studied with Johann Schelle and Johann Kuhnau before finding employment as a court musician and opera composer at Zeitz. To improve his skills as a composer of theatrical music he went to Italy in 1710, where he became acquainted with the Saxon crown prince Friedrich August (later to become August III); fascinated by his music, the pretender to the throne convinced his father to recruit Heinichen as Royal Polish and Electoral-Saxon kapellmeister. In Dresden, where his employment began on 1 August 1716, Heinichen wrote not only numerous operas and celebratory works (among them a number of Serenate for the crown prince’s wedding in 1719) but also increasingly music for the Catholic court services. His overabundant, multi-faceted oeuvre comprises large-scale Italian operas and a wealth of vocal music, nearly a dozen Latin masses and works for the Catholic liturgy, but also Protestant church cantatas as well as sinfonies and other pieces for the most diverse combinations of instruments and a great variety of occasions.

In the early 18th century, proficiency in the different musical styles of the time was a general requirement for a musician’s employment at court, and neither the sovereign nor his musicians had any denominational reservations. The problems arising from the fact that the elector of Saxony converted to Catholicism so as to be eligible for the Polish crown, whereas the Saxon populace and even his own wife refused to forsake their Lutheran faith, more than once led to considerable turmoil in the Saxon residence, and music often had a balancing effect, evening out the confessional differences. Music was able to intensify spiritual assertions and to connote impressions of a “different” world, but the spiritual experience it conveyed was not bound by confession.

This may be demonstrated by a look at Heinichen’s passion oratorios. Three of his smaller oratorios from the 1720s have been preserved; two of them are based on Italian librettos and were used to introduce the sepolcri tradition in Dresden, while the third, an “Oratorio todesco,” is unique in the history of German passion settings (and even may have inspired the passion oratorios of Johann Sebastian Bach, who was personally acquainted with Heinichen). Considering their length of approximately 45 minutes (which Heinichen indicated at the end of the scores), the Italian oratorios replace the fully orchestrated passions for which there was no space in the Catholic liturgy. Following a long-established tradition, the Missa sicca of Good Friday allowed no instrumental accompaniment, and only the return of the full (organ) sound in the Gloria of the Easter vigil marked the dramaturgically highly effective background for the joyous celebration of the resurrection.

Compared to this, the brief scenes performed at the sepulcrum – the holy grave which was artfully decked out inside the church – were rather paraliturgical music, probably presented on Holy Saturday. Despite their reduced scoring – out of consideration for the silent days they did without the resplendence of timpani, trumpets, or even trombones – the artistic demands especially on the vocal soloists was considerable. The style of the arias conformed to the standard familiar from the opera, the succession of recitatives and arias, introductory sinfonia and concluding chorus pointing paradigmatically to the music theatre – which provided a general line of orientation for sacred compositions at court and especially for the pieces written by Heinichen, who after all had been trained in Italy.

Excerpts from the preface to this volume by Michael Heinemann (Translatioon by Stephanie Wollny)


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