Friday, October 31, 2014

Otto Nicolai and Felix Mendelssohn – Motets and Psalms

   During romantic era religious music was not as much widespread as in earlier periods. Many composers work for church order and number of religious compositions was still very high. What has changed, was rising of the whole movement of music played in public concerts and in private ground. Religious compositions were still great part of musical culture, even if they had to share its position with growing popularity of secular music. Composers who were engaged on posts of organists or church choir directors were often obliged to write some new works. Sometimes such position was synonymous with honorary achievement, especially in 19th century when new economic relations were intertwining with old aristocratic structures. History of Felix Mendelssohn and Otto Nicolai employment in Berlin Cathedral allows seeing in a new light some episodes of music history in romantic era.
   Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy was appointed in 1842 by King of Prussia Friedrich Wilhelm IV to be Prussia general music director and Cathedral Choir conductor. He was not satisfied with this work and kind of music he was obliged to compose. In his opinion composing music as “integral part of worship (…) rather than merely a concert with more or less devotional aura” was difficult and didn’t give him artistic freedom. After Mendelssohn’s death his post was proposed to Otto Nicolai. This was idea of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV who was under deep impression of two Nicolai compositions Pater Noster and Festive Church Overture “Ein feste Burg is unser Got” played in Königsberg during 300 years celebration of Albertus University. In 1847 after his contract with orchestra in Vienna has end, composer was called to Berlin and appointed to the post of conductor of Royal Cathedral Choir and musical director of Royal Opera House.

Otto Nicolai and Felix Mendelssohn – Motets and Psalms (1983)

   Many romantic composers Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Otto Nicolai but also Fanny Mendelssohn, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Eduard Grell and Heinrich Dorn were pupils of Carl Friedrich Zelter, composer, conductor and teacher, master of Berlin musicians in early romantic period and friend with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. His formal discipline has influenced the romantic style in various ways. Mendelssohn, Nicolai and Grell were composers associated with Protestant church. Meyerbeer and Dorn were opera composers. Heinrich Dorn (1804-1892), born in Königsberg, composed opera Die Nibelungen before Wagner thought about this theme. He was also teacher of Robert Schumann and staunch critic of Wagner’s music. Otto Nicolai (1810-1849) who was also born in Königsberg was known as opera and symphonic music composer, partly thanks to his most popular work – German opera Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, but his professional biography was connected to posts as church organist in chapel of Prussian Embassy in Rome and choir director in Berlin Cathedral.
   Religious music in romantic era was vivid part of artistic life. Church compositions and music played during services was mandatory part of culture. Choice of romantic religious works for choir recorded in March 1983 by Studiochor Essen under direction of Konrad Haenish was published by Aulos label. The colloction was limited to two masters leading the choir of Berlin Cathedral in 1840’s – Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Otto Nicolai who was placed on directors post in last year of his life. Designated as Psalmen und Motetten der Romatik program of this album has been divided into two sides. First side comprises four works by Mendelssohn: Der dreiundvierzigste Psalm op. 78 Nr. 2 “Richte mich, Gott!”, Mittenwit im Leben sind op. 23 Nr. 3, Herr, nun lasses du deinen Diener ub Frieden fahren op. 69 Nr. 1 and Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt op. 69 Nr. 2. Second side comprises three compositions by Nicolai: Der 97. Psalm “Derr Herr ist König” for mixed choir, Der 31. Psalm “Herr, auf Dich traue ich” for 8-voices mixed choir and Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe for two 4-voices mixed choirs. This recording is perfect example of romantic unaccompanied choir music and an evidence of great choral culture in first half of nineteenth century. Three and a half of the star for performance, recording and edition.

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