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Volume 5, no. 1:

Joachim Gerstenbüttel (1647-1721) im Spannungsfeld von Oper und Kirche: Ein Beitrag zur Musikgeschichte Hamburgs. By Joachim Kremer. Musik der frühen Neuzeit, 1. Hamburg: von Bockel Verlag, 1997. [424 pp. ISBN 3-932696-17-4. 48 DM ($31).]

Reviewed by Frederick K. Gable*

1. Overview

2. Organization and General Contents

3. Some Important Findings

4. The Quality of the Book

5. Gerstenbüttel's Historical Position

Reference

1. Overview

1.1 On the occasion of the 350th birthday of Joachim Gerstenbüttel (1647-1721), Joachim Kremer has written an account of the cantor's years during a period in which the city of Hamburg experienced profound changes in musical and general culture. The traditionally influential position of city cantor was challenged by the theological controversies between Pietism and Orthodoxy, the opening of a public opera house, the increase in public concerts, the seeking for greater independence by the musicians, and the promotion of secular music by the cathedral. These changes created a multi-faceted musical life without compare in northern Germany. Kremer presents Gerstenbüttel as a musical "non-hero," out of step with this changing scene, who wishes to retain traditional practices and styles of sacred music as part of his Amtsverständnis, his concept of the position of cantor. The designation Spannungsfeld in Kremer's title aptly describes the beleaguered cantor's "on the fence" position; he was one of few cantors to experience the transition from the earlier concertato styles to the new cantatas of the 18th century. As a result, Gerstenbüttel's cantorship from 1674 to 1721 existed in a "field of tension," continually beset by opposing views of Hamburg church music, and saw this music's gradual decline in quantity and quality, until Telemann's more modern attitude revived its prominence after 1721.

1.2 Kremer publishes here many newly-discovered details related to Gerstenbüttel's biography and his cantor's duties, the history of Hamburg's churches, and the city Kantorei, all based on extensive quotations from over 68 separate archival sources and interpreted most thoroughly by the author. The painstaking source investigation is more thorough than anyone has previously attempted, and the time-consuming work has paid rich dividends. Kremer documents for the first time the activities of the opera singers in the churches and discusses their competition with the cantor's musical performances. He also describes inconsistent liturgical customs in the churches, which Gerstenbüttel attempted in vain to remedy, reproduces the Kantorei financial accounts from 1660 to 1682 during the time of Weckmann and Bernhard, lists known church singers and opera singers, and presents the first complete list of Gerstenbüttel's compositions. The sizable appendix provides transcriptions of many manuscript documents relating to the operation of the Kantorei, liturgical practices, service orders, and Gerstenbüttel's disputes with city authorities, pastors, and singers.

2. Organization and General Contents

2.1 The seven chapters of the study begin with a comprehensive survey of northern German artistic renewal after the Thirty Years' War and a summary of Hamburg history in the seventeenth century. Two chapters cover the decline of financial resources for church music in Hamburg, the difficulty in retaining good singers in the Kantorei, the religious and social conflicts about opera singers, and the relation of the Operisten to the city Kantorei. Other chapters present new information about Gerstenbüttel's life, describe his attempts to revive plainsong by translating the liturgical texts into German and assess the quality of his surviving compositions. The final chapter is a typical German Zusammenfassung and deftly summarizes the complex Hamburg music situation from 1663 to 1721, between the cantorates of Thomas Selle and G. P. Telemann. Together with the first chapter, these two sections survey the second half of the century in exemplary fashion, far surpassing any previous study. An extensive appendix of documents, transcriptions of one complete work and excerpts from others by Gerstenbüttel, a list of sources, a bibliography, and an index complete the volume.

3. Some Important Findings

3.1 Among the more important findings uncovered by Kremer are the specific effects of opera on church music in Hamburg. Opera singers and theatrical church music were promoted initially by the cathedral in Hamburg, not the Hauptkirchen, and were later also championed by Johann Mattheson as the cathedral cantor. The first female opera singer sang in the Jacobikirche in 1692, predating Mattheson's oft-quoted claim of 1716 as the earliest date. Passion singing by the opera singers, for which admission was charged and librettos sold, was promoted by Pastor Mayer of the Jacobikirche, and public oratorio performances were held as early as 1696, after many of the Pietist pastors had left Hamburg, and not beginning in 1704 as is usually stated. Interestingly, the citizens disapproved of the opera singers more for their life styles and Catholic beliefs than for the kind of music they performed.

3.2 During the seventeenth century, the leadership in church music performances gradually passed from cantor to organist to opera singer, or from Kantorenmusik to Organistenmusik to Operistenmusik, becoming progressively more secularized and influenced by Italian styles. Gerstenbüttel disassociated himself from these modern trends and thereby cut himself off from mainstream musical life in Hamburg. Perhaps there is a lesson here to be learned by today's arch-conservative contemporary church musicians, although Gerstenbüttel was somewhat vindicated by nineteenth-century reforms.

4. The Quality of the Book

4.1 It took some time to become accustomed to Kremer's German. The writing style seems overly formal and a bit wordy, especially for this day and age, and can be slow going for those who don't regularly read academic German. Repetition of certain points, like Gerstenbüttel's conception of his cantor's position, got tiresome, and it was a long time before the chief figure entered the picture. In the lengthy discussion of Gerstenbüttel's plans to translate the texts of the chants in Franz Eler's Cantica sacra (Hamburg, 1588) into German, Kremer seems to confuse the German words Choral and Choralgesang; it is not always clear whether he is referring to chorales or to chant. This is a crucial distinction, in my mind, and needs clarification. I think Kremer makes too much of the problem of de tempore music in Gerstenbüttel's output, although knowing the prevailing loose adherence to the traditional proper chorales and other vocal music is valuable for other scholars of musical and liturgical practices of that time. From the production standpoint (by a high-quality, one-man garage-publisher), the compact volume is wonderfully accurate in typography; and the bibliography could not be more up-to-date (even works from 1997 are cited). The illustrations, however, are rather grainy and lack definition, as if they were scanned at very low resolution.

5. Gerstenbüttel's Historical Position

5.1 Gerstenbüttel understood and believed in the purely functional role of church music, closely bound to traditional Reformation and even Pietistic views, and did not believe in new music for the church. His seventy-two original compositions also reflect this viewpoint by promoting the clear presentation of the text as the chief function of sacred music. Despite Kremer's detailed analyses of selections from the thirty-three surviving compositions and his attempts to explain Gerstenbüttel's conservative style on this functional basis, the works still remain second-class, although judgment must be reserved until more have been edited and tested in performance. Curiously, they seem most closely related in style to middle German sacred music, which tended to be more conservative than that in the north.

5.2 Kremer maintains that, regardless of Gerstenbüttel's conservative ideas of composition and musical appropriateness for church services, his role defines more clearly the importance of the other Hamburg musical developments in this period, and therefore justifies the treatment the author has provided. In other words, we can appreciate and understand more fully the contributions of the musical heroes by knowing the world of the Kleinmeister. This exhaustive study of Gerstenbüttel's modest role in music history has certainly underlined that often forgotten axiom. Especially those interested in this dark age of sacred music in Hamburg will appreciate Joachim Kremer's thorough illumination of the time surrounding the pivotal year of 1700.


Reference

*Frederick K. Gable (FredGable@aol.com) has taught music history, performance practices, and various specialized courses in Baroque music and directed the Collegium Musicum at the University of California at Riverside since 1968. He has published editions of vocal music by Hieronymus and Jacob Praetorius. His current work investigates the liturgical and musical relationships between the vocal and organ music of early seventeenth-century Germany which has led to numerous service reconstructions in Germany and Sweden.
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