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Volume 11, no. 1:

Seventeenth-Century Lutheran Church Music with Trombones. Edited by Charlotte A. Leonard. Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era 131. Middleton, Wisc.: A-R Editions, 2003. [xxv, 114 pp. ISBN 0-89579-542-6. $64; individual parts available.]

Reviewed by Stewart Carter*

1. Introduction

2. The Compositions

3. Flexible Instrumentation

4. Music and Lutheran Theology

5. The Trombone in Lutheran Music

6. Conclusion

References

1. Introduction

1.1 Charlotte Leonard has provided an attractive collection of six sacred works for voices and trombones, with a very informative and well-documented introduction. Passing over the giants of seventeenth-century music, such as Praetorius and Schütz, Leonard includes compositions by Tobias Michael, Werner Fabricius, Johann Rudolf Ahle, Andreas Hammerschmidt, Wolfgang Carl Briegel, and Christian Andreas Schulze. As Leonard points out, “these composers were highly regarded in their time and were prolific producers of sacred music, very little of which is available in modern editions” (p. vii). The collection is the fruit of Leonard’s research for her Ph.D. dissertation (“The Role of the Trombone and its Affekt in the Lutheran Church Music of Seventeenth-Century Saxony and Thuringia,” Duke University, 1997).

1.2 There is more variety in this volume than one might expect, given its restricted focus. There are biblical texts as well as freely composed strophic texts, large-scale works as well as those of a more intimate character. Trombones are of course specified in all the pieces, but other instruments appear as well, including violin, curtal (fagotto), viola, violone, cornettino, and cornetto.

2. The Compositions

2.1 Ahle’s Höre, Gott is the only piece that requires trombones exclusively. With its five favoriti, two Capellen, and seven trombones, it is the largest piece in the edition. One of the ripieno choirs reinforces the soloists, while the other doubles the trombones at crucial points. The piece is unusual, according to Leonard, in that no other “trombone motet” (a concerted sacred work in which trombones and continuo provide the only accompaniment) in the repertory calls for so many trombones. Noteworthy here are the brief passages of falsobordone in measures 101 and 104. Leonard sensibly suggests that the trombones should sustain their notes in these passages, and not imitate the speech-rhythms of the voices!

2.2 Schulze’s Heut triumphiret Gottes Sohn is in one sense an even larger piece than Höre Gott. Its instrumental ensemble is polychoral, one choir consisting of two cornettini, two trombones, and violone the other of two violins, two violas, and curtal. One bass singer provides the only vocal component, however, so the piece is virtually an instrumental sonata with vocal obbligato. A strong bass singer will be required in order to balance this instrumental ensemble!

2.3 Michael’s Ihr Heiligen lobsinget is on a somewhat smaller scale, with violin, alto trombone, and bass curtal or bass trombone accompanying canto, tenor, and bass soloists. The tenor trombone sometimes forms a duet with the tenor voice, even in melismatic passages. Interesting here are the optional ornamented versions of certain solo vocal passages, one of which is illustrated in facsimile in the Introduction (p. xxvi).

3. Flexible Instrumentation

3.1 The flexibility in voicing and instrumentation seen in these works is characteristic of the time. A stringed instrument may substitute for a trombone (or vice versa), instrumental parts may be omitted (as in Fabricius’s O liebes Kind, which has the rubric “3. Tromboni ad bene placitum”), sinfonias may be omitted, instruments may double voices, and voices may double instruments, even in the absence of a complete text. The last point is demonstrated in Hammerschmidt’s Herr höre. As Leonard notes, “where the word ‘tutti’ and text incipits are provided in both continuo partbooks at the recurrent 3/1 section … a choir of CCATB may be added to the cornetti and trombones” (p. xiv). This kind of flexibility in performance is described by several contemporary writers, including Hammerschmidt himself (in the preface to his Ander Theil geistlicher Gespräche über die Evangelia [Dresden: C. Bergen, 1656] and also his Vierter Theil, Musicalischer Andachten [Freiberg: Georg Beuthern, 1646]).

4. Music and Lutheran Theology

4.1 Leonard’s Introduction is useful and thorough, and her arguments are supported by quotations from contemporary German writers. In her “Overview of Lutheran Church Music in Seventeenth-Century Germany,” she sets these works against the backdrop of contemporary Lutheran theology. At a time when the Pietist movement was gaining strength, most Lutheran composers in Saxony and Thuringia followed the Orthodox path established by Luther. Leonard demonstrates the impact of this theological conflict on music, citing Praetorius’ defense of vocal and instrumental music in Syntagma musicum 1 (Wittenberg and Wolfenbüttel, 1614/15) and Tobias Michael’s analogy between theology and music in the preface to his Musicalischer Seelenlust ander Theil (Leipzig, 1637). For Michael, music would survive the depredations of its “crude practitioners,” just as theology could never be destroyed, despite the “crude morsels” it must “swallow and digest” (p. viii).

5. The Trombone in Lutheran Music

5.1 The emphasis on the trombone in this volume is not merely a case of a brass player “looking at music history through her mouthpiece.” The trombone was one of the most ubiquitous elements of the Lutheran instrumentarium of the time; according to Leonard, seventeenth-century Lutheran composers in Saxony and Thuringia specified the instrument in just under a third of their works. In practice, however, this figure is probably too low, since contemporary writers sanctioned the employment of trombones for doubling vocal parts as well as playing the continuo line, even if not specified by the composer. Throughout the seventeenth century, the trombone continued to flourish in German-speaking regions even as it languished in other parts of Europe. The Germans loved the instrument, as much for its versatility as its timbre. In the second volume of Syntagma musicum, Praetorius remarks that the trombone is superior to all other wind instruments for use in Consorten and Concerten; it can be played in all keys and can easily augment its range through the use of crooks and other tuning pieces.1

5.2 But in addition to its timbre and its versatility, there may have been another, more symbolic reason for the Germans’ predilection for the trombone. In his translation of the Bible, Luther rendered both the Hebrew term shofar and the Greek salpigx as Posaune, the German word for trombone (both words are translated as “trumpet” in the King James Bible.) In the Old Testament, many references to the shofar are associated with solemn pronouncements of the Lord, while in Revelations the salpigx heralds the Last Judgment2. Thus for readers of Luther’s Bible, the trombone was akin to the voice of God, and Lutheran composers exploited this association quite effectively.

5.3 Three different sizes of trombone—alto, tenor, and bass—are needed in these pieces. Alto and bass members of the family are occasionally specified, as in Michael’s Ihr Heiligen lobsinget (“Alt. Trombon. … Trombone gross.”). For generic trombone parts, Leonard sensibly uses range and function as guides, rather than clefs. She summarizes Praetorius’ chart of ranges (Syntagma 2:20) in her Table 4 (p. xiii),3 remarking that the extreme notes are obtainable through practice or the use of crooks (and, it might be added, “factitious tones”—false or bendable notes—at the lower extremities). She further notes that “an alto trombone may be assumed for any … trombone part that includes b-flat' or higher. Even if a part is in alto clef, if the range does not exceed a', it is classified for tenor trombone. A bass trombone is normally used for the lowest part, no matter the lowest pitch, so long as the highest pitch does not exceed d'” (p. xii). The tenor is the most versatile member of the family, and if necessary it could be used for most of the parts in this edition. Praetorius, in fact, comments that the tenor trombone has a better sound than the alto and, with practice, can play as high (Syntagma 2:31).

6. Conclusion

6.1 The musical notation is exceptionally accurate, and the music pages are well laid out. In keeping with A-R’s policy of recent years, the continuo is not realized, but the parts are not difficult. One assumes that the meter signs in the edition are original, but there are no incipits, and advice on this matter in the critical notes is vague. This is virtually my only substantive criticism of the entire edition.

6.2 It is, in fact, a fine edition in every respect. The composers represented are not of the first rank, but the music is well composed, varied, and worthy of performance. Leonard has done an outstanding job, and A-R continues to set high standards for scholarly editions of music.

References

* Stewart Carter (carter@wfu.edu) is Editor of the Historic Brass Society Journal and General Editor of Bucina: The Historic Brass Society Series. He also edited A Performer’s Guide to Seventeenth-Century Music published by Schirmer Books. He recently received the American Musical Instrument Society’s Frances Densmore Prize for his article “The Gütter Family: Musical Instrument Makers and Dealers to the Moravian Brethren in America,” Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society 27 (2001). Carter is Professor of Music at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

1 Michael Praetorius, Syntagmatis musici tomus secundus: De organographia, 2nd ed. (Wolfenbüttel: E. Holwein, 1619), 32.

2 See David Guion, The Trombone: Its History and Music, 1697–1811 (New York: Gordon and Breach, 1988), 48, 55, 151–2.

3 There is one tiny error in Table 4: the highest note for the tenor should be listed as c'', not c'.

 


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