Collection of Sixteen Motets on Psalm 116

Author: 
Nicholas Anderson

Collection of Sixteen Motets on Psalm 116

  • Das ist mir Lieb (Psalm 116)
  • Psalm 116
  • Psalm 116
  • Psalm 116
  • Psalm 116
  • Psalm 116
  • Psalm 116
  • Psalm 116
  • Psalm 116
  • Psalm 116
  • Psalm 116
  • Psalm 116
  • Psalm 116
  • Psalm 116
  • Psalm 116
  • Psalm 116

In 1616 a Saxon courtier and councillor in Jena, Burkhard Grossmann, sustained an accident from which he made what he considered a miraculous recovery. As a mark of gratitude to his Maker, this wealthy and devout Lutheran commissioned settings from 16 Saxon composers of Psalm 116: “I am well pleased: that the Lord hath heard the voice of my prayer”. The German text was, of course, according to the Lutheran Bible rather than the English one I’ve just quoted. The collection of 16 settings was eventually published in five volumes in 1623 under the title Angst der Hellen und Friede der Seelen (“Fear of Hell and Peace of the Soul”). In his informative note Christoph Wolff tells us how, following the bombing of Berlin in 1943, the original 1616 copy of Angst der Hellen was presumed missing, and that only in the late 1970s, when the contents of the Prussian State Library in Berlin came to light in Cracow, did it turn up once more. Until then, the Grossmann collection in its entirety had never been researched or edited. Much more recently a complete critical edition of all 16 psalm settings has been published and it is this which has been used for CPO’s three-disc survey.
The great names featured in the Angst der Hellen include those of Schutz, Praetorius, Demantius and Schein. Their contributions are, by and large, the most impressive, though there is, in fact, little here that fails to engage the attention. Some other names, like Andreas Finold, Abraham Gensreff and Johann Groh, may well be unfamiliar to Gramophone readers, as indeed they were to me. But there are some pleasing tangents which bring many of these names together, drawing them into some kind of homogeneous group. Four of the composers, for example, belong to the same family, the Michaels, while others like Demantius, Groh, Gensreff and Schein, together with Grossmann himself, sang together in the Elector of Saxony’s choir at Torgau under Rogier Michael, the court Kapellmeister.
In short, this is just the kind of thing that lends itself to CD format. Three hours of motet settings on a single psalm text is probably no prescription for a lively concert programme, but judiciously dipped into, as is possible here, the experience is both informative and sometimes musically satisfying. The performances are generally stylish, if at times lacking in finesse, but the recorded sound is indifferent, serving the best interests of neither voices nor instruments. Another fascinating release from an adventurous company. Well worth investigating.'

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