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Hamburg Gertrudenmusik

September 13th, 2007

by Frederick K. Gable

On the weekend of October 26-28, Magnificat will open our 2007-2008 season with a recreation of the service marking the re-dedication of St. Gertrude’s Chapel in Hamburg. Professor Gable has very kindly provided these notes revised from the booklet for the CD recording “Gertrudenmusik Hamburg 1607” Intim Musik, Lerum, Sweden: IMCD 071.

On Thursday morning, April 16, 1607, many professional musicians of Hamburg participated in a festival service dedicating for the third time the newly re-furnished St. Gertrude’s Chapel. The music was so splendid that Lucas van Cöllen, the Chief Pastor of the nearby St. James’s Church (Jacobikirche), described its performance in the published version of his sermon (reproduced following this commentary). This detailed account, supplemented by information from musical, pictorial, liturgical, and theological sources, makes possible a reconstruction of the full liturgical context. The service includes impressive double-choir works by Bonhomme, Lassus and Hieronymus Praetorius, a triple-choir motet by Jacob Handl, and the magnificent German Te Deum setting for four choirs of instruments and voices also by Praetorius. A complete edition of the service, along with an extensive introduction, is available in Dedication Service for St. Gertrude’s Chapel, Hamburg, 1607, edited by Frederick K. Gable, in vol. 91 of Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era (Madison: A-R Editions, 1998).

History of the St. Gertrude’s Chapel

The Hamburg Gertrudenkapelle was built in central Hamburg between 1391 and 1399 as a sister church to the nearby Jacobikirche on cemetery land owned by the St. Gertrude’s Guild. The Gothic-style chapel was originally an eight-sided domed building, but by 1500, north and south wings and a choir area to the east had been added to the octagon, creating the Chapel’s distinctive shape. Following the Reformation, the building was closed from 1530 until 1580, when it was re-dedicated as a Protestant church. After a fire in June 1606. the Chapel was refurnished with a new pulpit, clock, seats, and organ, and dedicated the next April in the festival service described by Lucas van Cöllen.

From 1607 until the middle of the 18th century the Chapel enjoyed a lively musical life and was especially important in the history of Passion performances in Hamburg. Although its musical activities declined after 1800, the building was kept in good condition until the great Hamburg fire of 1842, when it burned on the evening of May 7. Despite repeated proposals to rebuild the Chapel, the ruins were finally cleared away and it was never rebuilt.

Sermon text

Given below is a translated transcription of the preface to the original printed sermon as given in Liselotte Krüger, Die hamburgische Musikorganisation im XVII. Jahrhundert (Straßburg, 1933; reprint Baden-Baden, 1981), pp. 263-64. The text was taken directly from the lost original print formerly in the Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg Carl von Ossietzky and includes two important additions by Johann Kortkamp (1643-1718?), organist of the Chapel from 1676 to 1718.

Dedication of the church of St. Gertrude in Hamburg. A dedication sermon given in the renovated and refurnished St. Gertrude’s Chapel by Lucas van Cöllen, Pastor of the same church. A.D.1607, year of the world 5569, 16 April. Printed by the heirs of Philipp von Ohr.

. . . Secondly, I want to recall, for the sake of those not present, how this dedication was conducted with singing and preaching, so that anyone could know, even if not present, what kind of ceremonies were used and in what a Christian manner this dedication took place, not in a popish way, with crosses, banners, incense, holy oils and the like, but with hymns, [musical] instruments, sermons and prayers, after the manner of Solomon, as in the following shall be recounted.

At at 6:30 in the morning the bells were rung for Mass. A little before 7 our school cantor began to sing the Veni sancte Spiritus in chant. After that was sung the Introit In nomine Jesu in eight parts by Bandovius [Bonhomius?]. Next followed the Missa super Deus misereatur nostri, also in eight parts, by the excellent composer Orlando [di Lasso]. Instead of the Sequence was sung Alleluia by Handl [Jacobus Gallus], composed for twelve parts, but in three choirs. The first choir was sung by the boys and musicians in the chancel, the second [was played] by cornetts and sackbuts, the third by the organ. Both these choirs were placed on special platforms, in the corners of the octagonal Chapel, because of the way it was built, so arranged and erected for the people to stand on and to hear the sermon [Kortkamp: on the newly-built rood screen]. This took place before the sermon. After the sermon O Gott wir dancken deiner Güte was begun from the Pulpit. After a short prelude played by the organist, by which the pitch was given, the whole congregation sang the chorale in unison. The other parts were played polyphonically by the organs, cornetts, and sackbuts, and so it was performed. Then the usual blessing was spoken from the pulpit. After that was sung Herr Gott dich loben wir which Hieronymus Praetorius, our church organist, has composed for sixteen parts in four choirs. The first choir was sung, the second was played by cornetts and sackbuts from a special platform, the third by string instruments and regals from another place [Kortkamp: in the Mason’s Chapel], [and] the fourth by the organ, but in such a way that the boys intoned the usual melody and the Sanctus was repeated three times. Following that was also sung the Cantate [Domino] in eight parts, by the same Hieronymus Praetorius, by the choir, organs, cornetts, and sackbuts all together. To conclude, Sei Lob und Ehr mit hohem Preis was sung by the congregation, choir, organ, and instruments. These are the ceremonies which, besides the sermon, were used for the dedication of the Chapel. I must here add and declare that, although I have many times heard music, yet I have not often heard it sound better than that which was heard then in the Chapel.

Hamburg, 7 January, 1609, Lucas van Cöllen; Pastor of St. Jacobi [St. James’s Church] in that city.

This document is the most complete description of a specific liturgical church service that has come down to us from the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The account not only names the primary musical works, but also describes some aspects of their performance: the designation of continuo accompaniment for vocal and instrumental groups, the use of specific instruments with voices, the functioning of the large organ as an independent choir, the precise placement of choirs for performing polychoral motets, and an unusual manner of performing German chorales.

Original Performers

Even though van Cöllen left the valuable written account, the music was probably assembled by Hieronymus Praetorius (1560-1629), organist of both the Jacobikirche and the St. Gertrude’s Chapel. As the chief organist of the service and Hamburg’s most famous and prolific musician, Praetorius influenced the choice of music due to his own compositions in Venetian polychoral style, including two of the most significant works in the dedication service. The second identifiable musician is the city cantor, Erasmus Sartorius (1577-1637), who led the vocal ensemble of school boys and adult male singers and probably hired the eight city instrumentalists to play the specified cornetts, sackbuts, and string instruments. On this important city and church occasion, the smaller keyboard instruments mentioned in the account were possibly played by the organists of the other three Hamburg Hauptkirchen: David Scheidemann of the Katharinenkirche, Joachim Decker of the Nicolaikirche, and Jacob Praetorius II of the Petrikirche, the oldest son of Hieronymus Praetorius and later a well-known teacher and composer.

The Reconstructed Service

Veni sancte Spiritus Franz Eler, Cantica sacra (1588), p. 146
In nomine Jesu, Bandovius Pierre Bonhomme, Melodiae sacrae (1603), No. 16
Organ prelude: Aliud Kyrie dominicale minus Visby (Petri) Tabulatur (1611)
Missa super Deus miserator nostri, Orlando Arnold Grothusius, Missa (1588)
Salutatio und Kollekte Martin Luther, Deutsche Messe (1526)
Epistel Offenbarung Johannes 21:1-5a
Orgel praeludium Lüneburger Orgeltabulatur KN 146, No. 155
Alleluia. Cantate Domino, Handel Jacob Handl, Opus Musicum II (1587), No. 34
Evangelium, Lucas 19:1-10
Intonatione, G. Gabrieli Bernhard Schmid, Tabulatur Buch (1607), No. 1
O Godt wy dancken dyner Güde, J. Decker Melodeyen Gesangbuch (1604), No. 58
Orgel Vers Celler Tabulatur (1601), No. 41
Segen Johann Bugenhagen, De Ordeninge Pomerani (1529)
Orgel praeludium Lüneburger Orgeltabulatur KN 208/1, No. 41
Here Godt wy lauen dy, Hieronymus Praetorius Cantiones variae (1618), No. 36
Vater unser Bugenhagen, De Ordeninge Pomerani (1529)
Orgel praeludium Lüneburger Orgeltabulatur KN 208/1, No. 12
Cantate Domino, Hieronymus Praetorius Magnificat octo vocum (1602), No. 4
Salutatio und Kollekte Luther, Geistliche Lieder (1529)
Benedictio Bugenhagen, De Ordeninge Pomerani (1529)
Orgel praeludium Celler Tabulatur (1601), No. 29
Sy loff unde Ehr mit hogem Prysz, J. Decker Melodeyen Gesangbuch (1604), No. 23 N. Orgel Lüneburger Orgeltabulatur KN 208/1, No. 1

Musical and liturgical effect

In looking at the service as a whole, it can be seen that the order of the major musical items adheres closely to contemporary liturgical practices, but also forms an interesting and varied artistic structure. Simple chant begins the service, followed by double-choir music primarily for voices alone, sung in the choir area of the Chapel. A first high point is reached with the Handl triple-choir motet which adds instrumental sonorities to the voices and is performed closer to the listeners under the dome of the Chapel. After the sermon, an even larger group of performers join together in the first simple chorale.

The musical climax of the service is reached with the four-choir Herr Gott dich loben wir in which the listeners are completely surrounded by the music, and “We praise you, O God” is vividly expressed in impressive and emphatic music. Instead of ending at that high level, however, the refreshing style of the Cantate Domino follows, replacing grandiose praise with light-hearted rejoicing. Furthermore, a kind of rounding effect occurs in its repetition of lines from the Handl triple-choir motet, “Cantate Domino, canticum novum,” and a stylistic climax is achieved by placing this, the most modern work, near the end. Reserved for the very end, though, is the singing of the second chorale in which everyone participates, so that the congregation members for whom the Chapel has been refurbished can offer their personal words of praise and thanks.

How fortunate we are that the detailed description by Lucas van Cöllen has come down to us, so that we too can more closely experience this music as he did, music that he said “never sounded better to him than he heard it this time in the Chapel.”

  1. Giancarlo Cagnani
    June 7th, 2010 at 02:26 | #1

    I recently had the possibility to listen on “google – video” two wonderful Chorales by Joachim Decker: “Sey Lob und Ehr” and “O Gott, wir dancken deiner güt”. Unfortunately I could not find the original text of both Chorales. I listened the Chorale “Sei Lob und Ehr dem höchsten Gut” of Cantata BWV 117 of J.S. Bach, but seemed to be different from that of J. Decker. Do you have any possibility to find the original text of the two above mentioned Chorales by J. Decker ? Thank you in advance for your help. Best regards.

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