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Forgotten Composers Brought to Life in Magnificat's Concerts

October 19th, 2007

Magnificat’s first concerts feature music by composers that are obscure even by Magnificat standards. The four composers whose polyphonic works are featured on the program are hardly household names, but each was a significant composer during his lifetime. The compositions on the Magnificat program demonstrate that the high regard of their contemporaries was well deserved.

Pierre Bonhomme (Latinized Bonomius) was a Flemish composer who lived most of his life in Liège. In addition to several published volumes, his works appear in many manuscripts and his elegant contrapuntal writing seems to have been much admired. The Motet In nomine Jesu appears in a collection published in Frankfurt in 1603 and was dedicated to Ferdinand of Bavaria. Bonhomme’s style most closely resembles the Roman compostions of Soriano and the Nanino brothers, whom he may have encountered during the time he spent in Rome in the early 1590s.

Jakob Handl, who often used the Latinized version of his name, Jacobus Gallus, on publications was born as Jakob Petelin in 1550 in Reifnitz, Carniola (now Ribnica), Slovenia. He left Slovenia in his youth, was probably educated in a Cistercian monastery, and travelled widely across Central Europe. He was a member of the Viennese court chapel in 1574, and was choirmaster (Kapellmeister) to the bishop of Olomouc, Moravia between 1579 (or 1580) and 1585. From 1585 to his death in 1591 he worked in Prague as organist to the church sv. Jan na Zábradlí.

His most notable work is the six part Opus musicum, 1577, a collection of motets from which the motet Magnificat will be performing was drawn. An excellent article about Handl (Gallus) is available online at Goldberg Magazine.

From that article:

That the music of Gallus immediately met with very great success is attested by the number of mentions of his work throughout the 17th century. Publications in anthologies, manuscript dissemination of the work, references to the composer in treatises on composition: it seems that in Bohemia, but above all in Saxony and Silesia, for nearly half a century Gallus’s compositions continued to be sung. One has only to glance through the anthologies of Bodenschatz, Schade, Calvisius, Grimm or Praetorius to be convinced of it. Gallus was one of the virtually obligatory references in places in Central and North Germany where there was an attempt to define the conditions of a “well composed” piece of music, that is to say conforming to the rules of counterpoint while being expressive as to the perception of the text’s meaning. The evidence of the manuscripts is no less eloquent: numerous motets and unpublished Masses were copied and preserved in Wroclaw, Legnica, Zwickau or Görlitz, which indicates the importance of this region of Europe for the diffusion of Gallus’s work. Some few works then cross into the 1650s, seeming no longer to quit the polyphonic repertoire, and among these is the motet for Good Friday, Ecce quomodo moritur justus, of which more than fifteen or so sources have been preserved. At the end of the 17th century Gallus is still mentioned by the French composer and theoretician Sébastien de Brossard, whose immense collection of musical manuscripts and prints was to form the core of King Louis XIV’s musical library: in the margin of his catalogue Brossard notes, in reference to the Moralia, that the music of it is “among the most excellent of that time”… After a relative eclipse in the 18th century (except for some manuscripts of the motet Ecce quomodo still being re-copied), Gallus’s compositions returned in force in the following century, where they followed the renewal of interest in the old polyphonists caused by the various musical societies in Europe in favour of religious music for unaccompanied choir.

Arnold Grothusius (sometimes written Gothausen, or Gorothusio) was the cantor of Helmstedt. The Missa Deus misereatur nostri that Magnificat will perform was published in Helmstedt in 1588. It is a parody mass based on a Lasso motet and was falsely attributed to Lasso in several publications. It is included (with attribution to Grothusius) in the new Lasso complete works collection.

Hieronymus Praetorius spent almost his entire life in his native Hamburg. He studied organ with his father, Jacob Praetorius, also a composer), and later studied in Hamburg with Hinrich thor Molen and in Köln with Albinus Walran. His first position was as organist at Erfurt from 1580 to 1582, when he returned to Hamburg as assistant organist to his father at the Jacobikirche (with the chapel of St Gertrud); on his father’s death in 1586 he became first organist, and he held this post until his death. In 1596 he took part in an organ examination in Gröningen where he met Michael Praetorius and Hans Leo Hassler. It was most likely his only contact with composers of polychoral works and it may have been through them that he became acquainted with the music of the contemporary Italian Venetian School. The two works by Praetorius on Magnificat’s program reflect the Italian polychoral style.

There is a good article about Praetorius online here.

Praetorius was the name of a distinguished family, or possibly two families, of musicians in Germany in the 16th and 17th centuries. In Germany in the early modern period it became a fashion that educated people called “Schulze” or “Schultheiß”, which means “Mayor”, put their name into the Latin language = “Praetorius”. The Latin word “Praetor” means “going ahead”. It was a title of high officials (Praetor urbanus).

* Anton Praetorius (1560–1613), protestant pastor, fighter against the persecution of witches and against torture.
* Bartholomaeus Praetorius (c.1590;–3 August 1623), composer and cornettist.
* Michael Praetorius (c.1571–1621), composer, music theorist, and organist, was the most famous member of the family.
* Hieronymus Praetorius (1560–1629), composer and organist. He was not related to Michael.
* Jacob Praetorius (c.1530–1586), composer and organist, was the father of Hieronymus.
* Jacob Praetorius (1586–1651), composer, organist and teacher, was the son of Hieronymus.
* Christoph Praetorius (died 1609), composer, was the uncle of Michael.
* Franz Praetorius (1847-1927), semitist and hebraist.

[Thanks to Wikipedia for the information about the Praetorius family.]

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