Genevieve Soly, Les Idees Heureuses
Grapner: Die Sieben Worte Jesu am Kreuz
World Premiere Recording!
It is with great emotion and pride that Les Idées heureuses presents the recording of this cycle, composed and performed in 1743. It would seem that this music was never heard again until we performed it in March 2005 in Montreal. We hope that listeners will approach it with a sensitive ear, in the spirit of discovery. In order to enjoy it and appreciate its rightful value, we must first relinquish the expectation that we are about to hear something resembling one of Bach’s Passions.
The two Passions by the Cantor of Leipzig are dramatic retellings of the final hours of the life of Jesus, with a host of characters appearing throughout the Evangelist’s animated continuous narrative. In contrast, Graupner’s cantata cycles are a series of discrete meditations on themes evoked by the last words spoken by the crucified Christ.
The available resources and the context of performance were also vastly different. Bach was writing for the large congregation of the principal church of a major city and had at his disposal a considerable number of instrumentalists, vocal soloists and choristers. In his organ loft at the chapel of the castle of Darmstadt, Graupner would gather approximately twenty instrumentalists and a few singers who were often the soloists. The modestly sized chapel held an audience of about 130 people.
It must be emphasized that the musical universes of these two masters were quite distinct. Even though Graupner (1683 – 1760) and Bach (1685 – 1750) were contemporaries, they were very different composers. Graupner was well known in his day as a highly skilled contrapuntalist, but the cantatas which we will hear do not make use of this technique, whereas many movements of Bach’s cantatas are contrapuntal. Bach marks the culmination of the baroque style, while Graupner is already engaged, at 60 years of age, on the path which leads to Empfindsamkeit, the “sensitive style” of the late 18th century.
So we must not expect monumental architectural structures, but rather lend an ear to an extremely original, spontaneous and subtle language, where art conceals art, which can touch us even more deeply because it seems to renounce science and artifice in order to do so.
The Cantata in Graupner’s Works
Christoph Graupner’s church music, which represents nearly three quarters of his total output, is a monumental corpus of 1418 cantatas. The autograph manuscripts, which fortunately survived bombing in 1944, are still today preserved at the castle of Darmstadt in the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Darmstadt (university and regional library). Among these cantatas, there are two cycles for Passiontide: the 1741 cycle of ten cantatas, and the cycle recorded here, dating from 1743, of seven cantatas based on the Seven Last Words of Christ.
Graupner’s cantatas are in a form prevalent in the 18th century, a form which we know from the cantatas of Bach, from which they differ, however, as they very rarely include choral movements. This form, which had evolved over time, combines various elements from earlier periods. The musical setting of biblical verses, or dictum, has its origins in the Middle Ages. The orders of service which were developed by Luther give pride of place to the chorale, a hymn whose words and music were familiar to the assembled worshippers. Luther believed that “He who sings, prays twice.” At the beginning of the 18th century, the poet Erdmann Neumeister created sacred cantata texts inspired by opera and secular cantatas, in which there is an alternation of recitatives and arias. The recitative narrates and comments on the events, whereas the aria conveys a state of the soul or a conflict of the affects. These various elements – dictum, aria, recitative, and chorale are all combined in a prescribed order in the cantatas on the Seven Last Words of Christ.