Friday, April 01, 2005

Churchy LaFemme

No. 4 Johannes Crüger: "Herzliebster Jesu," a chorale

Entry No. 4 in "Mostly Short Pieces" is the sort of thing you'd presumably see if you opened a Lutheran hymnbook at random in 1645 or so. DeVoto - probably conscious that this might seem a bit dull - has therefore included the piece in facsimile, with rough-looking oversize notes and weird stem-lengths and all the other endearingly archaic bits. Actually, this makes it really easy to read, almost better than contemporary notation proportions (presumably eyeglasses hadn't quite attained their present state of perfection...imagine an aged German in his go-to-meeting doublet, squinting at it in a dim church).

DeVoto spends about a paragraph sketching the chorale's history- the melody derives (was cribbed from?) an earlier publication by Schein, which might derive from 'even earlier sources.' I think this is the genteel way of saying that most Lutheran chorales were based on well-worn secular and religious melodies whose roots extend into prehistory. So - who knows? - maybe this was a good German drinking song in 1500 before they churched it up.

Crüger, incidentally, doesn't make it into all the music books. Apparently he was a cantor at a big Lutheran church for a long, long time and published collections of chorales and some 'theoretical works,' which - let's face it - nobody will ever read again except to earn a doctorate. It's too bad there weren't more Crügers interested in the non-churchy music, since the liturgical side seems abundantly documented.

There's not too much to say about this chorale. It's pretty. It starts off with the soprano and alto pretty low, the sound is dark and velvety before blooming into a (slightly) higher register. (Why is music always 'blooming'? We need to canonize some other cliches.) It never goes too high, really, although it asks for a bottom-scraping bass C half way through. It's in F minor, although much of the time it may as well be in A-flat major (it only explictly tonicizes A-flat major in bars 5 and 6, with a thorough I vi ii7 V7 I). Actually, I'm pretty wary of calling even this a 'tonicization', since the minor mode always - to me, at least - seems very mixed up with its relative major. There are some things that roman numeral analysis just isn't good at pointing out, and that's one of them.

I'm not sure exactly how this chorale was used in services, but there's a nice little quasi-coda at the end in little tiny cue notes, presumably just for the organist or maybe the soloists. It adds a little closing cadence, very pretty and sad. I guess that might be the delicate way of letting the congregation or choristers that it's okay to sit down again.

Next post: Trumpet tunes! Played on harpsichords!


Post a Comment

<< Home