Joachim Neander (1650-1680)
Psalter und Harffe wach’t auff
rec. 2022, St. Nikolai-Kirche, Bremen-Mahndorf, Germany
texts included, no translations
Cantate C58056 
Some music is never performed in concerts and hardly ever recorded on disc. That goes for traditional music of the past, which was seldom written down and changed with time. In some cases such music was published in a certain stage of its history, and this way gives us some idea how it was sung and played in, for instance, the early 18th century. Another category which is poorly represented on disc consists of the hymns and sacred songs that were part of everyday life of the faithful. Especially after the Reformation, when the common people were stimulated to sing sacred songs in the vernacular, many books of hymns and songs were published across Europe. Only a few specialists are aware of such collections, and some of them have been published. On the internet one can find a large collection here: https://hymnary.org.
One of the hymnbooks on that site is the one to which the disc under review is devoted. It was published in 1680 by Joachim Neander under the title Glaub- und Liebesübung: aufgemuntert durch einfältige Bundeslieder und Danck-Psalmen: neugesetzt nach bekant- und unbekandte Sang Weisen: … zu lesen und zu singen auff Reissen, zu Hauss oder bey Christen-Ergetzungen im Grünen. In English: “Exercise in faith and love, brightened up by simple covenant-songs and psalms of thanksgiving, set anew after known and unknown melodies (…) to be read and sung during travels, at home or during Christian’s entertainment outdoors”. This was a typical product of a protestant movement in Germany, known as Pietism.
Joachim Neander was born in Bremen, where he studied theology and was strongly influenced by the local preacher, Theodor Undereyck, a pioneer of Pietism. In 1661 he had led the first Pietist conventicles in Germany. For a few years Neander studied in Heidelberg and then moved to Frankfurt, where he met Philipp Jakob Spener, one of the main representatives of Pietism. This moved him further into the direction of this spiritual movement, which put piety and prayer into the centre of religious practice. He became headmaster of a calvinist school in Düsseldorf, where he got into difficulties due to his support for Pietist conventicles. He was forbidden to preach and then dismissed. He moved back to Bremen, where he became morning preacher in 1679. The next year he died.
The Glaub- und Liebesübung comprises 58 songs; most are arrangements of existing melodies, whereas 17 were marked with “own melody”. This book, whose first print of 1680 has been lost, but has come down to us in its second edition of 1683 and several later editions, was very successful and influential. A number of songs have entered the main hymnbooks across the world. The most famous of them is the last item on this disc: Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehre – Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation. Some of his texts have become known with a different melody than he gave them. An example is the opening item, Himmel, Erde, Lufft und Meer. Neander took the melody from the psalter of the German humanist Ambrosius Lobwasser (1515-1585), but today it is known with the melody of Georg Christoph Strattner who published Neander’s songs in his own arrangements and added a few which he claimed to be by Neander as well (1691, 5th edition). For Der Tag ist hin Neander took the melody of Psalm 8 from the psalter of Lobwasser; nowadays it is mostly sung on the melody of the same psalm in the Genevan Psalter.
The content of the songs varies from those which glorify God’s majesty in Nature to songs of penitence. They have a very personal touch, which is in line with the Pietistic ideals. The way Neander has set his texts fits their content: they are for solo voice and basso continuo. Although a number of songs were included into hymnbooks in the early 18th century, which is a token of the growth of Pietism in Lutheran Germany, they were not intended for congregational singing, but rather as expressions of a personal faith. They may also have been sung by the conventicles, where Pietists gathered together instead of the regular services in church.
The performances fit the character of these songs. It seems right that the basso continuo part is performed by a lute rather than a harpsichord or organ, as this emphasizes their intimate nature. The singers are also right in their modesty in the ornamentation department; only now and then a small ornament is added. Unfortunately the scores are not available on-line, and therefore I can’t check whether all the songs are for just one voice. A number of them in this programme are performed by both singers, who sing different melodies. Is the second melody of the performers’ own making? This issue is not discussed in the liner-notes, which are very concise anyway. In particular non-German listeners may need a little more information about these songs. The site mentioned above has more to offer. It is also a shame that the booklet omits English translations of the songs. Some songs comprise quite a number of stanzas, and in several cases only a selection is performed. It is nice that all the stanzas are printed in the booklet, with the number of those that have been omitted between brackets.
I have nothing but praise for the way the three members of the ensemble perform these songs. Hanna Thyssen (soprano) and Clemens Löschmann (tenor) have fine voices, and thanks to their excellent diction, every word is clearly intelligible. Susanne Peuker is a sensitive player of the lute, who also performs some of the songs in lute transcriptions.
This is not a disc for everyone. One needs to be open to music that is in no way comparable with the ‘art music’ of the late 17th century, written in Lutheran Germany, such as cantatas and sacred concertos. However, those who have a special interest in sacred music in the widest sense, including hymns and sacred songs, should investigate this disc. It opens a window to a part of 17th-century religious and musical culture that is little-known. It also helps to understand the nature of German Pietism, which was an important movement in the time of Bach.
On a technical note: in the booklet the lyrics of tracks 12 and 18 have been swapped.
Johan van Veen
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Himmel, Erde, Luft und Meer
O Sünder! denke wol1
Ehre sey jetzo mit Freuden gesungen
Herr, hilf mir!
Ich schäme mich für einem Thron
O Allerhöchster Menschen-Hüter!*
Wo soll ich hin?
Sieh, ich bin ich, Ehren-König
Ach wachet! Wachet auff!
Ob ich schon war in Sünden todt
O Du toll und thöricht Volck*
O starcker Zebaoth
O starcker Gott
Weg mit allem, was da scheinet
Wie fleugt dahin der Menschen Zeit!
Unser Herrscher, unser König
Gott der ist meyn Heil und Krohne
Der Tag ist hin
Lobe den Herren
(* lute intabulation)