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ClassicsOnline Home » FASCH: Passio Jesu Christi / Suite in D Minor
Bach's predecessor at the Leipzig Thomasschule, and a prolific composer with a contemporary reputation throughout Germany, Johann Friedrich Fasch composed works for the Lutheran church service as well as secular instrumental works, including overtures (suites), symphonies, partitas and a large amount of varied chamber music. His Passio Jesu Christi is a setting of the so-called Brockes Passion, known for its overt sentimentality and theatricality, which was also set by Handel and by Telemann, among others.
By John Terauds
By David Denton
At the risk of being branded a musical heretic, the more I hear of Johann Friedrich Fasch, the more I prefer him to Johann Sebastian Bach, the two composers almost exactly contemporary to each other. Though his early years were difficult following his father’s death at the age of 12, he showed such promise as a composer after his studies with Kuhnau, he was encouraged to travel to experience at first hand the music throughout Germany. Positions as a provincial Kappelmeister was followed by major offers including the position at Leipzig’s Thomaskirche, but preferred the financial situation in Zerbst where he had a freedom of opportunities to compose and many fine musicians to work with. He arrived there in 1721, after a brief period in Prague, and was to spend the remainder of his life happily working there. He did, however, have a brief sabbatical in Dresden where he realised there was very differing standards of musicianship existing in the city. The Overture in D which opens this disc was probably as a result of that experience, and may well have been a commission from the court in Dresden. In six movements it is, to all intents, an early symphony, and while at times the music has a folk-like simplicity, it is an extremely likeable piece, with a wonderful virtuoso moment for bassoon. It is here performed by the Capella Savaria Baroque Orchestra, their playing as good as any I have heard from a period instrument ensemble. The Passio Jesu Christi is largely reliant on a libretto by Barthold Brockes based on text from St. John, several other composers including Handel and Telemann also using the words. Fasch did tamper with them to fit his purpose, and supplied a score rich with melodic invention. It has been handed down in two differing orchestrations, and it may well be that neither is by Fasch. So a few more changes made for this recording cannot be frowned upon. It was said by Fasch that he premiered it in his first year in charge at Zerbst, though there is speculation that it was composed much earlier. In style and content it comes much closer to Handel than Bach, the composer always crediting Telemann as his musical inspiration. Maria Zadori is rather stretched at the top end of her soprano arias, but I am much taken by the gentle lyricism of the Hungarian tenor, Zoltan Megyesi, with Peter Cser a warm voiced Jesus. Enthusiastic participation from the Schola Cantorum Budapestiensis, the orchestra performing its undemanding role in good style. The Hungarian-born conductor, Mary Terey-Smith, now better known in her adopted Canada, is our unhurried guide through the music, Naxos’s Hungarian recording team providing their usual high class sound.
Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758)
Ouverture in D minor • Passio Jesu Christi
Son of a pastor, Johann Friedrich Fasch had his earliest musical training as a choirboy in Suhl. Following his father's death, at the age of twelve he was sent to Leipzig to train under Kuhnau in the Thomaskirche, where he showed early promise as a composer, freely admitting in his autobiography the influence of Telemann. In 1708, while starting his studies at the University of Leipzig, Fasch founded a collegium musicum that gave regular concerts, providing a platform for his own compositions. The group was so successful that it is Fasch's, and not Telemann's society, that is now considered the ancestor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra.
In 1712 Fasch undertook an extended study tour, visiting several musically active courts in North and Central Germany, and eventually spending over three months with the Kapellmeister Graupner at Darmstadt. His first musical position was as organist in Greiz, where he acted also as director of church music performance. In 1721 he accepted the post of Kapellmeister in the court of Count Wenzel Morzin in Prague, a position he gave up reluctantly after only six months, when he was asked to take over in a similar capacity at Zerbst. Barely had he settled there when he was approached by the Leipzig authorities to apply for the vacancy left by the death of Kuhnau. Though he was short-listed for one of the most prestigious cantorships in Germany, he declined the offer in view of the generous position he now enjoyed in Zerbst and of the fact that he could not teach Latin.
Fasch arrived in Zerbst at a time of great musical growth in musical life at the court. Under his direction he was able to enlarge the Kapelle and oversee the rich provision of music in the court chapel where there were annual cycles of cantatas on Saturdays and Sundays, celebratory music for court events as well as much music for the entertainment in the palace. A prolific composer, widely respected in Germany, he composed works for the Lutheran church service and secular instrumental works, including ouvertures (suites), symphonies, partitas and a large amount of varied chamber music. In 1727 he embarked on a long journey to Dresden where, inspired by the high standard of music there, he composed several instrumental works, and established a friendly relationship with a number of composers in the court, Pisendel and Heinichen among them. Upon returning, he continued his work at Zerbst, where he stayed until the end of his life but maintained contact with several major composers through an exchange of sacred and secular music, a custom well established at the time in Germany.
Ouverture (Suite) in D minor
The ouverture-suites represent a major element among the instrumental works of Fasch. It is generally agreed by scholars that he composed suites throughout his life, but dating them is difficult. The title of the form indicates a suite with an opening ouverture, usually followed by five movements containing airs and dance pieces. Based on stylistic and formal elements, the Ouverture in D minor comes from the composer's mature period and could have been commissioned by the court in Dresden. The six-movement work, scored for two oboes, bassoon, strings and continuo, opens with a traditional three-section French ouverture, followed by a series of dance movements and arias. Lyrical melodic writing with simple chordal accompaniment dominates the two arias, the second and fifth movements, while the two dances, the third and fourth movements, have an almost folk-like simplicity. In the fifth movement Fasch uses orchestral subdivisions between the unison string group and the woodwind. Aria: Un poco Allegro, the sixth movement, a Rondo finale, presents a strongly rhythmic theme for the whole orchestra that is juxtaposed with virtuosic solo violin passages supported with light string accompaniment; the violin solo sections are periodically interrupted by solo woodwind themes. The Italian-style melodic writing and transparent orchestration creates an overall texture akin to the early pre-classical idiom.
Passio Jesu Christi
(Mich von Stricke meiner Sünden)
It has long been thought that the Passion oratorio Passio Jesu Christi was composed in 1723, largely based upon a report in the composer's autobiography that he wrote a "strong" Passion in his first year as Kapellmeister in Zerbst. Recent research, however, points to an earlier composition date, most likely in the period 1717-1719, when Fasch was in charge of the music at a local church in Greiz. There is a clear distinction between oratorio Passions, where the text of one of the Gospels is set to music and interspersed with chorales and arias that act as commentaries on the events of the story, and Passion oratorios where the entire text has been written by a poet, often paraphrasing the Gospel text, where no one Gospel gives a full account of the story or of Christ's last words. While the former became a staple diet of Passiontide services in the Lutheran Church, the latter met with great resistance from church authorities owing to the overt theatricality and sentimentality of the text. Although this work may be described as a St John Passion, in fact Mich von Stricke meiner Sünden falls into the latter genre, since none of St John's text is used verbatim in the libretto. The text is a substantially shortened version of the famous libretto "Der für die Sünde der Welt gemarterte und sterbende Jesus" ("Jesus Tortured and Dying for the Sins of the World") by Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680-1747) with some alterations and additions written probably by the composer himself. Brockes, a well respected German poet, heard a performance based on St John's Gospel in 1704 that inspired him to create his own version. Set to music by Keiser, the work was presented in 1712 at the poet's house and received enthusiastically. Several major composers followed in setting the text to music, with Handel, Telemann and Mattheson among the best known. Some parts of the libretto were also used by J. S. Bach in his St John Passion.
Fasch's Mich von Stricke comes down to us in two differing manuscript copies, one in the Leipzig Städtische Bibliothek, the other at the University of Chicago Library. It would appear that the more complete and more richly orchestrated Leipzig score is the later version. The provenance of the extant scores suggests that these manuscripts were prepared by, or for, contemporary musicians, possibly after the death of the composer. Thus it seems probable that neither source represents the definite version created by Fasch.
Beyond considerably shortening Brockes' poem, Fasch also made changes to several recitatives and added five chorales and two arias to the text that are missing in Brockes' libretto. An appendix to the Leipzig score indicates that Part I should end with a chorale, 'Herr, laß dein bitter Leiden', and another chorale, 'Ein Lämmlein geht', should open the second part. These changes give the work a more conventional and cohesive structure in accordance with the eighteenth-century German liturgical Passion tradition, where each part is framed by chorales.
The performing edition for the present recording is based upon the Leipzig manuscript to which some minor modifications have been made. Following contemporary practice, a bassoon has been added in movements where there are two oboes; a flute replaces the obligato oboe in 'Brich, mein Herz'in order to balance with the pizzicato strings; the chorale 'Herr, laß dein bitter Leiden'is accompanied only by the organ, and the second verse of the final chorale, 'Ich danke dir von Herzen'is sung by a solo quartet with organ accompaniment to vary the timbre.
Sung texts and translations can be accessed at www.naxos.com/libretti/570326.htm
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FASCH: Passio Jesu Christi / Suite in D Minor