Glittering Gems from Germany: Tempesta sings cantatas by Bach, Praetorius & Rosenmüller

by Anne Hunter

Pretty rocks and German baroque vocal music:  separated at birth?  You’d be surprised.  Jewels and music led parallel histories in the 17th and 18th centuries.  New ideas infused both with new life.  And the results were spectacular.

“Brilliant cut” stones—like the ones we love today—date from the 17th century, when gemcutters in India learned how to cut them in increasingly intricate facets. The new technology spread to Venice and then from Italy all through Europe.  Seeing one of these new gems must have been like seeing cold, hard stone burst into flame.TDM stones

Music burst into flame at the same time. Exciting Italian opera spread across Europe. German musicians and singers couldn’t get enough and the old Lutheran chorales were never the same again.

In its upcoming program, Tempesta Sings Bach, Praetorius and Rosenmüller, Tempesta di Mare salutes life’s milestones—weddings, birthdays, death and birth—with gorgeous, glittering German baroque songs.  And every one’s a gem.

Ruby, lucky charm: Michael Praetorius’ New Year’s cantatas Help me praise God’s goodness and The old year has passed (1619). Praetorius, born in 1571, was a north German who worked in the old styles early on. In mid-life, though, he caught the Italian bug and wrote new-style, flamboyant showcases for singers and instruments like these. The old songs are new again.

Emerald, the lovers’ stone: Johann Rosenmüller, You’ll thrive, worthy couple (1645), a festive wedding cantata.  Rosenmüller wrote it in Leipzig, but soon left to spend many years in Venice.  Its stylish writing shows that Leipzig was able to keep musicalive during the horrible deprivations of the Thirty Years War.  Emeralds mean rebirth, too.

Diamonds are forever.  The French in particular loved them.  Cardinal Mazarin, Louis XIV’s Chief Minister, bought so many that rose-facetted diamonds became known as “Mazarin cut.” Bach’s Most Serene Leopold! (1717), a birthday cantata written for the fashionable court of Prince Leopold von Anhalt-Cöthen, has Italian moments like a stunning coloratura soprano aria. But its finale is a pair of minuets as sparkling as a French coquette’s eyes.  And her diamonds.

Sapphire, blue as heaven. Bach’s cantata Come, sweet hour of death is one of those achingly beautiful Bach works that actually seem to get you there.  Tolling bells and all, it reflects on life’s end with a combination of bitter with sweet against the background of clear skies and limitless horizons.

Precious stones are most beautiful when they’re worn.   Music needs its listeners, too.  But the gems in Tempesta Sings… aren’t often heard.  Even the Bach Come, sweet hour of death is more often performed in another, bigger version.  This is the first U. S. performance ever of the Rosenmüller You’ll thrive, worthy couple, lost for centuries until rediscovery in the 1990’s.  May it and all this lovely music go forth to abundant new life.

Anne Schuster Hunter, writer and art historian, teaches creative writing at Temple University Center City

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