Powerful voices full of emotion and moving intensity — that’s what comes to mind when we think of gospel music. And “Amazing Grace” is certainly one of the first songs we think of. It’s a song that spread beyond Christian churches to become famous as a protest song against slavery and as a hymn sung by human rights activists. “I once was lost, but now am found.” With the Christian idea of redemption, the song expresses a confident belief in liberation, the central theme of gospel music. But paradoxically, this song, which many people regard as the quintessence of American gospel music, was actually written by the former captain of a slave ship, John Newton. When he escaped from a storm at sea in 1748, he saw his salvation as divine providence and fundamentally transformed his life in the following years, after a while giving up his trade completely, becoming a clergyman, and even campaigning against slavery. His song, “Amazing Grace,” became extremely successful and was later adopted by the African-American spiritual and gospel community, performed by such artists as Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin and the Harlem Gospel Choir.
Beethoven is not primarily thought of as a vocal composer, but why not? The choral collection compiled by Jan Schumacher, which contains both well-known and unknown choral works by Beethoven and original transcriptions of Beethoven’s works by other composers, reveals a great deal of extremely attractive repertoire.
The widely-held prejudice that “he could not write for voice” sticks to few composers as much as it does to Ludwig van Beethoven. This may be due to the fact that his place in music history is primarily as a revolutionary symphonist and creator of incomparable chamber music like the string quartets and piano sonatas. To take this to mean that he had no understanding of the human voice or did not know how to write for chorus, however, is to draw the wrong conclusion. Beethoven, like nearly every other composer of his age and indeed until the first half of the 20th century (with a few notable exceptions such as Chopin and Paganini), was equally used to composing for voice and instruments.
Guest post by Gabriella Biagi Ravenni with translation by Charles Johnston
It was not long ago that Puccini’s preoccupation with the organ was only the subject of anecdotes. When some of his compositions — believed to be lost — recently emerged, an exciting research adventure started and resulted in unexpected discoveries.
It has always been well known that Giacomo Puccini had been an organist in his youth. Indeed, accounts of his playing of a number of organs in his home town are spiced up in the early biographies by anecdotal details — the money he earned, then removed from the envelopes intended for his mother Albina, the theft of the pipes from organs in order to buy cigarettes: details ideally suited to constructing the image of a ‘disorderly,’ bohemian artist. It was also known that he had written organ music, thanks to a 1927 article by Alfredo Bonaccorsi, who had been able to view in Porcari (a town not far from Puccini’s native city of Lucca) the autograph sources owned by Carlo Della Nina, grandson of the Carlo Della Nina to whom Puccini had originally given the autographs. Then the sources migrated across the Atlantic with their owner and, more than a half century later, were sold by auction at Sotheby’s, leaving a less than exhaustive trace in the catalog. On the whole, there was all too little to go on.
Then an exciting adventure — to put it mildly — began for the Centro Studi Giacomo Puccini almost by chance: the son of the younger Carlo Della Nina, Carl, was traced to Chicago, and he providentially found among his father’s papers photocopies of the sources seen by Bonaccorsi. more “Unknown Puccini: Newly-Discovered Organ Works”…
The problems posed for anyone who wants to publish a performable version of the C Minor Mass are not new. Various solutions have been adopted, some more successful and some less. Nevertheless, we have taken up this composition once again, viewing it from the perspectives of both practicing musicians and scholars, out of a certain dissatisfaction with previous attempts and the conviction that many of the attempted solutions no longer correspond with current practice. In our edition we have attempted to produce a performing version while maintaining the greatest respect for available material and without obscuring Mozart’s musical manuscript with our own contributions. This has turned out to be no easy task. We have spent a great deal of time pondering and discussing alongside a great deal of experimentation which has been a richly rewarding experience for us all.
Guest post by Uwe Wolf, Chief Editor of Carus-Verlag
What an amazing story! Mozart makes a vow to compose a mass after the successful birth of his first-born child. The performance is planned on the occasion of his first journey with his wife to Salzburg so he can introduce her to his family – both personally and musically, for Constanze is to sing one of the demanding soprano parts. But the baby, left behind with a wet-nurse in Vienna, then dies, and Mozart stops work on the composition – precisely at the Et incarnatus est, one of his most beautiful and heartfelt movements, dealing with the subject of the incarnation, i.e. birth. Too much of a coincidence? Probably.more “UNFINISHED: Tradition and Completion of Mozart’s C Minor Mass”…
During the Reformation Jubilee Year, Carus-Verlag Stuttgart in co-operation with the Bach-Archiv Leipzig have completed their ambitious editorial project “Bach vocal” – the Stuttgart Bach Edition now contains Johann Sebastian Bach’s complete sacred vocal oeuvre. From now on, the choral and orchestral material of all the motets, masses, passions, oratorios, as well as more than 200 cantatas by the famous kantor of St. Thomas’s Church – all at the current state of research – is available from Carus. Here, Carus has set a new standard since within the realm of sacred vocal music, many works were last edited 50 or more years ago, and most of them did not include performance material.
Conductors, singers and instrumentalists were obliged to fall back on material from the 19th century which does not do justice to present-day standards with respect to historically informed performance practice. Many of the alterations in the music text which are based on most recent findings are indeed audible; they have been recorded on CD by the leading Bach interpreters of our era, for example, Frieder Bernius, Hans-Christoph Rademann and Masaaki Suzuki.