With the participation of: L'Armonia Sonora
Whether one uses the slightly anachronistic term »cantata«, or the more appropriate geistliches Konzert (»sacred concert«) to describe the form of sacred vocal music created during the course of the 17th century in the northern German lands, one is struck, above all, on listening to this music, by the depth of feeling — a blend of humility, pain and anguish — on the one hand, and by the power of the musical composition itself on the other. The Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) was the stage for bloody clashes, joined in the name of religion, attended by their cortege of atrocities, famines and epidemics, resulting not only in destruction, but also, above all, a deep demoralisation. What faith could reside in Man, when his spirit could only hope to find rest in the afterlife? It was a period for reflection on the misery of the human condition, on the precariousness of life, on the futility of engagement, somewhere between culpability and mortification, lucidity and cynicism, doubt and despair.
The 17th century in Germany witnessed a power struggle between the solidly anchored traditions and a renewing musical trend, and over the course of a few decades the forces of innovation would move from a marginal position to one of dominance.
Religious musical practice consisted largely of plainchant melodies, supplemented by the polyphonic repertoire from the beginning of the century, or even of the previous one. The stile antico was considered more suitable for devotional and reflective purposes. A certain hostility towards the new Italian style, generally considered to be artificial and contrived, was expressed most clearly by the Pietists, led by Johann Arndt. This group — flowing from their conviction that the scriptures and their theological commentary were at first sight impenetrable to the laity, and so were failing to fulfil their pastoral task - insisted on the need for better guidance in bible-reading, encouraged group discussion and individual study of specialist literature, and demanded simplification of the texts and their musical setting. They took issue with the inadequacy, in their ears, of Italian music, comprised as it was of »animal noises«, and recommended rather the use of polyphonic music in the sacred sphere to promote reflection and devotion. Flowing logically from their principles, they also promoted a new form of »spiritual song«, ironically inspired by the Italian strophic aria — the only concession to the stile moderno — as a melodically simple and musically sober form in exclusive service of the comprehension of the text.
Opposed to the Pietists in the debate about the role music was to be afforded within the protestant liturgy was an orthodox current decidedly more open to new developments in music. The expressive content of the text as a whole, and its Affekt, were considered more important than its word-by-word comprehensibility. Music, as a gift of God, was the principal conduit for fitting homage to him. An increasingly important element in sacred music would be the representation of emotional drama, requiring a compositional method unashamedly elaborate, even virtuosic, one reinforcing further the role of instruments — and gratifying an existing predilection in Germany for instrumental music.
L'ARMONIA SONORA was founded by Mieneke van der Velden several years ago in order to perform cantatas with a variety of vocal soloists. The ensemble consists entirely of musicians recognised within the early music world both in the Netherlands and internationally, and who teach at various Dutch and international conservatoria. The make-up of the ensemble often answers the performance needs of a particular cantata — or even a specific aria — and the programming possibilities thus offered make possible some very varied concerts. In this way, the group can consist of a continuo group only, or be extended by the addition of strings and winds. L'Armonia Sonora works with many well-known soloists, such as bass Peter Kooij and counter-tenor Derek-Lee Ragin. The ensemble will work with the English counter-tenor Robin Blaze in future programmes.
François Fernandez, Sayuri Yamagata, violin
Christine Plubeau, Ricardo Rodriguez Miranda, viola da gamba
Peter Rikkers, violone
Leo van Doeselaar, organ
PETER KOOIJ began singing when he was six, as a member of his father's choir, and made many recordings, as well as radio and TV appearances, as a boy soprano. After studying both violin and voice at the Utrecht Conservatorium, he received the singing diploma from the Sweelinck Conservatorium in Amsterdam, studying with Max van Egmond. His concert tours have taken him to the most important music establishments in the world, including the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Musikverein in Vienna, New York's Carnegie Hall, the Royal Albert Hall in London, the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, the Berlin Philharmonie, the Cologne Philharmonie, the Palais Garnier in Paris, the Suntory Hall and the Casals Hall in Tokyo. He has worked, among many others, with Philippe Herreweghe, Ton Koopman, Frans Bruggen, Gustav Leonhardt, René Jacobs, Sigiswald Kuijken, Roger Norrington and Iwan Fisher, and has recorded more than a hundred CDs with Philips, Sony and Virgin Classics, Harmonia Mundi, Erato, EMI and BIS. He was engaged by BIS to record all the cantatas, passions and other important vocal works of Bach with the Bach Collegium Japan under the direction of Masaaki Suzuki. Alongside his concert appearances, Peter Kooij is artistic adviser of the Ensemble Vocal Européen. He taught at the Sweelinck Conservatorium from 1991-2000, was a teacher at the Musikhochschule in Hanover from 1995-1998, and since 2000 has been a guest teacher at Tokyo University. He has also been teaching at the Koninklijk Conservatorium in The Hague since 2005. Peter Kooij is regularly invited to give masterclasses in other countries, including Germany, Japan, Finland, France, Portugal, Belgium and Spain.
MIENEKE VAN DER VELDEN studied viola da gamba with Wieland Kuijken at the Koninklijk Conservatorium in The Hague, receiving the Performer's Diploma in 1988. Since then she has followed a varied career, and regularly gives recitals with Glen Wilson (harpsichord), and Fred Jacobs (theorbo), as well as with her ensemble L'Armonia Sonora. She has been a soloist with many leading orchestras, such as the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra (Ton Koopman), Concerto Vocale (René Jacobs), Collegium Vocale (Philippe Herreweghe), De Nederlandse Bachvereniging (Jos van Veldhoven), and Cantus Cölln (Konrad Junghänel). She has performed in the Dutch Early Music Network, Het Grachtenfestival, the Bach Festival, the Utrecht Early Music Festival and the Festival of Flanders as well as for many other concert organisations throughout Europe. She has recorded three CDs for the Dutch label Channel Classics, receiving an overwhelmingly positive reception. Mieneke van der Velden is professor of viola da gamba at the Sweelinck Conservatorium in Amsterdam.