If you like Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, and who doesn’t? Musica Antiqua Köln’s reissue of Heinichen’s contemporaneous Dresden Concerti should be in your collection.
The legendary Johann Sebastian Bach and the little known Johann David Heinichen provide an interesting contrast. The Brandenburg Concertos were dedicated to Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg, in whose household Bach was probably hoping to find work. The court at Brandenburg was a pretty cheerless place at that time under the rule of Ludwig’s uncle, the strictly Calvinist and despotic Friedrich Wilhelm 1, who was known as the Soldier King.
By contrast Saxony was ruled by the enlightened Catholic Augustus II, although the state and the people remained Lutheran in a move that renounced the established principle of ‘cuius regio, rius religio’. The electors of Saxony were great patrons of the arts, and their visionary patronage and policy of public access to artworks created the legendary Florence on the Elbe, and established Dresden as a creative centre ahead of Brandenburg’s Berlin.
As well as collecting works by Raphael, Titian and contemporary artists the electors maintained a court orchestra of fine musicians who had chamber works written for them by Albinoni, Vivaldi, Fasch and Telemann, and in 1773 Bach presented his settings of the Kyrie and Gloria from the Latin mass to Augustus in Dresden. and these eventually became the first part of the B minor Mass. To this flourishing musical centre came Johann David Heinichen. Son of an Evangelical pastor, he studied at the famous Thomas-Schule in Leipzig under Bach’s predecessor Johann Kuhnau, who I wrote about some time back, and in 1717 the Protestant Heinichen was appointed Kapellmeister in the Catholic court of Dresden.
In the twelve years before his death Heinichen composed works ranging from serenades to Catholic liturgical works for performance in Dresden. In 1992 Reinhard Goebel recorded Heinichen’s Dresden Concerti with Musica Antiqua Köln, and their evangelising performances won a number of awards, and were acclaimed for showcasing a neglected composer. Archiv has now reissued the Dresden Concerti as a mid-priced double CD. The music is inventive and intoxicating, the performances are energetic, the sound from the early instrument band captured in the studio of Deutschlandfunk in Cologne is exemplary, and the booklet includes an excellent explanatory essay by Reinhard Goebel. What an absolute tragedy that Musica Antiqua Köln was forced to disband at the end of 2006 due to a neurological disorder impeding Goebel's playing.
Although Dresden was at its zenith in the early 18th century, the city remained an important centre of Western art until the 20th century. Sadly Reinhard Goebel’s wonderfully informative essay ends with these words: ‘The recording is also dedicated to the remembrance of the much-loved Dresden of the past, 'Florence on the Elbe', the Baroque city extinguished, at least physically, on 13 February 1945.’
Now see Florence on the Elbe reborn.
Header image, Dresden 1748 by Bernardo Bellotto, and the three smaller images are slices, and in one case mirrors, of Bellotto. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included for "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk