From: Alojzy Kopoczek "Instrumenty Muzyczne Beskidu Śląskiego i Żywieckiego", 1984.

Welcome! We encourage our audience to listen with an open mind. Easily done this season, with premieres - music you have definitely never heard before - alongside works that you may already know but may sound quite "new". You can read all about why we do what we do on this website. Even by our standards, March's concerts had some novel sounds...
Many mysteries surround JS Bach's Trauermotet, O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht, (BWV 118). To date, only composition scores of both versions have been found - the first version with a watermark from 1736/37; the second, circa 1740. Both versions specify lituus I & lituus II.
The parts for litui in BWV 118 are playable on a "natural" instrument but unique in character for "brass" parts: Instead of the usual short, dramatic bursts, there are long, lyrical phrases that, when played on horns or trumpets, don't blend very well in ensemble. Trumpets and horns were also symbolic of noble celebration, battles and hunting. An allegory for mourning was of trumpets hung up on a wall- i.e.: not being played*. To play unmuted trumpets or horns at any such occasion would have been as inappropriate as singing "Pinball Wizard" at a state funeral nowadays.
Patryk Frankowski (Department of Musical Instruments, National Museum, Poznan, Poland), suggested that the appropriate instrument for the lituus parts in BWV 118 was the trombita - a traditional long, straight wooden "horn" that is still played at funerals today in Poland, CZ, Romania and Ukraine, similar to the German fränkischen Langhorn and Swedish Nevelur (the Swedes occupied Leipzig c.1630-1650). Such instruments have been played throughout Europe for a very long time (just look at the ceiling above the altar in the Martinikerk, 1480) and, like the cornetto and trombones in the 1.Fassung (1736/7), are associated with death and mourning.

      "..as inappropriate as singing "Pinball Wizard" at a state funeral..".
 


While research to find a definite answer to this musicological riddle continues, we are also working "backwards", from an idea of how it might have sounded. The instruments you hear today are "work in progress" - a new experimental design, based on measurements from examples listed above.

*With one exception, of course. Trumpets and tympani were played occasionally at important funerals but were muted - the trumpets with wooden sordini, making them very quiet and the tympani were covered with a black cloth. The Graupner cantata you heard in March features this rare effect. It would have been the only way to include natural brass between the beginning of Lent and Easter Sunday. There are no trumpet or horn parts in Bach's Passions or other Trauermusik, for instance. Yes, we did also try BWV118 with muted trumpets and they really do not blend.

Mike Diprose
March 2010

 

Programme:

J.S. Bach
O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht, BWV 118

Chr. Graupner
Wisset ihr nicht, daß auf diesen Tag, GWV 1127/26

Balthasar Streiff
Nieuwe, voor De Swaen geschreven compositie

J.S. Bach
Himmelskönig, sei willkommen, BWV 182

J.D. Zelenka
Requiem in d, ZWV 48

Sat 20th, Sun 21st & Sun 28th March 2010, Groningen, Doetinchem, Amsterdam.