Songs and Instrumental Music
Media Review / Listening Diary 2013-03-10
2014-11-08 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-07-12 — Brushed up for better readability
Ludwig Senfl (ca. 1486 – 1543) was one of the few Swiss composers of the Renaissance period (and certainly the most well-known one). However, he spent most of his life in Germany. He is most known for his song compositions, some of which still have a reasonable presence in (at least the elder, pre-pop music generation) people’s mind around here. One example is “Es taget vor dem Walde — Stand ûf, Kätterlîn”, but there are several others.
Wally Staempfli, soprano; Kurt Huber & Fritz Näf, tenors; Eugen M. Dombois, lute; Ricercare-Ensemble für alte Musik, Zürich / Michel Piguet
EMI Classics / Reflexe 8 26470 2 (CD, stereo); ℗1972 / © 2000
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—
A Recording from the LP Time
In the basement I have an LP featuring songs by Ludwig Senfl that I haven’t listened to in decades, even though I really liked it. The artists are Kurt Huber, Fritz Näf and Wally Staempfli, with Eugen M. Dombois (lute) the Ricercare-Ensemble für alte Musik, Zürich under the direction of Michel Piguet.
That ensemble must have been one of the pioneering, historically informed ensembles. It was founded in 1961 by Michel Piguet and Christopher Schmidt. The musicians on the recording below also include Richard Erig, Jordi Savall (in his early years!), Walter Stiftner, Heinrich Huber and Martha Gmünder (later my wife’s first harpsichord teacher). The instruments include pommer, crumhorn, Renaissance recorders, dulcian, fiddle (Fidel), viola da gamba, sackbut, and spinet. The recording features meantone temperament tuning (there weren’t many musicians doing that in the late 60’s / early 70’s!).
One reason why I liked this LP particularly is that it includes the song “Ich schell’ mein Horn ini Jammers Ton“. I knew this (and still know) pretty much by heart: when singing this for myself I discovered the higher parts of my own voice. Prior to that I had been singing bass in choirs, often almost ruining my voice. Later I took lessons and found that my voice is rather high baritone. Unfortunately, this is currently not available on CD, but via eBay I was able to get hold of a copy.
A Newer Recording with “La Caccia”
While I was looking for the above recording on CD, I ran into an Amazon advertisement for another recording with music by Senfl:
Tore Tom Denys, Patrick Denecker, La Caccia
musica ficta MF8015 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 2012
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—
It wasn’t clear from the amazon description what songs and pieces are included. From the information that I had, it seemed a reasonable substitute for my old LP recording. As it turns out, my favorite Senfl song “Ich schell’ mein Horn” is not in that collection. However, the recording can otherwise definitely be recommended. The spectrum is a bit narrower than the earlier recording with Piguet: there are
- 11 tracks with songs, all sung by the tenor Tore Tom Denys, accompanied by the ensemble La Caccia under the direction of Patrick Denecker (the instrumentalists come from the Leuven area in Belgium)
- 8 tracks with instrumental music (short pieces, such as “Carmen”, “Carmen in La”, etc.)
- 1 track with “Mein Fleiß und Müeh” played on the clavicymbalum (Patrick Denecker)
The instruments in use with this CD include lute, viols, cittern (medieval predecessor of the guitar), recorders and clavicymbalum (an early harpsichord). The recording was made in 2012. The instruments were chosen carefully, and the artists also were seeking scientific advice about the proper pronunciation of the texts in these songs (a mix of Bavarian, Austrian and Swiss dialects at medieval times). Different from the older recording above, all but one voices are instrumental, which (together with the singer’s clear diction and simple, straight voice and clear articulation) permits getting “the full sound of the language at Senfl’s time”. One recommendation, though: before buying this (which I personally definitely don’t regret!), maybe check whether you can listen to sound samples, so you know what to expect!
How do the two recordings compare?
Out of the two, the older recording with Michel Piguet is slightly more accessible / easier to listen to for beginners in music of the Renaissance period. It includes a broader spectrum of songs, instrumental pieces along with songs for one, two, and three voices, and a wider spectrum of instrumental sounds, from solo pieces for lute and spinet, a piece “Bicinia” for two pommers, to a broad spectrum of instrument selections, including sackbuts, crumhorn, tambourin. Sure, it is an early, pioneering example of historically informed playing. Time has progressed, and in retrospective, this performance may sound a bit coarse, unpolished. The recording itself is sometimes unprofessional (there are some extra noises). Still a good, lively / vivid recording!
In comparison to the older one, the scope of the new recording with “La Caccia” is narrower. It features one singer only, less variation in the instrumentation, but also the narrower selection in the character of the pieces. That may make this look like a recording for specialists. Sure, it’s music from 500 years ago — rather far away from the simple minor / major key tonality scheme of the recent centuries. It may take a while to get used to this music! The CD comes in a very nice, glossy booklet. So is the performance: glossy, smooth, decent, “soigné”, always careful, with obviously careful, accurate diction / pronunciation, excellent articulation and sound, though maybe somewhat academic. It’s very nice, overall — though I miss some of the wider spectrum in the older recording with Michel Piguet!
If you are not familiar (and obviously not a specialist) in music of that period, I would still recommend the older recording with Michel Piguet over the newer one, even ignoring my personal preferences for particular pieces. But both recordings have their merits, for sure!