Singen und Sangen - Music for Hope in a Time of War
Praetorius in Rochester
By Rebecca Cypess
When the American Musicological Society meets in Rochester, New York, attendees, along with residents of the greater Rochester area, will have the opportunity to hear excerpts from Michael Praetorius’s rarely performed collection Polyhymnia caduceatrix et panegyrica, a monumental collection of concerted sacred music. The volume appeared in 1619, the year following the start of the Thirty Years’ War, which would devastate much of central Europe. The Rochester performance has been supported by an Outreach Grant from Early Music America and organized by three alumni of the Eastman School of Music: historical trombonist Liza Malamut; Stephen Kennedy, Director of Music and Organist at Christ Church, Rochester; and music educator and trombonist Ben David Aronson. The trio has engaged professional musicians from across the country, students and faculty from Eastman, and community musicians from the Rochester area. In addition to endowing the performance with their artistic vision, Malamut, Kennedy, and Aronson have dealt with all of the logistical and financial issues related to the execution of such a complicated work.
Despite these complications, Malamut—a DMA candidate in historical performance at Boston University and a 2017–18 recipient of a prestigious fellowship from the American Association of University Women—is confident that the result will have been worth the effort. The music is beautifully expressive and lush, and Malamut points out that it speaks powerfully to our time. The program is entitled “Singen und Sagen: Music for Hope in a Time of War,” and it will intersperse excerpts from the Polyhymnia with readings that address Praetorius’s own uncertain age and that find resonance for many in our own world. For Malamut, the intertwining of readings and music form a “universal musical sermon during a time of war and strife.”
Praetorius’s introduction to the published Polyhymnia notes the connection between word and song in Lutheran theology, encapsulated in the phrase “Singen und Sagen,” “to sing and to say.” As Praetorius writes, “It is not only appropriate to have a CONCIO, a good sermon, but also, in addition, the necessary CANTIO, good music and song.” He continues by advocating for a union of “the thinking of the mind, the singing of the voice, and...the beating and playing upon instruments,” all of which lead to the development of a religious consciousness.
As historians, theologians, and musicians mark the 500th anniversary of Luther’s break from the Roman church, celebrations of his ideals have proliferated. At the same time, it is worth remembering the catastrophic effects of religious violence on both Catholics and Lutherans in early modern Europe, of which the disastrous Thirty Years War is only one example. Early
modern theologies resulted, too, in discrimination and frequent violence against Jews and other non-Christian people, and music was sometimes implicated in the spread of these hateful attitudes. The idea of religious tolerance did not take hold until the age of Enlightenment in the late eighteenth century, and even then, it was far from ubiquitous or permanent. In our own era, the lines of religious strife have been redrawn, to be sure, but the tensions persist in a new guise.
Modern performances of Praetorius’s music offer the chance for redemption. Played and sung in new contexts, in a spirit of inclusion and openness, music that was born into an age of anxiety and strife offers a vehicle for empathy and union. As Malamut says, “Nearly four hundred years after the publication of the Polyhymnia, performance of this elaborate and joyous music during times of darkness and despair remains an act of courage and optimism.”
What: “Singen und Sagen: Music for Hope in a Time of War” When: November 11, 2017, 2:00 p.m. Where: Christ Church, Rochester, 141 East Avenue, Rochester, New York 14604
Who: Performed by the Christ Church Schola Cantorum and Consort, directed by Stephen Kennedy, with students, faculty, and alumni of the Eastman School of Music, as well as Rochester community musicians and distinguished guests. Organized by Liza Malamut, Stephen Kennedy, and Ben David Aronson. Featured solo organists: David Higgs and Nathan Laube.
How: Presented by the American Musicological Society and supported by an Outreach grant from Early Music America.
How much: This event is free and open to all.