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Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel  (1690-1749)

 Stölzel’s passion
Die Leidende und am Creutz

sterbende Liebe Jesu
was performed on
March 31, 2018

 As part of a continuing project to present an annual Passion performance as part of the Cheltenham Coffee Concerts we gave the first performance outside Germany of this thoughtful and moving work. Click here to download the programme for this performance which contains extensive notes on Stölzel - including an English translation of his autobiography and obituary, as well as a parallel translation of the text.

Warwick Cole's edition of the passion is expected to be
published by A R Editions in 2020.

Since this performance we have been working on his Passion setting of 1727, and the first double cantata cycle of 1720/21. We have discovered that a manuscript in Zürich is a chance survival of two folios of Stölzel's composing score of the cantata Siehe, das ist Gottes Lamm composed for the Estomihi Sunday 1721. The remainder of the score and part of the other cantata composed for that Sunday survives in the Gotha Research Library at the Friedenstein Palace. This appears to be his earliest autograph score.

For keen devotees of Stölzel this is exciting stuff!

More news to follow ...

Who was Stölzel and why perform his Passion?

Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel was one of the leading musicians of his generation. Born in 1690 in a small village near what is now the German/Czech border, he was educated at Leipzig University. Subsequently he followed a cosmopolitan career as composer working in Breslau, Gera, Beyreuth, Prague, and Innsbruck. Like Handel, he spent over a year in Italy where he met, amongst others, Vivaldi in Venice and Alessandro Scarlatti in Rome. From 1720 to his death in 1749 he was Kapellmeister in Gotha.

Although his output was extensive, much of his music was lost during the latter part of the C18th. And because he worked at just one of the many courts in central Germany that had a professional musical establishment, his name has rather been relegated to the footnotes of history.

Which is a shame, because what survives of his music is excellent. The Bach family clearly thought so too. The aria Bist du bei mir from Stölzel’s opera Diomedes was long thought to be by Bach (BWV 508) and Bach copied a harpsichord Partita by him for his son Wilhelm Friedemann to learn (see the image above of the opening of this piece in Bach's hand).

One of the first works that Stölzel composed when he was appointed Kappellmeister in Gotha was a Passion setting. It was first performed at Easter 1720. Despite being quite different from many of the passion settings of the time - for a start, he wrote the poetry himself in the form of twenty ‘reflections’ on the biblical narrative - it proved particuarly popular.

A number of performances over a twenty-year period can be traced through the survival of printed libretti, including one from Cheltenham’s twin town Göttingen. Another was given by Johann Sebastian Bach in 1734.

It seems amazing that a work that Bach appreciated should have been so neglected. So we decided to do something about it.

The titlepage of the libretto for the 1741 performance in Göttingen which confirms Stölzel’s authorship of the text

The Schlosskirche in Gotha where Stölzel’s Passion was first performed in 1720

Towards an edition of the music and a performance

Although much of Stölzel’s music has been lost, by a quirk of fate there is a substanital collection in Sondershausen in central Germany. Stölzel held an external position which required him to provide music for the court there. By chance the same Passion that Bach performed survives in a set of parts that were used in Sondershausen in the early 1730s.

We managed to obtain copies of these, and by collating them with the original libretto from Stölzel’s performance in Gotha in 1720, we have been able to produce our own edition from which we performed.

Surprisingly, we know quite a bit about the conditions for the performances in Gotha and Sondershausen. Lists of the players involved survive, and curious titbits of information such as the fact that the alto singer played the viola da gamba solo can be gleaned from the parts.

Our performance reflected the Sondershausen forces in that we used single strings with a violone, harpsichord and organ continuo. Much of the vocal music is for solo voice, and in the choruses and chorales we used eight singers. There are some exquisite solos for the oboe, and an aria featuring solo bassoon violin and oboe. Incidentally, Bach seemed to have appreciated this aria since he later reworked it as Bekennen will ich seinen Namen (BWV 200).

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