Johann Heinichen Dresden Vespers hit a sweet spot

In 1720, Johann David Heinichen was rehearsing his latest opera in Dresden. The lead castrato pitched a fit. He tore up the music and hurled the pieces at Heinichen’s feet.

That incident was all the excuse King Augustus the Strong needed. He dismissed his temperamental — and very expensive — singers. It effectively ended Italian opera in Saxony.

Heinichen was kind of out of a job. But then realpolitik kicked in. Augustus was Protestant, which meant minimal liturgical music. But Augustus wanted to be elected King of Poland. To do so, he had to convert to Catholicism. He did.

He won the throne and returned to Dresden with a Catholic wife. Augustus demonstrated his support for Catholicism through the arts. And so Heinichen was in demand once again, composing music for the Roman Catholic liturgy.

This album shows the results of those efforts. The music is big, complex, and almost operatic in vocal lines. Augustus’ Protestant services used a small ensemble singing simple melodies. For the Catholic Augustus, Heinichen was free to expand his forces. These works use large ensembles with interweaving lines of complex counterpoint.

To me, Heinichen’s Vespers walks a stylistic middle path. The music isn’t overly florid. While it is substantial, the music doesn’t detract from the spiritual nature of the text. At the same time, the complexity of the choruses requires a high degree of skill.

The Ensemble Polyharmonique has a wonderful vocal blend. The Wrocław Baroque Orchestra proved suitable support for the singers.

Jarosław Thiel injects a lot of energy into this music through his conducting. I suspect the tempi were a little on the fast side. And that was fine with me.

This recording has a somewhat dry sound. It does make the counterpoint clearer. But I kept wanting a little more ambiance, as one would hear even in a small chapel.

Not completely operatic, not completely pared-down Protestant, nor completely overblown Catholic. Heinichen’s music sits at the intersection of all three, in an undeniably sweet spot.

Johann David Heinichen: Dresden Vespers
Ensemble Polyharmonique
Wrocław Baroque Orchestra, Jarosław Thiel, director
Accent ACC 24381

Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Become a Sponsor

Underwriting WTJU is a way to broadly share information about your business. It’s also a way for your business or organization to gain community-wide recognition for your support of WTJU’s community mission.

Underwrite a Program


Your gift nourishes our community and helps bring people together through music.

Underwrite a Program