hofer psalms christophorus

Andreas Hofer (1628/29-1684)
Psalms for Salzburg Cathedral
Capella Spirensis
L’arpa festante/Markus Melchiori
rec. 2021, Cathedral of Speyer, Germany
Texts and German translations included
Christophorus CHR77461 [74]

During the 17th century, Salzburg was one of the musical centres of the German-speaking world and of Europe at large. The city took advantage of the salt mines, which generated infinite wealth for the prince bishopric. This allowed the attraction of some of the best musicians and composers to be active at the Cathedral and the court of the prince-bishop. In the second half of the 17th century, these were Andreas Hofer, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber and Georg Muffat; at this time Salzburg was under the reign of Max Gandolph von Kuenburg. Muffat was appointed court organist in 1678, Biber entered the service of the court in 1670, and was appointed Kapellmeister in 1684. In that position he succeeded Andreas Hofer.

Hofer is the least-known of these three, and he is also not that well represented on disc. He was born as the son of a judicial procurator in Reichenhall, on the Bavarian side of the border. From the fact that at his death in 1684 it was mentioned that he was 55 years of age, we can conclude that he was born in 1628 or 1629. During his childhood the family moved to Salzburg. There Hofer likely received his first musical education; his teacher may have been either the incumbent Kapellmeister Abraham Megerle (1607-1680) or the cathedral organist Marzellus Isslinger (1617-1672). Hofer studied theology and was ordained as a priest in 1653. His first musical position was that of organist at the Benedictine monastery of St Lambrecht near Murnau in Styria. In 1654 he was appointed vice-Kapellmeister at the court in Salzburg and in 1679 was promoted to Kapellmeister.

The wealth and splendour of Salzburg and its cathedral suggest that all the music written for and performed at the cathedral was intended for large forces. Such music was indeed performed. In 1682, for instance, the famous Missa Salisburgensis in 53 parts by Biber was performed to celebrate the 1100th anniversary of the founding of the bishopric. In his writing of this work Biber took advantage of the four choir lofts in the cathedral. It was Hofer’s predecessor Megerle, who was the first to use them for his compositions. However, large-scale works were performed at special occasions. Just like in St Mark’s in Venice in the 16th and early 17th centuries, everyday liturgical practice was much more modest. This explains why a subtantial part of the extant output of Hofer comprises pieces for solo voices, a small instrumental ensemble – mostly two violins – and basso continuo.

Two collections of sacred music by Hofer were published during his lifetime. The first, dating from 1654, includes fifteen Psalms and motets. The former category consists of pieces for solo voice, two violins and basso continuo, although in some cases the ensemble is extended. In Laudate pueri Dominum, for instance, the solo voice (tenor) is accompanied by three string instruments (here violin and two violas; another recording has one viola and two viole da gamba, probably due to a lower pitch). The motets are for solo voice(s) with or without instruments. Two motets are in honour of St Cecilia, the patroness of music; one of them, Cum iucunditate cantemus, opens the programme of the recording under review here.

The second collection – which is ignored in this recording – dates from 1674 and comprises eighteen offertories. In addition a number of sacred works by Hofer have been preserved in manuscript, among them four masses, two Requiems, further Psalm settings, a Magnificat and a Te Deum. One of the masses is included here, the Missa Valete, which is scored for five voices, cornett, violin, two violas and basso continuo. The Psalmi brevi, which have also come down to us in manuscript, are again scored for five voices (SSATB). In this case the instrumental ensemble consists of two violins, two violas and basso continuo. It is a cycle of five Vesper psalms and a Magnificat. The modest scoring lends this cycle a strong amount of intimacy, which attests to the fact that large-scale works were the exception rather than the rule in Salzburg Cathedral. These settings are also rather short; the longest takes a little under five minutes in this recording.

It is interesting that some of these psalms also appear in the 1654 collection, but then for a different scoring: solo voice, two violins and basso continuo. Obviously this scoring allows for a more detailed depiction of elements in the text. These pieces show the strong influence of the Italian monody. The texts are set in a declamatory style, and Hofer does not miss the opportunities to illustrate the text in his music. However, even in the much more concise Psalmi brevi, we find plenty examples of text illustration. Two of the settings from the Salmi of 1654 are inserted into the mass, as substitutes for the Graduale and the Offertorium respectively.

I already mentioned that Hofer is badly represented on disc. Previously only one disc seems to have been devoted to his oeuvre; in 2007 the German label Cantate released a disc in which some of his works are performed, together with pieces by Biber, Giovanni Valentini and Johann Baptist Dolar. These are performed by five singers and the ensemble Bell’Arte Salzburg under the direction of Annegret Siedel. Unfortunately that disc has not received the attention it deserved. It is a bit of a shame that the present disc includes several pieces that are also on that disc. However, here we get also a number of items that are new to the catalogue, such as the Missa Valete and the motet for St Cecilia. The performances are excellent; all the voices are perfectly suited to the repertoire, and the declamatory nature of the solo pieces comes off to full extent. In the tutti, the voices blend beautifully. There is some effective dynamic shading and the execution of the rhythmic pulse leaves nothing to be desired. As the performances on the Cantate disc are also rather good, I urge anyone interested in this kind of music to purchase both.

Both discs suggest that the oeuvre of Hofer deserve to be thoroughly explored. Let’s hope for more pieces by him in future recordings.

Johan van Veen


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Cum iucunditate cantemus
Lauda Jerusalem
Psalmi brevi
Confitebor tibi Domine
Laudate Dominum
Laudate pueri Dominum
Missa Valete:
Beatus vir
Missa Valete:
Laudate pueri Dominum
Missa Valete:
Agnus Dei