Mogens Pedersøn (c.1585-1623)
Pratum spirituale: Motets & Hymns
Weser-Renaissance Bremen/Manfred Cordes
rec. 2017, Stiftskirche, Bassum, Germany
Texts and translations included
cpo 555 216-2 [60]

It is not often that music by a Danish composer from before the 19th century figures in concert programmes or on disc. The exception is Dieterich Buxtehude, but he is often considered a German rather than a Danish composer. As far as earlier music is concerned, Mogens Pedersøn is rather well-known, and he is often mentioned in connection to Heinrich Schütz. That is understandable as they were contemporaries, and both were pupils of Giovanni Gabrieli. There are quite some similarities between them, but also differences, which are pointed out by Konrad Küster in the liner-notes to the disc under review here.

The year of Pedersøn’s birth is not known for sure; in New Grove it is given as ‘c1583’. Küster does not speculate about this, but suggests – on the basis of what we know about his career – that he may have been older than Schütz. The first documented evidence of his existence dates from 1599, when he went to Venice with some other young musicians, among them Melchior Borchgrevinck, who at the time was organist at the court of King Christian IV. After his return he worked in Copenhagen for five years, and then made a second trip to Venice in 1605, where he stayed for four years. Küster suggests that at the end of his sojourn he may have met Schütz. It is interesting to note that his first collection of music was a set of madrigals, published in 1608; the similarity with Schütz, publishing his madrigals Op. 1 in 1611, is striking.

There are also differences. Schütz returned to Germany, and was to stay there, except for two periods during which he was in the service of the Danish court. Pedersøn was in England from 1611 to 1614, to serve Anne, his employer’s sister, married to King James I. There he became acquainted with English consort music, which resulted in two pavans for five viols, the only extant instrumental pieces from his pen. A manuscript of that time includes ten madrigals which may have been part of a second book of madrigals. This has not been found, and it is not known whether it was published.

In 1615 Pedersøn returned to Copenhagen, where he became the music teacher of the Crown Prince Christian, born in 1603. Küster writes: “What Pedersøn ‘did’ for him can hardly be overestimated: Christian’s knowledge of music later led to his enthusiasm for Heinrich Schütz, who worked in Copenhagen twice for extended periods starting in 1634.” In 1618 Pedersøn was promoted to vice-Kapellmeister under Borchgrevinck. He may have died in 1623, as in that year Hans Nielsen was given his position.

The present disc includes excerpts from the main extant collection of sacred music by Pedersøn, Pratum spirituale. Due to a fire in Copenhagen in 1728, the largest part of his output has been destroyed. Küster again makes a comparison with Schütz, and here we have another difference between the two composers. Schütz’s second collection of music was printed in 1619, and included settings of psalms for eight voices in two choirs, a clear token of the influence of the Venetian cori spezzati technique. They also include a basso continuo part. Pedersøn’s Pratum spirituale is different: it is a collection of pieces for five voices, written in the stile antico. It was dedicated to Prince Christian, his pupil, and printed in 1620 “by order” of his father, King Christian IV. The intention of the collections is also different. Schütz composed his Psalmen Davids mainly for performance at courts, where the Kapellmeister had enough singers and instrumentalists at his disposal. In many pieces Schütz suggests – or requires – the participation of a capella, an additional group of singers and/or players. The Pratum spirituale was rather intended for liturgical use in churches, which explains the relatively modest scoring and the fact that a number of pieces are settings of texts in the vernacular. Küster compares Pedersøn’s collection with the oeuvre of Michael Praetorius rather than Schütz. Praetorius also had the congregation in mind, and most of his works are arrangements of hymns that were sung during worship.

Given that Denmark was Lutheran and, like all regions around the Baltic Sea, under German influence, it does not surprise that the hymns that were sung, were translations of German hymns. Nu bede vi den Helligaand is known in German as Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist, and Min Siel nu loffue herren as Nun lob mein Seel den Herren. In most cases the original melody has been preserved. The exception in this selection is Jesus Christ vor Frelsermand (Jesus Christus unser Heiland).

In addition to the hymn arrangements, which are mostly little more than harmonisations, the programme includes free settings of Psalms in Latin and a mass, all written in the stile antico. That also goes for the liturgical chant for Easter, Victimae paschali laudes. The use of Latin is not exceptional: Luther was a strong advocate of the use of the vernacular in worship, but never banished the use of Latin. The mass is rather peculiar, in that the Credo goes not beyond the words “et homo factus est”, a practice that refers to pre-Reformation times. The Agnus Dei is entirely omitted, and so is the Benedictus.

This disc is especially important as it sheds light on liturgical practice in Denmark in the early 17th century, and in that respect it is a meaningful addition to a disc reviewed here a few years ago, with music for Easter (‘Thomissøn’s Easter’), recorded by Musica Ficta under the direction of Bo Holten (Dacapo, 2017). This kind of liturgical music is not easy to perform in concert, and even recordings may not find that much interest, because of their character. If one has not grown up with the Lutheran hymn repertoire, one may not immediately appreciate the arrangements by the likes of Pedersøn (and Praetorius). I would urge every reader of this review to give this disc a chance. Like the madrigals mentioned above, the pieces from Pratum spirituale show that Pedersøn was a fine composer, and that makes it very regrettable that so little of his oeuvre has been preserved.

One can leave it to Manfred Cordes and his ensemble Weser-Renaissance to fully explore the features of these works. This is exactly the way this repertoire needs to be performed. Obviously I can’t check whether the Danish pronunciation is correct, but I assume it is, as the ensemble includes two Danish speakers who take most of the solos. In most hymns the voices are supported by instruments, playing colla voce. I wonder how common this practice may have been. We probably have here performances as they may have taken place at court or in major churches, which had skilful singers and players at their disposal.

Johan van Veen

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music
Arkiv Music

Ad te levavi
Aff dybsens nød raaber til dig (Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir)
Allen til dig Herr Jesu Christ (Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ)
Beholt oss Herre ved dit ord (Erhalt uns Herr bei deinem Wort)
Deus misereator
Forlæ oss med fred naadelig (Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich)
Ieg raaber til dig o Herre Christ (Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ)
Jesus Christ vor Frelsermand (Jesus Christus, unser Heiland)
Laudate Dominum
Loffuer Gud i fromme Christne (Lobt Gott, ihr frommen Christen)
Min Siel nu loffue herren (Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren)
Missa a 5
Nu bede vi den Helligaand (Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist)
Victimae paschali laudes