BERNHARD: Geistliche Harmonien

Like Sch¸tz, and for the same socio-political reasons, his compositional output is almost exclusively sacred. Unlike Sch¸tz (forty years older) and numerous other northern contemporaries of Sch¸tz, he did not have the benefit of “graduate study” in Venice with Giovanni Gabrieli. Protestant Germany since Luther had been extremely conservative in its religious music, and religious strictures mitigated against the cultivation of music outside the church. This meant that what erudite music there was limited to apeing Italian models, and not the most modern of models either. Bernhard is chiefly known to our day as a theorist, since as a German (and hence outsider) he needed to consciously consider the details of Italian style, rather than imbibing like a native at the source (his Tractatus of the 1650’s reflects information gleaned from a visit to Rome).

The Geistliche Harmonien is his only published collection (though since it is subtitled “Erster Theil” there must have been a a continuation or continuations planned), and is very much in the Sch¸tzian style. The present disc presents about half of its contents (an earlier two-disc set on Christophorus from the nineties seems to have been deleted). To these ears the performances, though fluent, do not make a good case for Bernhard as composer rather than theorist, because the results are rather bleakly the same, with no charm, no wit, no spark, no variety (at least half of the motets here are in A minor, and only one from the dozen in the major mode). One might argue that such music is properly pious, but I prefer my sacred music with more blood and guts to it (if in the minor mode), or radiant joy (if in the major). Unless you are a historian and completist, you can afford to give this one a pass.

Tom Moore

image_description=Christoph Bernhard: Geistliche Harmonien
product_title=Christoph Bernhard: Geistliche Harmonien
product_by=Veronika Winter; Nele Gramss; Henning Voss; Henning Kaiser; Ekkehard Abele; Das Kleine Konzert; Hermann Max.
product_id=cpo 777 046-2 [CD]