Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Kerll and Fux Requiems Reflect Darkness and Light

This release features two works with many similarities and some clear differences.

Both are settings of the requiem mass. Both were written by composers not only working in Vienna but at the same cathedral, the Stephansdom. Both used a five-voice choir with instruments. And there the similarities end.

Johann Caspar Kerll most likely composed his Missa pro defunctis around 1689. Kerll's music has a strong Italian influence and set the tone for sacred music in the German late baroque. Both Handel and Bach borrowed material from Kerll for their own choral works.

Kerll's Requiem is solemn and somewhat dark, favoring the low voices throughout. The thick texture of the music gives the work additional gravitas.

But it's not a lugubrious work. Kerll's melodies are quite beautiful and expressive. Listening to this work, I easily heard connections to Bach and Handel.

Johann Joseph Fux was of the generation following Kerll. His Kaiserrequiem favors the upper voices, giving his requiem a lighter sound. Fux, the author of Gradus ad Parnassum, was a master of counterpoint, and there's plenty to be found here.

Fux's requiem reminded me of the work of his younger contemporary Marc-Antoine Charpentier. The music has a similar elegant transparency to it.

The liner notes try overly hard, I think, to make the case that Mozart's Requiem was inspired by -- and blends together -- the styles of these two composers. But that doesn't really matter. These are two beautifully crafted works by master composers and can be enjoyed on their own merits.

Johann Caspar Kerll, Johann Joseph Fux: Requiems 
Vox Luminis; Scorpio Collectieff; L'Achéron; Lionel Meunier, director 
Ricercar RIC 368

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