DUKE VESPERS ENSEMBLE
BUXTEHUDE: MEMBRA JESU NOSTRI
DUKE VESPERS ENSEMBLE
BRIAN SCHMIDT, conductor
DUKE CAPPELLA BAROQUE
"[The recordings] are excellent"
American Record Guide [November/December 2020]
“the Duke Vespers Ensemble breathes life into these choruses with sophisticated shape and attention... the singers highlight the rhyme and meter of the poetry with gracefully light final syllables... The light, clear tone of the Duke Vespers Ensemble’s sopranos and altos suits the introspective character of the text... the thirteen soloists featured throughout the recording give us an appealing variety of colors... In the cantata Ad cor, Buxtehude calls for a viol consort to introduce an even more antiquated color... they are intensely stirring... This CD is perfect for music-lovers who enjoy listening closely and contemplating the text.”
Sarah Riskind, Choral Journal [August 2017]
“this is a fine performance of a little-known major work of its time and a most welcome addition to the world of recorded music. The choral and instrumental forces are at each other's service in exemplary music-making, for which conductor Schmidt is to be congratulated.”
Geoffrey Simon, Classical Voice of North Carolina [August 2015]
“This is a worthy entry in a crowded field.”
J. F. Weber, Fanfare [May/June 2015]
“[ * * * * * ] They have a fine tonal luster, excellent ensemble precision, and a good feeling for the music at hand... The superb production layout has a series of paintings for each cantata in the full color booklet by artist Robin Sand Anderson, adding a delightful addendum to an already excellent release. This is enthusiastically recommended.”
Steve Ritter, Audiophile Audition [February 2015]
“The sound world is...enthralling in the performance by the Duke Vespers Ensemble of Dietrich Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri... the performance is particularly notable for the warmth of the singers’ voices and the resonant beauty of the sound quality of the university’s neo-Gothic chapel. Capella Baroque, founded by Brian Schmidt uses period instruments, which add an underpinning of richness and solidity to the vocal material here. It is not necessary to follow the Latin or share Buxtehude’s (and Bach’s) Lutheran faith to be transported by this work to a region of very considerable aural beauty.”
Mark J. Estren, InfoDad [December 2014]
PROGRAM NOTESDieterich Buxtehude (c.1637-1707) is most widely known as an organist and composer of virtuosic organ works. However, at his position in Lübeck, in northern Germany, he was best known for the successful programming and execution of the acclaimed Abendmusiken series at the Marienkirche.
This series, initially consisting of small concerts on weekday afternoons, developed into five centerpiece concerts, held on Sunday afternoons and spread out through the year. Though he also served as organist for regular worship services, his position as director of the concert series did not necessarily require his compositions to fit into a liturgical context. The freedom allowed by his position was pivotal in Buxtehude’s compositional output, allowing him to focus on a wider variety of texts and subjects, employing varied vocal and instrumental forces. Buxtehude was also a master of form, composing fluently in many of the established styles of the Baroque period.
Membra Jesu Nostri Patientis Sanctissima (BuxWV 75), composed in 1680, is dedicated to Gustaf Düben, Buxtehude’s friend and colleague who held several influential positions in Stockholm. Düben’s influence on the work can be immediately seen in Buxtehude’s choice of Latin text for the work. While this seemed to run counter to the popular trend for Lutheran sacred works to be in the German vernacular (including the rest of Buxtehude’s surviving cantatas, which are set to German texts), Latin was still appealing to those who considered themselves to be musical connoisseurs. Gustaf Düben certainly fit into this category; his personal collection of Buxtehude’s works also included the manuscript of Benedicam Dominum, a motet for six mixed choirs of voices and winds, which is similar in style to the Venetian polychoral works of Willaert and Gabrieli. It is through his personal collection, later bequeathed by his family to Uppsala University, that many valuable manuscripts by Buxtehude and other Baroque composers survive to the present day.
The text for Membra Jesu Nostri comes primarily from the Salve mundi salutare, a Medieval hymn of disputed authorship. Consisting of seven cantos, each section is a deeply personal, reverent meditation on the members of Jesus’ body on the cross. Buxtehude pulls three strophes from each canto for his work, and gives the texts to varying combinations of solo and trio voices. The soloistic portions are then framed by choral settings of selected Biblical texts, predominantly from the Old Testament, which refer to the same parts of the body and provide theological cohesion to the work. These sections often repeat in da capo fashion, and are tied together with instrumental ritornelli that both introduce and reinforce material from the vocal parts.
While each of the seven cantatas which make up Membra Jesu Nostri exist as fully-formed, satisfying units, their textual content and musical language show that they are undoubtedly intended to be considered together as a unified composition. This often causes the work to be referred to as “the first Lutheran oratorio,” an honor that may actually belong to one of Buxtehude’s lost earlier works. Regardless, Membra Jesu Nostri is one clear precursor of the tradition that would lead to the masterworks of Bach, Haydn, Mendelssohn and Brahms. It is an intensely emotional and personal work, and a landmark in German sacred music. [Michael Lyle]
Brian Schmidt is Assistant Conductor and Administrative Coordinator of Chapel Music at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, where he serves as conductor of the Duke Vespers Ensemble and Duke Divinity School Choir. With the Duke Vespers Ensemble, Schmidt leads a weekly Choral Vespers service in the marvelous acoustics of Duke University Chapel. He is also the Founder and Artistic Director of the South Dakota Chorale, a professional choral organization in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. With this ensemble, he manages a roster of professional singers from across the United States. Since their founding in 2009, his leadership has guided them to rapid growth as well as the release of two commercial albums and an invitation to perform at the 2015 ACDA National Convention. In addition, he was the founder and Artistic Director of the Dakota Men’s Ensemble, which has also appeared at ACDA conventions. He also maintains an active career as a composer, with works published by Colla Voce, Walton Music and GIA Music. Brian Schmidt graduated from the University of North Texas, where he completed MM and DMA degrees under Jerry McCoy and Richard Sparks, along with early music studies under Lyle Nordstrom and Lenora McCroskey. He has also completed a BME in Choral Conducting from South Dakota State University.
[ www.brianschmidtmusic.com ]
The Duke Vespers Ensemble is an active chamber choir based at Duke University Chapel, consisting of approximately 20 members from the Duke and Durham communities. The ensemble specializes in Renaissance and early Baroque music, which is complemented by a wide range of works from the 19th century through today. The group leads candlelit worship services every Thursday of the academic year and participates in special services throughout the year, including a popular All Hallows Eve Service held in almost total darkness.
The Vespers Ensemble sings concerts once per semester on the Duke campus and in the surrounding communities, both unaccompanied and in collaboration with Cappella Baroque, a professional period-instrument orchestra founded by Brian Schmidt. Recent concerts include a collaborative presentation with Duke’s Department of Art, Art History and Visual Studies, featuring the music and art of the Sistine Chapel, Dietrich Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri presented with newly-commissioned paintings, Orlando di Lasso’s Lagrime di San Pietro with supertitle projection of English translations and consort of Renaissance wind instruments, and music from Leipzig, leading up to J.S. Bach, including works by Schein, Schelle, and Kuhnau, with the main feature being Bach’s monumental transcription, the Concerto in Am for Four Harpsichords (BWV 1065).
The choir also tours in the United States and abroad, most recently performing on the Fringe Concert Series of the 2013 Boston Early Music Festival. In 2009, the choir toured Germany, Czech Republic, and other regions of Eastern Europe.
PROGRAMDIETERICH BUXTEHUDE (C.1637-1707)
MEMBRA JESU NOSTRI
AD PEDES To the feet
"Ecce super montes”
AD GENUA To the knees
"Ad ubera portabimini”
AD MANUS To the hands
"Quid sunt plagae istae”
AD LATUS To the side
"Surge amica mea”
AD PECTUS To the breast
"Sicut modo geniti infantes”
AD COR To the heart
"Vulnerasti cor meum”
AD FACIEM To the face
"Illustra faciem tuam”