The sacred vocal works of Gottfried August Homilius (1714-1785) with particular reference to his St. Mark Passion

Soga, Hector Ian (1989) The sacred vocal works of Gottfried August Homilius (1714-1785) with particular reference to his St. Mark Passion. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

The chance discovery of a composer of whom the present writer had previously been unaware; who was allegedly a pupil of J.S. Bach; whose list of compositions occupied no small space in modern lexicographical entries, let alone in Eitner's now largely obsolete catalogue; who, according to Feder in his article entitled Decline and Restoration in Protestant Church Music - a History, though highly regarded in his day, had not received detailed consideration: such were the factors which gave impetus to the present day. No sooner was that study underway than it transpired that others, too, had been struck by the deficiency noted by Feder. Already in 1970, the American scholar Robert Ellis Snyder had prepared a doctoral thesis on the choral music of Gottfried August Homilius. More significantly, the East German scholar Hans Hohn had published a comprehensive survey of the composer's life and work which was subsequently published in a revised and shortened form in 1980. Far from undermining the work undertaken by the present writer, the above-mentioned studies helped to give it sharper focus. Snyder's contribution, valuable both for the attention drawn anew, through his editorial work in Volume 2, to the composer's music, and still more for his English translation of the Generalbass, nonetheless left room for deeper analysis and evaluation of Homilius' works. John's signal achievement, his painstaking collation of documentary evidence of the composer's life, remains largely inaccessible to the English reader who has no command of German. Further, his evaluation of the man and his compositions, based on an albeit rigorous survey, is vitiated by a tendency to play down the importance of theology in the formation of the composer's character and to portray him, in a one-sided way, as a torch-bearer for an emergent and emancipated bourgeoisie. Thirdly, John failed to distinguish correctly between the Passion Cantata So gehst du nun mein Jesu hin on the one hand and on the other the Markuspassion which bears the same subtitle and which turned out to be one of Homilius' lengthiest and most substantial works. These factors, then, helped to give shape to the present study which, as far as its author has been able to establish, is the first of substantial length to be undertaken in Britain. The first chapter of Volume I is devoted to a summary of Homilius' life. Relying, though by no means exclusively, on John, details are given of the composer's background, of his earlier life and education, of his first frustrated attempts to secure employment and his eventual success in being appointed organist of the Frauenkirche in Dresden in 1742, of his subsequent preferment in 1755 to the post of Cantor of the Kreuzkirche in the same city, of his varied life and success as cantor, teacher and organist over against a background of social upheaval, and finally of the circumstances of his death in 1785. Chapter 2 is deovoted to a general survey of the music. While account is taken of John's findings, the content is larely an independent survey of Homilius' music based on the main on manuscripts held in the Music Department of the Staatsbibliothek der Stiftung PreussischerKulturbesitz in West Berlin. The chapter contains details of the extant works, both published and in manuscript, new information about the dating of works established in the course of research, and, following a brief description of the main genres of music encountered (Oratorios, cantatas, motets and settings of the Magnificat), a discussion of the texts which underpin the works. Attention is then directed to the music: to the characteristics of the composer's musical language and to the techniques of composition and orchestration which he employs. From this study there emerges the picture of a composer who had full command of the musical dialects of his day, but whose obedience to a task which was essentially musico-theological kept him from producing music of lasting appeal. Chapters 3 and 4 constitute the main burden of the present study. The first of these is devoted to a study of the St Mark Passion both as a structure and as a theological statement. Through detailed analysis and comparison with similar works it is suggested that Homilius' work has its own particular theological stamp, in particular that he is more concerned with the life which faces his listeners in the here and now and with present moral choices than with affording to the listener a spiritual experience of the road to Golgothe. Unlike J.S. Bach who is content to let the gospel speak for itself, Homilius incorporates in the work a particular theological view of the work of Christ. Both factors conspire with others of a more musical nature to deprive this work of that timeless quality which characterises Bach's great Passions. In Chapter 4 the music is subjected to systematic analysis. If the arias emerge as the least satisfactory component, the recitatives are remarkably fluent, and the work as an entity proves to have been carefully and indeed ingeniously planned. Conclusions are drawn in Chapter 5, though a review of the most important literature, about the man, the composer and the St Mark Passion in particular. While there is some evidence to support the view, championed by John, that Homilius had certain progressive reflexes, Rudolf Steglich's 1915 analysis of him as an essentially conservative being seems the more perceptive and compelling, however dubious his comparison of Homilius with C.P.E. Bach. As a composer Homilius had great facility, but his musical language, shot through with gracious vocabulary and popular idiom, lacked innate strength. It is a language limited, too, by the composer's intellectual horizons and by his very pre-occupation with theology and his ecclesiastically based méier. As an oratorio Passion the St Mark Passion, a monumental work, is unique among the pieces which Homilius composed for performance during Holy Week. Of his entire oeuvre this work above all is both an expression of his debt to the Baroque past and at the same time an acknowledgement that he has left that past far behind. Volume I is furnished with three appendices. The first is devoted to a Choralbuch which sheds light both on the dating of works and on Homilius' treatment of the chorale. The second contains details of larger works and cantatas in manuscript. Musical incipits are given, where they were available, in order to facilitate more reliable identification of works. Appendix 3 contains diagrams and musical examples relevant to Chapters 2 and 4. Volume II contains a performance edition of Homilius' St Mark Passion furnished with a 3-part Critical Apparatus, containing 1) Text and Translation, 2) Notes on the Edition - including details of the manuscript, its provenance, an attempt to date the work, and an evaluation of its dedication to Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia - and 3) Notes on Performance.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > Music
Funder's Name: UNSPECIFIED
Supervisor's Name: Supervisor, not known
Date of Award: 1989
Depositing User: Mr Toby Hanning
Unique ID: glathesis:1989-3961
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 08 Feb 2013 13:33
Last Modified: 08 Feb 2013 13:33
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/3961

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