Sunday, August 28, 2005



Psalms of the Reformation
The Reformed churches in 16th-century Europe pioneered a new, and strikingly spiritual, form of four-part liturgical chant. The emerging Reformed tradition abolished the Mass and its ceremonies, but not music. Their metrical psalm chants have survived through the centuries, and in these performances by an outstanding French choir that specializes in Renaissance music, these simple but masterful harmonies will tug at your heart.
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The Chants of the Reformation in Hungary
During the early flowering of Reformation in 16th-century Hungary, musicians imported new styles of metrical psalm-singing from Switzerland and France (see the CD above). But the Hungarian Reformed Church also continued to sing the familiar plainchant of the Middle Ages—with texts translated from Latin to Hungarian and adapted to Protestant doctrine. The choir of the Reformed College of Debrecen breathes new life into both ancient styles—with professionalism and grace.
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Music of the Reformation
This rare 2-CD collection juxtaposes the liturgical poetry of two Reformers: Martin Luther and Thomas Müntzer. Performed by the Kreuzchor, the legendary choir of men and boys at Dresden's Lutheran Church of the Holy Cross, this anthology is a unique journey through music into the turbulent political and spiritual landscape of 16th-century Europe.

Müntzer, a Catholic priest who embraced the Reformation, was a Biblical literalist who believed the Bible promised a social revolution in which the rich would be dispossessed and the poor would inherit the earth. He led revolutionary troops into battle in the "Peasants' Revolt"—a quixotic and ultimately doomed campaign to overthrow the German ruling class. Luther, on the other hand, remained loyal to his wealthy benefactors: Müntzer, though a former ally, occupied a special place in his gallery of theological horrors. When the Peasants' Revolt foundered both Müntzer and his writings were obliterated; but some of his music survived.

Surprisingly, Müntzer's musical style is the more conservative of the two. He translated the traditional texts of the Latin Mass and Divine Office into contemporary German but retained the historic Gregorian melodies and psalm tones. Luther, who was more sophisticated musically, turned his texts over to the most advanced composers of the German Renaissance. Müntzer's monodic chants and the rich polyphonic treatments of Luther's liturgical poetry are communicated brilliantly in performances that are technically nearly perfect. Fans of Gregorian chant should compare these down-to-earth German interpretations with the more fluid style popularized by Solesmes. But emotion is not absent from these recordings: particularly in the compositions by Luther's friend, Johann Walther, the choir and instrumentalists bring the listener to the intensity of religious ecstasy the composer (and the Reformer) intended.
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Trotz Alledem (In Spite of Everything)
A rare collection, sung both by workers' choirs during the Weimar Republic and GDR choirs after the war, of the revolutionary classics: this was the street and protest repertory of communist and socialist parties for much of the 20th century.
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Songs of the Working Class-Songs of the Spanish Civil War
Singer and actor Ernst Busch was one of the leading interpreters of Brecht's musical theater. His career spanned the Berlin stage of the 1920s, the Spanish Civil War, imprisonment in Nazi concentration camps and the attempted revival of working-class culture in postwar East Germany. In this unusual album, Busch interprets the repertory of the romantic revolutionaries who battled the Nazi SA on the streets of Berlin and fought in the International Brigades against Franco's Fascists. His aggressive style may be an acquired taste, but the militancy of these songs communicates the passion of a bygone era—when musicians like Busch believed their art could help change history.
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"Ostalgie"—from the German words for "East" ("Ost") and "nostalgia" ("nostalgie"). Here are other sources:

Gowen Militaria
BarbaRossa Musik
DEFA Film Library

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