Arrangement of aria from ZWV 171

  • Announcing another new Zelenka keyboard arrangement. I decided to couple the Pastorale based on the ZWV172 aria ritornello released a few weeks ago with an arrangement of the lovely aria (Dormi nate, dormi Deus) from Zelenka’s other Christmas motet (O magnum mysterium ZWV171).

    The new arrangement can be downloaded here.

    Like the one in ZWV 172, this aria was also distilled from Zelenka’s Melodrama for the 1723 Prague coronation fringe programme. It is an interesting work especially regarding the tempo markings (or lack of). As far as i can tell the melodrama aria does not have a tempo marked (like much of the music in the SLUB-held autograph score). However the words (all about the leaves of the olive tree of Bohemia spreading, bringing peace and prosperity and withstanding the winds of war) suggest, if anything, a fairly brisk tempo. Stryncl’s recording does indeed take this number at a fair old nick and it sounds great. You can sense that the repeating figures like c16-g16-c’8 are Zelenka’s representation of the leaves fluttering.

    The words of the Christmas motet version allude not to leaves and wind but to the sleeping baby in the hay. The music and scoring has been slightly changed (mostly modifications to the vocal line and the addition of two flutes or recorders). The score and various parts sets that have survived also state the tempo as “Larghetto”. So I think Zelenke expected the aria to be played rather slower than in the Melodrama. Played at this tempo the repeating figures can be imagined now to represent the gentle rocking of the crib and the whole aria rather like a lullaby (hence the title of my arrangement!). Also the descending figures of thirds above a drone bass are clear hints at the pastoral subject.

    Interestingly, of the two recordings I know, only one follows this tempo indication (Alex Potter with Cappricio Barockorchester) - in fact I would suggest they take it even slower than “Larghetto”. Thanks to Potter’s quite smooth, dreamy voice, the overall effect is very convincing. The other recording is by Stryncl and co and perhaps, having already recorded the Melodrama, they found it difficult to re-imagine this aria slowed down. So they take almost the same tempo as in their Melodrama version.

    Whatever the intentions, it is interesting to note that on the manuscript and some of the parts (especially the vocal part), at the start of the main subject in the vocal line it is written “vivace”. In the preceding recitative it is also marked “vivace” in two places. I am no expert in baroque tempo markings but is it correct to assume that this is not an indication of tempo but rather a request for “lively” rather than “plain” phrasing?

    Anyway, my arrangement can be played slow or fast, whatever you prefer. As usual, once I can play it myself (definitely Larghetto!) I will post a recording


    @Jan Dismas Zelenka: you missed an open goal in the last bar. You’re welcome ;)

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