Zachow revived!

The cantatas of F.W. Zachow (1663-1712)

Brushed the dust off of Zachow's church cantatas

In 2009, Accademia Amsterdam started a project involving the remaining music of Handel's teacher in Halle, Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow (Halle, 1663-1712).

The ensemble's artistic director, Onno Verschoor, decided to brush the dust off of Zachow's music. In collaboration with Professor Ludger Remy, an appraised expert on the field of German baroque music, this led to a series of concerts in the Netherlands and Germany in 2009 and 2010.

Collaboration, concerts and recordings

Zachow projectAccademia Amsterdam is the first baroque ensemble in the world that re-performed Zachow’s cantatas, by means of careful reconstruction of instrumentation and choice of instruments. Some of them were contemporary premiered. The ensemble produced a first CD, completely dedicated to Zachow’s cantatas, for the major part first recorded.

Positive feedback has made clear that this music has been unjustly forgotten. From experience, we can say that it appeals strongly to a contemporary audience. Collaboration between the Dutch expertise on historical performance practice (Gustav Leonhardt and Frans Bruggen's school) and the German/European heritage (Zachow's music and Ludger Remy's experience) combines the best of both worlds.

We work with specialist soloists of name, including Constanze Backes from Germany and talented young alumni from, among others, the "Royal Conservatory of the Hague". Because of the unmatched talent and prestige of the performers, quality of performances has been set at a high standard.

To preserve the quality and authenticity of the music, a special location was used for recording: the "Pelsterkerk" in Groningen. This church has an organ that is comparable to the instrument Zachow used in Halle, which makes it an ideal location. Unfortunately, the original organ in the "Marienkirche" was lost. Thus, Accademia Amsterdam has contributed to the conservation and reanimation of the beautiful and variating music of Handel's teacher. The media has also noticed our effort; parts of the CD are often played on international radio stations.

The first CD, which contains the world premiere of several cantatas, was well received and prompted invitations from the U.S.

Another goal is to bring out a new selection of Zachow’s never recorded cantatas in order to reveal their "new" and beautiful harmonies. It has become clear that many people are looking forward to these recordings. New CDs in the series will gain us more publicity and enlarge our audience.

The ‘’Stichting Amstel Muziekproducties" supports this project and is responsible for funding requests as a non-profit organization.

Support this project by purchasing the CD in the web shop. Watch the promotion video at YouTube.

Project background

This project extends over several years, which combines concerts with scientifically founded documentation on CD concerning the most important compositions still remaining by Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow (1663-1712).

The collection, mainly in German and Belgian libraries, allows a beautiful view of the development of the cantata in the high baroque period. Zachow’s earlier cantatas are reminiscent of Buxtehude’s style, while the later ones contain richly orchestrated choruses and arias in the Italian style. Besides, the works are compact and expressive. This makes Zachow’s music accessible and varied for the listener. Zachow, who was Handel’s teacher, had an undeniable influence on his pupil. Lovers of organ music know Zachow’s chorale arrangements; much of this music has been included in collections of organ works and is still being played.

Accademia Amsterdam aims to perform all the cantatas extant in manuscript, and to document them in a coherent collection grouped around the feast days of the Ecclesiastical year. A first result has been sampled on the CD of Christmas cantatas which appeared in 2010. The production as a whole will consist of an (inter)national concert series plus documentation on up to six CDs. Many cantatas will have their world premiere. A peak of activity has been in 2012, the anniversary of Zachow’s death.

An important Dutch ‘export product’ is the expert knowledge of historical music performance. Pioneers Frans Brüggen and Gustav Leonhardt achieved world fame. The new generation of baroque musicians (among them Accademia Amsterdam) is successfully exploring new ways to perform the music from the 17th and 18th Centuries. An example is the collaboration with Prof. Ludger Rémy of the Musikhochschule Dresden and we inhereted his expertise. The performances of these cantatas are the result of research done or commissioned by the ensemble, not shying away from adventure, rather than a blind steering by the status quo.

The project aims for an optimal artistical and musicological quality. For this reason we work only with professional (choir) singers and musicians. This quality is guaranteed by famous ensembles and singers. Prof. Ludger Rémy has made an important name in the field of musicological research and the publication of historical music manuscripts. He was an internationally renowned performer and much asked for his inspiring direction of specialised musicians.

We are convinced that this project will appeal to audiences in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, not to mention the rest of Europe, The U.S.A. and Japan, and will contribute to the reputation of the Netherlands in this field.

Another Dutch speciality is its treasure of historical organs comparable to the ones Zachow used. We aim to use organs which are still in their original state, unlike the remaining organs used by Zachow. This will help consolidate Dutch reputation in the field of historical organs and organ restauration. It is one of the reasons this project was started in the northern Netherlands.

Performers and artistic direction

Prof. Ludger Rémy, former teacher at the Musikhochschule Dresden, was responsible for the artistic supervision. He has been an internationally renowned interpreter of baroque music and a major soloist on the harpsichord and fortepiano. Amongst other duties he was a jury member of the Flanders festival.

The instrumental ensemble is formed by Accademia Amsterdam, leader Onno Verschoor who also co-ordinates the project. This specialized group has played many projects, amongst others a concert series of French baroque Christmas music in collaboration with Capella Frisiae conducted by Hoite Pruiksma and Adriàn van der Spoel.

Vocal soloists are renowned and specialized singers such as the soprano Constanze Backes.

The vocal ensemble earlier consisted of singers from Capella Frisiae and we continue to collaborate with professional (choir) singers.

Zachow and the cantatas

Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow (Leipzig, 1663 – Halle, 1712) was important as Handel’s teacher in Halle, and worked in the local Mariakirche. Chronologically he should be placed between Schütz and Bach. He introduced many innovations in the (church) cantata, despite the fact that he only worked in the one town. His relatively small oeuvre shows the development of the baroque cantata. His earlier cantatas, for instance, still show all the signs of the so-called ‘chorale cantata’, a continuous work in polyphonous madrigal form, each couplet of a chorale with its own variation. In the course of his career he added modern stylistic devices such as Italian da capo-arias, separate choirs with instrumental ‘concerti’, in which the (newly introduced) instruments would often play a highly virtuosic ‘concertante’ role. His influence on Handel’s early works is undeniable, for instance some of Handel’s melodies can be retraced to Zachow cantata fragments.

In the Marienkirche the organ and the ‘old’ instruments were tuned in the high ‘Chorton’, but the newly adopted French (wind) instruments were in the low ‘Kammerton’. As a result many of the cantatas are in two different tonalities. This is why much of his music has not yet been recorded or even published. The performance demands an unusual combination of instruments. Some examples are the French hautbois next to the ‘ancient’ dulcian and hunting horn (which was being introduced into art music at that period).

Much of Zachows music has been lost; what remains are some thirty church cantatas and choir works, an instrumental trio and a great number of works for organ solo, amongst them chorale fantasias. He probably wrote many more cantatas and organ works during his tenure as organist and ‘chorus musicus’; contemporary sources mention at least seventy cantatas and several masses.

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