Forget the "Three B's"for a moment. Consider the "Three H's" of German-Austria music: Johann David Heinichen (1683-1729), Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783), and Joseph Haydn (1732-1809). All three were immensely successful and well-known in their lifetimes, and all three deserved their success. No one could claim that Haydn has been neglected by posterity, but Heinichen and Hasse were cast into archival obscurity until recent decades. Even Haydn, I think, has been under-appreciated. Part of the problem has been that all three have been devalued for who they weren't -- Heinichen for not being Bach, Hasse for not being Gluck, and Haydn for not being Mozart. Oh well, blame the Romantic musicologists! Deep-sixing Heinichen, Hasse, and much of the work of Haydn has been "our" loss as music lovers.
The Three H's had more in common than their initials. They shared the fortune of working for, composing for, patrons of extravagant wealth -- Heinichen and Hasse successively for Augustus the Strong, Haydn for the moneybags Prince Anton Esterházy -- who provided the composers with the most excellent singers and instrumentalists on the market, opulent venues for performances, and properly appreciative audiences. [When Gus the Strong applauded, his courtiers did also.] Working in such courts, all three H's had motives for composing works of grand scale, both secular and sacred All three were commissioned to compose 'major' works for Catholic rites and ceremonies, accessing the richest musical traditions of Counter-Reformation Italy. Heinichen wrote at least 12 masses plus dozens of significant liturgical settings. Hasse wrote only two masses, but four magnificent oratorios and five extended vespers. Haydn wrote 14 masses plus the immense oratorio The Creation. Poor Bach wrote (or assembled) his sublime Mass in B minor seemingly for an audience of one - himself - with no prospect of performance by musicians of the virtuosity Heinichen or Hasse could routinely assume. No wonder Bach was disappointed when his application for the deceased Heinichen's position in Dresden was rejected and the post given to Hasse!
But the only way to meaningfully assess the artistry of any composer is to hear his/her music, and preferably the best of her/his music in the best possible performance. Here are three recordings of "the best by the best":
Johann David Heinichen: Lamentationes, etc.
Reinhard Goebel, with his Musica Antiqua Köln, was a vigorous advocate for the music of Heinichen, and this 2-CD recording from 1996 was one of MAK's finest ever. The "Lamentations of Jeremiah" and four Latin motets comprise one CD, while the second CD features a German-language Passion oratorio that even Bach might have envied for its emotive potency and thoughtful counterpoint.
Sanctus Petrus Et Sancta Maria Magdalena
Conductor Michael Hofstetter does wonders with the orchestra and choir of the Ludwigsberg Castle Festival. This is Hasse's most dramatic and operatic oratorio, less loaded with homiletic recitativos, more symphonic in its aria accompaniments. It helps, of course, that the soloists are among the best also: Vivica Genaux, Terry Wey, Kirtsen Blaise, Heidrun Kordes, and Jacek Laszczkowski.
Haydn: The Seven Last Words of Christ
Haydn: The Seven Last Words
Haydn first composed this setting of the Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross as an instrumental suite for a Passion service in Portugal. He then reconstructed the music as a string quartet - to my ears one of his most profound chamber works. Finally he was prodded into a third version, a setting of the sacred 'words' plus texts probably written by Joseph Freibert of Passau. The three version are brilliantly different, each being richly developed in its genre. The texted version as performed by the 'Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin", with solosits Sandrine Piau, Ruth Sandhoff, Robert Getchell, and Harry van der Kamp is a recording nobody should live or die without hearing. The Fitzwilliam Quartet's recording of the Last Words as pure chamber music has long been my favorite among many performances.