A Christmas Eve reconciliation

Gebhartshagen_Nicolaikirche_Merian

A musical event 330 years ago today sought to forge a bridge between the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches in Germany.

In the second half of the 17th century it became customary to perform music on Christmas Eve at the Palazzo Apostolico Vaticano. The repertoire was embued with Arcadian sensibility, as the choice of the Nativity theme makes clear, and had an explicit didactic aim: to edify listeners through references to Holy Scripture and the basic principles of Christianity, both ethical and religious. Quite often, too, a desire was evident to celebrate the greatness of the Pope himself.

One of these Christmas Eve compositions, Li pastori alla cuna del Redentore, set to music by Giuseppe Pacieri, had an unusual fate: In 1685, two years after its performance in Rome, it was heard again in the ducal chapel in Wolfenbüttel (above) under a new title, Musica alla vigilia del Sto. Natale, and the praises of Pope Innocent XI at the end of Pietro Giubilei’s text ended up being sung at a Lutheran court.

An exceptional witness to and commentator on the event was the philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, whose interest in musical events and unwavering commitment to the cause of religious reconciliation between the different Christian churches in Germany are well known. The 1685 performance was probably not accidental—it was likely a sign of the desire for politcal renewal on the part of Prince Anton Ulrich von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel. The performance therefore represents an extraordinary event in the history of music at German Protestant courts.

This according to “La cuna del Redentore a Wolfenbüttel (1685) e i tentativi di conciliazione religiosa in Germania” by Andrea Luppi (Rivista italiana di musicologia XXIV/5 [1999] pp. 47–66).

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