Romanus Weichlein, who was also known as Andreas Franz Weichlein before taking his monastic vows, was an Austrian composer and violinist. He began his musical studies at home in Linz and continued at the monastery in Lambach before moving on to study at the University in Salzburg. It was while a student in Salzburg that Romanus probably met Heinrich Biber, a musician whose compositions proved as models for Weichlein’s own works.
Romanus was born into a family of musicians—more specifically, a family of organists. Romanus’ father eventually opted out of the profession in favor of becoming an innkeeper, while his brother stayed in the game as a church organist. Romanus, though, found his musical voice in the violin and was by all accounts, an extraordinary player. A contemporary account speaks with great acclaim of his performance of his (now lost) solo sonata at the Passau Cathedral for the Feast of Corpus Christi.
Weichlein worked both as a musical director at a Benedictine convent in Salzburg, and later in 1691 as a chaplain at a convent in Sabione. There, Weichlein introduced instruments into the church services that until that time, had been exclusively accompanied with only a cappella singing.
A Musical Gift
Given Weichlein’s promotion of instrumental music at Sabione and his own devotion to the violin, it’s no surprise that of Weichlein’s only two published collections, one is purely instrumental music. Dedicated to Leopold I, Weichlein’s Op. 1 set of 12 sonata was titled Encaenia Musices—that is, a musical offering, a musical feast, a musical gift.
Ensemble Masques: viola da gamba
Excerpts from Weichlein’s Encaenia Musices can be heard on a recent recording from Ensemble Masques. Members include director Olivier Fortin who plays the organ, Benoit Vanden Bemdem on violone, violinists Sopie Gent and Tuomo Suni, violist Kathleen Kajioka, and Melisande Corriveau on viola da gamba. The distribution of instruments is worth noting here because Weichlein composed these pieces for continuo, two violins and two violas. And by violas, it’s clear he meant primarily violas ‘da braccio’ that is, violas played up on the arm like violins, not violas ‘da gamba’ which were played held on the legs. That being said, Weichlein, in his preface to the publication, clarifies that much in the sonatas could be left to the discretion of the performers and suggests that violas da gamba could in fact substitute nicely in the first, third, sixth and eleventh sonatas of the collection.
What works for Ensemble Masque on their recording is the substitution of one viola da gamba for viola. It’s interesting to hear the different timbres as the two violins, viola da braccia and viola da gamba trade off.
Three other of Weichlein’s string sonatas are included on this CD, separated by several works for one and two harpsichords by various mid-17th century composers who lived and worked at the same time as Weichlein. The closing track of the CD is a passacaglia by Georg Muffat, a nearly exact contemporary of Weichlein. Together with Muffat, the inclusion of Kuhnau, Bohm, Pachelbel and others on Ensemble Masques’ recording paints a broad view of Weichlein and his place in music history.
Capella Vitalis Berlin: viola da braccio
Another recording, this one from Capella Vitalis Berlin, offers a more in depth exploration of Weichlein’s music.
Capella Vitalis Berlin uses both violas ‘da braccio’ in their recording, lending the ensemble a very homogenous string sound.
Founded by violinists Almut Schlicker and Ulrike Wildenhof, this is Capella Vitalis Berlin’s first recording, and it is dedicated entirely to the music of Romanus Weichlein. Besides the op. 1 string sonatas, their recording also includes two ensemble sonatas with trumpets from Weichlein’s collection.
In addition to the ensemble sonatas, Capella Vitalis Berlin plays the frivolous and lighthearted Canon on the Posthorn for four violins. Preserved on a copper plate in Lambach, Weichlein apparently wrote the piece as a 35th birthday present for his friend and patron Abbot Severin Blass.
Several short trumpet duets from the appendices of Weichlein’s collection round out this recording.
This is glorious music in the hands of both Ensemble Masque and Capella Vitalis Berlin. Recordings of Weichlein’s Encaenia Musices are few and far between. Gunar Letzbor and Ars Antiqua Austria recorded the complete opus in the 1990’s, but what a wonderful addition these two ensembles have made with their recent recordings.