Feast of David Moritz Michael (October 21)   2 comments

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 1832

Above:  View of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 1832

Image in the Public Domain

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DAVID MORITZ MICHAEL (OCTOBER 21, 1751-FEBRUARY 26, 1827)

German-American Moravian Musician and Composer

David Moritz Michael (1751-1827), a native of Kuhnhausen, in Germany, received his musical training in Europe.  He became a virtuoso on instruments including the violin, the clarinet, and the French horn.  He brought his musical talents to the Moravian Church (Unitas Fratrum), which he joined when he was thirty years old.  Our saint taught music at the Moravian school at Niesky prior to transferring to the Bethlehem-Nazareth area of Pennsylvania in 1795 to work with young men there.  He lived in Nazareth from 1795 to 1808 and at Bethlehem from 1808 to 1815.  He led the collegium musicum of Nazareth from 1795 to  1804.  Michael assumed leadership of the collegium musicum of Bethlehem in 1808, revitalizing the ensemble musically and financially.  In 1811, at Bethlehem, he conducted an early (if not the first) American performance of Franz Joseph Haydn’s The Creation.

Our saint seems to have composed only during his two decades in the United States of America.  A major work was Psalm 103, which he debuted at Nazareth on November 8, 1805.  He scored the composition, which he intended as a concert piece, for SATB choir, two flutes, two clarinets, bassoon, clarini, string, and organ.  Karl Kroeger wrote in 1976 that Psalm 103 was

the first extended, cantata-like work written by an American Moravian composer, and quite possibly the earliest work for these performing forces written in America.

Kroeger wrote of our saint that Psalm 103 

shows Michael to have been a capable composer of considerable craftsmanship, and perhaps the only Moravian composer in America during his time who could have successfully handled a large-scale, lyrico-dramatic choral form.  On the basis of Psalm 103 alone one must rank Michael as a major figure in American Moravian music.

Michael also composed fourteen Parthien for woodwind ensembles, many solos for vocalists, many motets for church choirs, and two suites for Whitmonday (the Monday after Pentecost).  The structure of each of the Parthien was three to five movements, with forms similar to early classical symphonies.  His motets, all of whom musicologists might not have identified, included “Hearken! Stay Close to Jesus Christ,” “Hearken, For I Bring You Great Joy,” and “Hail, Newborn Infant.”  Whitmonday was an occasion for a music festival along the banks of the Lehigh River at Bethlehem.  Michael’s two suites for Whitmonday were Water Journey (1809) and Suites to Play by a Spring (probably 1810).  The ensemble performed the fifteen movements and two unnumbered sections of Water Journey on a piloted boat on the river.  Each movement was consistent with the condition of the river (from quiet to the whirlpool in the middle to quiet again) when the musicians performed it.  This work, according to many, was Michael’s masterpiece.  Suites to Play by a Spring had fourteen movements–an introduction and three sections.

Our saint returned to Germany in 1815.  He died at Neuweid on February 26, 1827.  His music has survived him, fortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 27, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE WASHINGTON DOANE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF NEW JERSEY

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANTONY AND THEODOSIUS OF KIEV, FOUNDERS OF RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MONASTICISM; SAINT BARLAAM OF KIEV, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX ABBOT; AND SAINT STEPHEN OF KIEV, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX ABBOT AND BISHOP

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Eternal God, light of the world and Creator of all that is good and lovely:

We bless your name for inspiring David Michael Moritz

and all those who with music have filled us with desire and love for you;

through Jesus Christ our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit

lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

1 Chronicles 29:14b-19

Psalm 90:14-17

2 Corinthians 3:1-3

John 21:15-17, 24-25

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 728

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