Settings of the penitential psalm Miserere (psalm 50 according to the numbering of the Vulgata) were customary in the old Catholic Hofkirche since 1710, as can be seen clearly from the recordings of the Diarium Missionis Societatis Jesu Dresdae beginning in this year. They were performed during Friday prayers in Lent, when the Lent sermons were held as well; the order of these services remained unchanged from this time for at least two centuries. At the beginning of these prayers the psalm Miserere was performed figuraliter in front of the unveiled sanctissimum; then the sermon was delivered, during which the sanctissimum was covered by a sacramental cloth. This was followed by another chant usually not specified in the sources, versicle and oration of the priest, the hymn Pange lingua and the sacramental blessing, and finally the hymn O Lamm Gottes unschuldig. From 1730, such prayers during Lent were held daily except on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, the Lent sermon and ensuing chant being given only on the Fridays (and on the Sundays after vespers). After the forces of the Hofkirche ensemble were reduced in 1733, the figuraliter performance of the Miserere and the hymns fell to the court chapel, and thus the prayer services continued unchanged at the Dresden Hofkirche far into the nineteenth century. According to Friedrich August Forwerk’s Geschichte und Beschreibung der königlichen katholischen Hof und Pfarrkirche zu Dresden, in the mid-nineteenth century the orchestra participated in the Miserere prayers only on Wednesdays and Fridays; on the other days the vocal pieces were accompanied by the organ. This tendency to reduce the orchestra’s participation in the afternoon services (in addition to the prayers there were also vespers and litanies) continued in the following decades. In 1887, gas lighting was installed at the Catholic Hofkirche; this made it possible to move the Miserere prayers from four o’clock in the afternoon to 7 p.m. Beginning the following year, the music was performed only by the church singers and choir boys accompanied by the organ. Only the prayers on the Feast of the Seven Dolors (Friday before Palm Sunday) continued to be held at four in the afternoon, with Miserere and Stabat mater being performed with orchestral accompaniment until the end of the monarchy in 1918.
Since 1734 at the latest, a more or less fixed repertoire of Miserere settings was established, which over the years was gradually enlarged or renewed. As part of his duties as church composer and capellmeister, Johann Gottlieb Naumann (1741–1801), too, composed two Miserere, in E flat major and a minor, which at the end of the autograph scores are dated „February 1779“ and „1799/1900“ respectively. Naumann was born in Blasewitz near Dresden and at the age of sixteen had the opportunity to accompany the Swedish violinist Anders Wesström on a journey first to Hamburg and later to Italy. The juvenile Naumann took lessons from Giuseppe Tartini at Padua, Giovanni Battista Martini at Bologna, and Johann Adolf Hasse at Venice. Following a recommendation of the latter, and having performed a mass as a trial piece, on August 1, 1764, Naumann was appointed at the Dresden court as second church composer after Johann Georg Schürer (ca. 1720–1786). Soon after, Domenico Fischietti (ca. 1720–after 1810) was hired as court capellmeister at Dresden and took over the musical direction of the church services, taking weekly turns with Schürer and Naumann. As early as 1765, however, Naumann was sent to Italy for further studies, together with Joseph Schuster and Franz Seydelmann, both sons of singers in the court chapel. After Fischiettis dismissal and the appointment, on May 1, 1772, of Schuster and Seydelmann as church composers the rotating direction of the church service now was divided among four musicians. From 1772 to 1774, however, Naumann again traveled to Italy, there to compose and perform operas on his own account, as did Schuster from 1778 to 1781. In addition, in 1777/78 and 1782/83 Naumann stayed in Stockholm and in 1785/86 in Copenhagen in order to reorganize the court operas. Thus only occasionally all four musicians responsible for the church music were available at the same time. Hence Naumann’s and Schuster’s compositions for the service at the Catholic Hofkirche, which in most cases bear exact dates, reflect their respective presence at Dresden. In February of 1776, Naumann was made capellmeister and, effective November 1, 1786, he received a further increase of his annual salary to the amount of 2000 Thaler; in addition, he was exempt from the weekly rotating church service. From then on he had to direct the church music only at Christmas, Easter, Whitsun, and Corpus Christi and to perform only his own compositions and works by Johann Adolf Hasse.
The composition of Naumann’s Miserere in E flat major fell into a time when, at the end of the season of 1777/78, the contract with the opera company of the impresario Giuseppe Bustelli, which had been subsidized by the court, expired due to the Bavarian war of succession. As the opera singers also participated in the church performances, the diminishing of the forces affected the church service severely, until a new troupe was hired in the spring of 1780 under the direction of impresario Antonio Bertoldi. In view of this unsatisfactory situation the Directeur des plaisirs Friedrich August von König urged the Elector to engage new singers, as „it is to be feared that soon the choir, if not the entire church music, will be silent altogether, ... Your Electoral Highness have talented composers and a well-functioning orchestra, yet both will be useless if they are unable to fulfill their duty because of a lack of vocal forces.“ Because of the size of the church, Friedrich August von König considered six, but no less than four singers per voice adequate. His suggestions were refused, however, as it was anticipated that in the spring of the following year opera singers would again be available for the church service.
The situation described above affected the musical disposition of Naumann’s Miserere in E flat major even in details. Extensive soli were given only to the high castrato Nicolaus Spindler and one of the two tenors (Ludovicus Cornelius or Franz Ignatius Seydelmann, the father of the church composer and later capellmeister); in addition to this, one of the basses had a brief solo. The extensive reinforcement of the voices by the woodwinds was probably also owed to the precarious situation of the church singers during the Lent season of 1779. This does not mean, however, that the present composition was merely a work written for emergency situations in the Hofkirche choir. Naumann was particularly skillful in exploiting the possibilities of the chapel’s wind instruments for the specific color of the music at the Dresden Hofkirche. Another feature typical of this style are the subdued beginnings and endings of individual movements if not of the entire composition.
How long after Naumann’s death the Miserere in E flat major remained in the repertoire of the Dresden Hofkirche, at present cannot be stated with certainty. With the new regulations after 1786 there was no need any more for the composer to provide old or new Miserere settings for the Lent services. Nevertheless towards the end of his life he wrote a second Miserere (in a minor) without any obvious reason. It is generally to be assumed that, at least in the first third of the nineteenth century, the two Miserere settings by Naumann had not yet been forgotten
(translation by Stephanie Wollny)