Historically informed performance is a large and wide-ranging term! One of its pivotal figures is Hermann Max, who studied sacred music at the Berlin conservatoire and musicology, art history and archaeology at the University of Cologne.
Tireless research in libraries and archives, the creation of scores which are true to their sources, and the securing of authentic performances are only some of his working priorities. He saved countless outstanding, mainly baroque works from vanishing altogether and, through exemplary and standard-setting performances, broadcasts and CD recordings, created a core body of work. To achieve all this he has two great ensembles at his disposal: the Rheinische Kantorei and Das Kleine Konzert, both founded by Max himself.
Without his work, the picture of the significant baroque era would have been incomplete or even inaccurate. An entire musical landscape has been rediscovered or completed by the work of Hermann Max: the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, of his sons and numerous relatives, that of his predecessors and Thomaskantor successors and of his contemporaries, colleagues and students. Countless broadcast recordings, productions for the Westdeutsche Rundfunk (WDR), the Deutschlandfunk and Deutschlandradio Kultur along with prize–winning CD recordings bear witness to this ambitious body of work.
Another of Max focal points is his engagement with Georg Philipp Telemann’s music, for which he has been awarded the Telemann–Preis in 1998 by the city of Magdeburg.
Apart from working with his ensembles, Hermann Max appears regularly as a guest conductor at home and abroad and teaches the interpretation of historical music.
In 1992 he founded the Festival Alte Musik, which takes place annually in september in the romanesque basilica of the Knechtsteden cloister.
Bach Medal of the City of Leipzig for Hermann Max
In the year 2008 the conductor Hermann Max has been awarded with the Bach Medal of the City of Leipzig. Burkhard Jung, Leipzig’s major handed out the award during an official ceremonial act in the Gohliser Schlösschen on the first Sunday of the Bach Festival. Max Hermann received the Bach Medal for his lifework, which is closely connected to the music of the great Cantor of St. Thomas’s. Jung described Hermann Max as a son of Bach, since he was a student of Karl Staube and Günther Ramins and thus stands directly in the Leipzig tradition.
The honorific speech was delivered by Prof. Christoph Wolff, director of the Bach-Archiv Leipzig. He has been acquainted with Max since their years of study. The two have studied church music in Berlin. Wolff appreciated Max’s long lasting commitment to reanimating a whole epoch of church music with his performances that set the benchmark for others. Max made a considerable musicological contribution to the rediscovery and clarification of Bach’s environment by systematically presenting works of Johann Sebastian Bach, his family, his students, contemporaries, predecessors and successors in chief.
By directly connecting performance practice with ‘unearthing’ material in archives Max has earned a reputation of an excavator of buried works. In his acceptance speech Max summarised what has been essential for his work with the Rheinische Kantorei and the Kleines Konzert. “From the start it was vital to our work to show that Johann Sebastian Bach was not the titan and that the whole music before him and shortly after his death was not necessarily inferior. No – we wanted to show this: not only were Bach’s composing predecessors, contemporaries, successors and sons great compositional craftsmen they were also great masters turning music into a medium that makes us aware of human catastrophes, deep sorrow and prosperous wonders in a didactical and moving way.”
The City of Leipzig donated the Johann-Sebastian-Bach-Medal in 2003. It is annually being awarded outstanding international artists for their commitment to the performance and maintenance of Bach’s music. In recent years, the medal has been awarded Nikolaus Harnoncourt (2007), Ton Koopman (2006), Sir John Eliot Gardiner (2005), Helmut Rilling (2004) and Gustav Leonhardt (2003).
Press declaration of the Bach-Archiv Leipzig, June 16, 2008
Fotos: Gert Mothes