Vesperpsalmen, op. 3.
Very little is known of Fischer's early life, or even the place and date of his birth, though a number of clues may be gleaned from the names of the dedicatees of his printed works, for he might have studied with or worked for some of them. The Vesperae seu psalmi vespertini is dedicated to Joannes Franciscus Franchimont of Frankenfeld, master general of the Knights of the Cross with a Red Star (Ordo militaris crucigerorum cum rubea stella), or Kreuzherren, at the Convent of St. Francis in Prague from 1699 to 1707. Founded in the thirteenth century, this sacred and military order of canons served the sick in hospitals that they established throughout Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, and Poland, and defended the faith during the Hussite Wars, the Reformation, and the Thirty Years' War. It is not clear what Fischer's relationship with Franchimont or the Kreuzherren was, but a number of his compositions are found in a collection of manuscripts that was bought by the canons from the widow of Christoph Karl Gayer (d. 1734). Other works by "Fischer" turn up in collections and inventories of music associated with former Kreuzherren, Cistercian, and Piarist establishments in Bohemia and Moravia. A study of these manuscripts and inventories, along with the documents connected to their respective institutions, might provide the details necessary to establish Fischer's place and date of birth and earliest training in composition. (The fact that a unique manuscript copy of Antonio Vivaldi's setting of "Dixit Dominus" [RV 595] for single chorus, extant in Prague, stems from a Kreuzherren collection exemplifies their importance.)
Fischer's Vesperae seu psalmi vespertini is one in a long tradition of Vesper psalm collections published during the second half of the seventeenth century. The publication includes concerted settings of the versicle "Domine ad adjuvandum me festina," sixteen of the most usual Vesper psalms, and two settings of the Magnificat (one marked brevius, the other longius). Composed as vocal concertos for strings, chorus (the vocal parts are marked solo and ripieno), and continuo (violone and organ), the psalms are stylistically set, for the most part, brevius: there are few, if any, instrumental interruptions of the text in the form of preludes, interludes, or postludes; the verses are articulated according to the sense of the text or the structure of the verse, that is, without unnecessary repetition; sections alternate in imitative style, by overlapping parts of the verse, or by changing instrumentation. With the exception of Psalm 131, Fischer does not alter the meter within a psalm setting; likewise, he rarely changes the tempo unless the sense of the verse would thereby be heightened, as in Psalms 112 and 126. Nonetheless, these psalm settings show how eloquently Fischer observed the rhetorical properties of the scriptural texts. Whether in the compact (56-measure) "Laudate Dominum omnes gentes" (Psalm 116), where the reiteration of the word Laudate in all four voices captures the sense of praise and glory of the biblical verse, or in "Lauda Jerusalem Dominum" (Psalm 147), where the introduction of sixteenth notes at "velociter currit sermo ejus" depicts the literal meaning of the text "his word runneth swiftly," Fischer artfully captures the rhetorical properties of individual words or the sense of the verse.
Two settings of the Canticle of the Magnificat conclude this opus. The first, marked brevius, is stylistically similar to the Vesper psalms with alternation of soloists and ripienists. The second, marked longius, is composed in early eighteenth-century cantata style with choral sections (marked solo or ripieno) that alternate with recitatives ("Quia respexit" and "Esurientes") and arias for solo voices. Fischer's setting is an early example of a Magnificat with sections in recitative: I can think of only one other Magnificat from this period that has recitative (also for the "Quia respexit"), the late seventeenth-century setting a 6 by Antonio Gianettini preserved in the Bokemeyer Collection in Berlin (Mus. ms. 30 211). The small number of Meine Seele settings that incorporate sections in recitative derive from the eighteenth century.
I first became acquainted with Fischer's Magnificat from a manuscript copy preserved at the Sachsische Landesbibliothek in Dresden that is partly in the hand of Jan Dismas Zelenka and partly in that of a Dresden copyist. The setting is listed in Zelenka's "Inventarium" (inventory of sacred works for use at the Hofkirche) that covers the period 1726-39. The score (Mus. 1865-D-1), formerly part of the collection of the Catholic Hofkirche and once attributed to Leonhard Fischer, contains two psalm settings ("Laudate Dominum omnes gentes" and "In exitu Israel") in addition to the Magnificat (longius). The first sections of the Magnificat are untexted, with the exception of a word or two to identify them; the third section, "Fecit potentiam," is neither texted nor identified. But beginning with "Esurientes," the sections are fully texted. And although Zelenka has notated a scoring for four voices (without distinguishing solo or ripieno parts), two violins, viola, and basso continuo on the cover of the manuscript, the instrumental parts are lacking in all sections up to the "Suscepit Israel;" leading one to wonder whether they are to be performed colla parte, in concertante style, or in a combination of both styles as in the sections that are notated. Zelenka's copy of Fischer's Magnificat, though incomplete, provides an example of an earlier work by a respected contemporary that was partly edited and updated to satisfy the then-current taste at the Dresden Hofkirche. But were it not for Fischer's 1701 print, we would have a somewhat different impression of his Magnificat based on Zelenka's edition.
Thanks to Rudolf Walter's elegant edition, we are now in a position to study and perform these Vesper psalms and Magnificats in the manner Fischer intended. Walter's short, though richly detailed historical introduction, which places the print within the context of the era, his well-chosen facsimiles reproducing the dedicatory pages and the first page of the organ part that contains Fischer's performing instructions, and his critical report provide scholars with up-to-date bibliographic information that spans Czech religious history and the music literature.