Heinrich Schütz (1585 -1672) is often considered the most important German composer prior to J.S. Bach. He composed pieces in the secular and the sacred areas, including the first German opera, 'Dafne', which is unfortunately lost. A contemporary of Monteverdi, he also exists in the period of transition from medieval polyphony and Renaissance styles and the emerging Baroque era.
The Symphoniae Sacrae are among the most important compositions of the seventeenth century, and a definite monument to German composition prior to J.S. Bach. Schütz drew inspiration from the Italian school (he studied with Gabrieli, who reportedly gave Schütz his signet ring as a symbol that Schütz would be his successor in composition). Schütz wrote three collections of sacred symphonies: the first was done in Venice in 1629, the second in Dresden in 1647, and the third (the subject of this collection) in Dresden in 1650.
These of the third set are vocal concertos written in German (the first set had been in Latin, 'a concession of the Protestant composer to his Catholic hosts', according to Wolfram Steinbeck). This involves the language of Luther's Bible, which had a sacred feel about it for Schütz. The voices are often accompanied by instruments - violins were modern instruments of the time, but other instruments such as lute and organ were well known.
One commentator has written about Schütz's wonderful music being vocal concertos involving a singer, or often a group of vocalists who are soloists as opposed to a larger chorus and orchestra, which has its own instrumental counterpoint. This is a precursor for the end of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in many ways.
This recording is the first complete recording of the third set of sacred symphonies. The Musica Fiata ensemble paired with the Kammerchor Stuttgart, under the direction of Frieder Bernius presents a beautiful production. There are solos for soprano, boy soprano, alto, tenor, and bass in different parts of these works, as well as larger sections of combined singing and playing.
Recorded in 1988, it is a wonderful work to have of some of the earliest Baroque pieces, still heavily influenced by medieval and Renaissance styles. Schütz meant for this to be his swan song, the piece upon which he retired (he was 65 years old at the time); fortunately for later music lovers, his retirement was postponed (some of Schütz's most remarkable work would come more than a decade later). It is a glorious piece.