HEINRICH SCHUTZ: GERMANY'S GREATEST 17TH CENTURY COMPOSER
Born within 40 years of Martin Luther's death, Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672)conferred musical greatness on Protestant church music in the German language. He left behind around 500 works - almost exclusively settings of texts from the Luther bible. His long and sparkling career was spread across the late Renaissance to the Baroque era. A student of Giovanni Gabrieli, Schutz blended Gabrieli's polychoral style and Protestant church music to yield dramatic masterpieces.
Schutz played a central role in the creation and development of early Baroque style in Germany, bringing to it what he had absorbed in his two visits to Italy. Apart from early Italian madrigals and a lost opera "Dafne", all of his surviving output is sacred music. Schutz had an immense influence on J.S.Bach. His three late Passions in an archaic style, continued a German tradition which can be traced through to Bach.
In his Symphoniae sacrae, published in three parts (1629, 1647 and 1650), Schutz reaped the fruits of his second journey to Italy. The fact that he in his full maturity, went a second time to Italy to learn from the 'sagaciious' Monteverdi, as he called him, bespeaks not only of his humility but also of his great respect for the Italian style. In part II and III of the Symphoniae sacrae, Schutz acknowledged his debt to Monteverdi, especially in the adoption of the 'stile concitato' (moving,agitated style). While he adhered in Part II to the few-voiced 'concertato', he revived in Part III the splendor of his earlier polychoral compositions. These are works on the largest scale which approach dramatic church cantata.
One of these , the deeply moving Pauline conversion "Saul, Saul, was virfelgst Du Mich?", is perhaps the most impressive and significant of all of Schutz's compositions. It is scored for an ensemble of six soloists, two four-voice choruses, two violins and organ continuo. At the beginning the solo voices give out the insistent calls "Saul, Saul", in an impetuously accelerated rhythm and come to an uncompromising cadence with stern parallel seconds. The calls are answered by the complimentary choruses and lead to a 'fortissimo' (very loud) climax which tapers off in a staggered echo effect, expressly prescribed by the composer.
Symphoniae sacrae III is a collection of twenty-one German compositions for three to six voices and two instruments, frequently with optional supplementary vocal and instrumental choirs. ( I might add that Bernius does it all using a large complement of performers making this a really formidable presentation not to be missed by the Early Music lover!!!) In this composition not only are the instruments independent partners of the vocal parts, but they are also responsible for the purely instrumental introduction and interludes, called 'Symphoniae'. Indeed it is one of the characterisics of these works that the instuments are inseparable from the compositional texture.
This presentation under the capable direction of Frieder Bernius is exiting and skilled; his forces are of the highest quality. They consist of his outstanding Kammerchor Stuttgart numbering 9 sopranos, seven male altos, seven tenors and eight basses who provide a solid resonant sound throughout the lengthy program. The soloists for the most part are all notable in the world of music today: sopranos= Maria Zedelius, Monika Frimmer, Mieke van der Sluis and a boy soprano from Tolzer Knabenchor, Stephen Geinger (sings only on track four); male alto Michael Chance (great singing then -1988- as well as now) tenors John Elwes, Christoph Pregardien; basses David Thomas and Cornelius Hauptmann. Musica Fiata consists of cornets, trombones, dulzian, viola da gamba, violin, lute (Nigel North & Stephen Stubbs, familiar names) and organ. They add their own expertise to this very fine performance.
Schutz never wrote any instrumental music independent of vocal compositions; all efforts were directed to the vocal genre. Deeply concerned over the spreading of facile and shallow works prompted by the German vogue for the Italian style that he had brought home and Germanized in his own fashion - Schutz staunchly upheld throughout his life the supremacy of the Italian style no matter who challenged it.
I found this to be an extremely entertaining group of concertanti and in fact one of the most interesting Schutz recordings that I possess, though there is none I do not like. The Two CD package recorded in February,1988, comes with a 30 page booklet with pertinent information in German, English ,French and Italian. The text is included in German with English translation.