|About this Recording
8.553044 - SCHUTZ: Psalmen Davids
Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672)
Venice, the illustrious city which fostered so much innovation in church music in the sixteenth century, was a natural destination for the young Schütz from Saxony to pursue his studies in composition. The formative years of 1609 to 1612 were spent under the supportive tutorship of Giovanni Gabrieli whose practice of writing for divided choirs was enthusiastically adopted by Schütz.
Dresden, with its elegant architecture and cultured court life, was one of many German cities in the seventeenth century whose ruling family took pride in the church music which it could promote, and in 1617 Schütz obtained a permanent position at the court of the Elector, as senior director of the Chapel Royal. With responsibilities for both directing and writing choral and chamber music for services and for secular occasions, and at the head of an élite band of musicians widely acclaimed as the finest in the German Protestant church, Schütz found himself in an environment which favoured lavish display and which thus encouraged his burgeoning creativity.
At a time when the preferred religious texts in Germany for meditation or musical use were of either a devotional or introspective nature, Schütz was attracted to the descriptive and the dramatic aspects of sacred texts, especially from the Bible. In 1619 he produced a collection of 26 Konzerte ("anthems"), the Psalmen Davids, explicitly acknowledging his indebtedness to his mentor Gabrieli and using a kaleidoscopic variety of colours and textures for his settings, which followed the recent local fashion of using German for psalm texts in preference to the prevailing Latin. Schütz provides detailed instructions on the disposition of the voices and the use of instruments; the choirs sometimes have parallel ranges, sometimes they are divided into high and low sections, and on occasions soloists are required. The Italian influence is evident not only in the vocal textures but also in Schütz's transformation of poetry into music. Whereas in many German settings of religious texts the paramount consideration had been the regular metrical pattern, Schütz is swayed by the declamatory characteristics of individual phrases, and so, following his text, he varies the pace from solemn stateliness to vigorous insistence, often using repetition or echo - in a manner reminiscent of the Italian madrigal. Unexpected chromaticism appears at moments of special poignancy - being all the more poignant with an accompaniment on instruments of unequal temperament - and Schütz utilizes the rich qualities of the German vowel sounds and the sparkle of the consonants to powerful emotional effect.
In nearby Leipzig, Schütz had a close friend in the musical director at the Thomaskirche, Johann Hermann Schein (1586-1630), who wrote a substantial corpus of church music and also a number of instrumental suites which include stately pavan movements. Schütz was present at Schein's death-bed and composed Das ist je gewißlich wahr for his funeral. At the age of 85 Schütz wrote his exuberant German Magnificat as a thanksgiving for the grace of God manifest in his life. His Latin epitaph pays fitting tribute to him as "the Christian singer of psalms, a joy for foreigners, and a light for Germany".
In 1996 he was appointed Head of Academic Studies at the Royal Academy of Music, and he currently divides his time between lecturing, researching, conducting, and writing and presenting programmes for BBC Radio 3.
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