Der Schwanengesang (Swan Song) - Psalm 119 SWV482-492, Psalm 100 SWV493, Deutsches Magnificat SWV 494
Soprano Soloists Of The Knabenchor Hannover: Moritz Bartels* (1-3, 6, 9), Hendrik Muller** (1-3, 6, 9), Markus Bothe* (4, 5, 7, 8,10), Sebastian Earth** (4, 5, 7, 8,10), ( * Chor I), (** Chor II)
The Hilliard Ensemble (1-11): David James, counter-tenor*, Ashley Stafford, counter-tenor**, John Potter, tenor*, Leigh Nixon, tenor**, Paul Hillier, bass*, Gordon Jones, bass**, (* Chor I), (** Chor II)
London Baroque (1-13): Ingrid Seifert, violin, Richard Gwilt, violin, Richard Campbell, tenor violin
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In this 1985 'European Music Year' Heinrich Schutz precedes Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel, whose birthdays fell three hundred years ago. Once again Schutz deserves to be in the limelight of the musical scene and the annals of music. He was bom at Kostritz, near Gera, 400 years ago, on October 8,1585, and today appears as a fascinating figure of German music.
The early collection of Psalmen Davids (1619) forms the one pier supporting the powerful arch of his complete works in its variety of forms and genres and to which corresponds the other pier represented by the late Schwanengesang. Both present themselves as complete, rounded settings of the Psalms in Luther's German text. Polychoral, musically speaking, and designed for divine worship, both are characterised by what Schutz termed 'recitative style' - emphatic, expressive declamatory discourse 'set to music'.
What differentiates the late Psalm-work from the early one is Schutz's very much greater freedom in the use of resources for composition. No less than in the case of all other late works by the composer, old Sagittarius's fascinating power of synthetic organisation also informs the 'Swan Song'. What on the one hand is an exemplary representation in the Psalms of David of compression and often block-harmony in the polychoral anthems, and what on the other hand in the great collection of motets, Geistliche Chor-Musik (Dresden 1648), is presented as superb polyphony, with characteristics both of the motet and the madrigal, set for five to seven voices. Schutz in the 'Swan Song' blends all this to greater perfection. With his talent for musical organisation he differs fundamentally from his equally accomplished, contemporary peer Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), with whose 'new music' Schutz made a close acquaintance on his second visit to Italy.
Schutz instead reacted in a highly 'German' way when in combining both styles and consequently the complex unity of his artistic credo took precedence over each separate development and distinction in the musical evolution of his century. From this premise we can clearly see why Schutz composed vocal music almost exclusively. He refused to abandon the unity of music - a close association of instruments and voices - and that not out of reactionary, decadent 'cleverness', but as a consequence of his whole and undivided world and his conception of art. Hence 'the last word' of the more than eighty-year-old Henricus Sagittarius was his 'Swan Song', a vocal composition, but one which, according to the custom in the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth centuries, presupposed the cooperation of instrumentalists without making use, however, of a binding formula.
From 1656, living mostly in his native town, Weissenfeis, Schutz remained as Director of the Chapel Royal, Dresden, until the end of his life and continued to write the works of his old age while performing his daily duties.
The first great example of his late output is the Weihnachtshistorie ('Christmas Story'), an oratorio published around 1660-1664, which was linked to the miniature oratorio Die sieben Worte unseres lieben Erlosers ('The Seven Words from the Cross'; 1662). In 1663-1664,1665 and 1666 there followed the three Passions (St. Luke, St. John and St. Matthew) and other isolated works and, presumably from about 1666 to 1671, the present, final motet cycle. The 'Christmas Story', the Passions and probably also the Sieben Worte were commissioned works (the latter maybe for the Brandenburg Margrave in Bayreuth or Kulmbach). Schutz's Opus Ultimum - settings of Psalms 119 and 100 and the Magnificat (Luke 1, 46-55) - represents his artistic as much as his spiritual, religious testament and is composed not from an external but a rather more intimate motivation. That Schutz planned the great choral cycle known as his last work to be his swan-song is attested by various acquaintances in his narrow circle. The most important of them is the poet-composer, Constantin Christian Dedekind (1628-1715), who in the dedicatory preface to his own setting of the 119th Psalm, Konig Davids Goldnes Kleinod (Dresden 1674), reports that Schutz 'appears to have a short time to live. His final work is a setting, not formerly undertaken by any composer, of the long 119th Psalm under the title of 'Swan Song' -no doubt, because he considers it to be his last work. It is heroicand artistic and he is composing it diligently for eight voices in two choirs.'
An unusual choice of text, the complete setting of all 176 verses is based on the Lutheran and Church interpretations of the Psalms as a 'small Bible' and therefore as a concentration of the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Heinrich Schutz ended his long, rich, industrious life with this symbolic setting of the Bible as a personal confession of his all-embracing art.
As a 'supplement' he added to the eleven motets of the 119th Psalm a twelfth on Psalm 100 which in its first draft in 1662 was performed at the consecration of the Dresden Palace Church. The thirteenth section of the cycle was the 'German Magnificat'. Of this work, frankly classical in its harmony and linear counterpoint, a first draft, produced in 1669, has survived to this day which Schutz revised for the 'Swan Song'. Under the bottom line of the vocal part - Chorus-Second Bass - Schutz has written the word FINIS as an ending to his life's work.
After completing the full score, which nd longer exists, the composer in 1671 produced a fair copy of the work in the form of nine vocal scores with the aid of a copyist but had the title-pages and index printed. Schutz dedicated his 'Swan Song1 to the same Institute with which he had been associated since 1615, the Saxon Electoral Chapel of Court Musicians, in Dresden.
The immediate reconstruction of the entire work which I myself undertook (the soprano and tenor parts had to be restored) made an authentic complete performance possible in 1981 in Dresden. The first printing of the 'Swan Song' which I had urgently prepared for the 1985 jubilee year and this gramophone recording enrich the essential image of Heinrich Schutz and should through the art of sound make us ever more conscious of the manifest spirituality and emotional depth of the old master of German music.
-Dr. Wolfram Steude, 1985