The Chorus of Emmanuel Music
Recorded December 17 and 18 1990 and February 4 and 5, 1991 at Lindsay Chapel, Emmanuel Church, Boston, Massachusetts
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The very long and varied career of Heinrich Schutz, beginning with the Italian Madrigals Opus 1 published in 1611 and ending with the Opus Ultimum published in 1671 is daunting in its complexity and cultural cross-currents. Virtually every style of vocal writing current in the Seventeenth Century is represented in Schutz.
His only opera, the first German-language opera is, however, lost. Schutz was fortunate enough to study with both of the great Italian masters of the previous generation, Giovanni Gabrieli and Claudio Monteverdi. At one time of another each composer exerted and enormous influence on him, although by the end of his career, the German language Bible itself was the principle teacher.
The earliest work on our CD, the gigantic setting of Psalm 116 dates from five years past Schutz's "graduation exam", the stupendous Italian Madrigals. This work can be comfortably compared to the greatest Italian madrigals of Monteverdi and Marenzio - an extraordinary achievement for a 'student.' Our Psalm setting certainly gains from the experience for writing madrigals. Sections like "Ich kam in Jammer und Not" are in the best madrigal manner. The very next phrase of text, "O Herr, errette meine Seele" is in a quasi monodic style. All manners of composition of which Schutz was a master are folded in this piece.
The commission of this work is a curious story. A city official in Jena, Burckhard Grossman, after recovering from an illness in 1616, commissioned sixteen composers to set Psalm 116. The volume of the sixteen pieces is a virtual compendium of styles current at the time. While Schutz's setting is by far the most ambitious, several other major figures, most notably, Melchior Ranck and Johann Hermann Schein contributed significant works.
It would be a mistake however, to consider Schutz's work merely on stylistic grounds. This is a large-scale masterpiece, a watershed in Schutz's career. The cumulative impact of the six sections building to its last section, a heavenly transcendent setting of the nineteenth verse of the Psalm is overwhelming.
The Cantiones Sacrae are, with the first book of Symphoniae Sacrae, Schutz's most Italianate church music. While the Symphoniae Sacrae result directly from Schutz's exposure to Monteverdi and his dazzling new solo vocal style, the Cantiones Sacrae are, in a way, subtler, more cross-cultural. It also represents a more ambitious attempt at setting difficult, speculative texts. Certainly the Augustinian texts can be considered something of a warm up for the great Epistle settings of Geistliche Chormusic (1648), perhaps Schutz's greatest achievement. The five passion motets, based on Augustines gigantic expansion of Psalm 115 are among the peaks of seventeenth-century music. In richness of harmony, intensity of expression, and most importantly, the exploration of the vague, the ambiguous, and the contradictory, they are without equal. In fact, no musical analogy functions as well as the obvious correlation between these works and the feverish drama in Caravaggio. One thinks, particularly of a work like "The Martyrdom of St. Matthew" in Rome, a painting of such religious fury that the violence and passion of the beginnings of Christianity are almost palpable. Little religious music cares to explore this side of the faith as the Cantiones Sacraedoes. The motets make great use of the musical equivalents for chiaroscuro. The light and shade achieved by extremes of range at the words "ego suberbivi" in the third part, the wonderful blurred harmony at "cruciatus tui labor" in the second part are all painterly in their ambiguity. The immense journey from darkness to light, by means of the subtle ascntion of the range and the gradual predominance of the major mode over the minor mode is like following one of the gigantic beams of light that illuminate the best of Caravaggio's paintings.
If the daemonic side of Schutz is like Caravaggio, the gentle ecstasy of "Supereminet omnem scientiam" reminds one of Bernini. The heavenly stasis at the beginning of the work and the baroque trillos and staccati at the words "tremunt" are eons away from the torture of the passion motets. Even the chromaticism at the beginning of the second section has a benign quality unknown in the passion motets. "Aspice pater pussimum" the other Augustinian motet, occupies a middle ground. Its chromaticism is melancholy, but it contains the heightened sensitivity to shades of meaning that characterizes the passion motets. The little motet "Sicut Moses" is the only Gospel setting in the collection. It does what 17th Century music does best. The twisting lines clearly generate from the idea of the serpent rising, yet the text painting is neither slavish nor obvious. The elevated tone of the meaning of the metaphor is immediately achieved and sustained. The effect of the scale passaged against the held notes at the end of the motet is something we have seen before in Psalm 116. "Heu mini" is an intense little piece, tortured at first and murky and mysterious at the end.
Schutz's other great motet collection is in German and was published in the year of the Peace of Westphalia, 1648. One cannot help but think that Schutz's relief at the end of the terrible Thirty-years war has something to do with the radiance of many of these great motets. Schutz is, of course, by this time an old master and it seems that there is nothing that he can't do. Of the threemotets represented here, two are of the most abstract and difficult Epistle texts. The great Schutz biographer Hans Joachim Moser rightly states that it was not until Hugo Wolf that we find again such a master for German text setting. "Unser Wandel ist im Himmel" is typical of the far-reaching structural results of the text's shape. The relatively long journey to the works "nach der Wirkung" and the glorious unfolding, like a rose, of the ending words is utterly different from the usual arch form. "Das ist je gewisslich wahr" was originally written in 1631 for the funeral of Johann Hermann Schein, the only other German composer to hold a candle to Schutz. There is a hint for hommage from Schutz in the use of changing meters beloved by Schein and in the Italianate songfulness of "dass Christus Jesus". The glorious Doxology has such fervor one imagines it a portrait of Schein entering into heaven. "So fahr ich hin" is the concluding stanza of the hymn "Wenn mein Stundlein vorhanden ist." This treasure, so deeply felt and yet so childlike, also contains word painting specific and yet illustrative of a higher point. It is entirely characteristic of the profound and yet childlike faith of this great master.