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Contents

Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries

SHRIVELED DOWN TO THE EXPRESSIVE NUB

Chapter:
CHAPTER 2 Fat Times and Lean
Source:
MUSIC IN THE SEVENTEENTH AND EIGHTEENTH CENTURIES
Author(s):
Richard Taruskin

Schütz returned from his second Italian sojourn to find conditions in Germany greatly worsened. The war economy interfered more directly with musical opportunities than ever, and in the autumn of 1631 Saxony became an active belligerent in alliance with Sweden. Most of Schütz’s singers were drafted into the army; by 1633, the Dresden musical establishment, once the envy of Germany, was to all intents and purposes disabled, “like a patient in extremis,” as Schütz put it in a letter to his patron, and so it remained until the mid 1640s. The Gabrielian side of Schütz’s Venetian heritage was deprived of an outlet. “I am of less than no use,” the unhappy composer complained in another letter from the time. The only gainful employment he had during this dismal period came from courts to the north and west that continued to function, particularly that of King Christian IV of Denmark in Copenhagen, which Schütz was permitted to visit from 1634 to 1635 and again from 1642 to 1644, and that of Hildesheim, where he spent some months from 1640 to 1641.

During these bleak years Schütz’s “Monteverdian” side came into its own, as if by default. In 1636 and in 1639 he published collections of what he called Kleine geistliche Concerte or “Little Sacred Concertos,” vastly scaled-down compositions for from one to five solo voices with organ continuo, completely without the use of concertante instruments (with one exception, a dialogue setting of the Ave Maria in the second book). These ascetic compositions were characterized not only by drastically curtailed forces but by a mournfully penitential, subjective mood as well. The ones for single solo voices and continuo, performable by only two musicians, were perhaps the most characteristic of the lot, amounting to what Italian musicians would have called sacred monodies in recitative style, or (as Schütz called it) the stylus oratorius.

The opening concerto in the first book, Eile mich, Gott, zu erretten (“Hasten, O God, to deliver me!”), a complete setting of the tiny Psalm 70, sets the tone (Ex. 2–13). In this earliest German recitative (labeled in stylo oratorio—“in the style of an oration”—in the original print), the flamboyance of Schütz’s earlier style is replaced by terse declamation. There is not a single melisma. Emphasis comes not from a proliferation of notes but from repetition of key words and phrases, usually without any corresponding repetition of music. A certain amount of word-painting remains—the melody “turns back” on itself on the word zurückekehren in mm. 6–7; the words hoch gelobt (“highly praised”) are repeated in mm. 14–15 on the way to a high note—but it is very restrained. Instead of seeking out madrigalian imagery, Schütz now seems bent on distilling a more generalized, concentrated emotion in the spirit of Monteverdi’s seconda prattica, achieving it through dissonant leaps (see especially the taunts in mm. 11–12) and syncopated rhythms.

Perhaps the most poignant reminder of the straitened circumstances in which Schütz was now forced to work is the puny little symphonia between the stanzas of the psalm (just after Ex. 2-13 breaks off), a single optional (si placet) measure scored for just the bare figured bass. The absence of any tune save what the organist may extemporize searingly dramatizes the absence of the court instrumentalists whose corpses were piling up on the Saxon battlefields.

Shriveled Down To The Expressive Nub

ex. 2-13 Heinrich Schütz, Eile mich, Gott, zu erretten (Kleine geistliche Concerte I), mm. 1–16

In Schütz’s new-found techniques of poignant text-expression, we may observe the beginnings of a tendency that would reach a remarkable climax in the Lutheran music of the coming century: the deliberate cultivation of ugliness in the name of God’s truth, an authentic musical asceticism. It is often thought to be a specifically German aesthetic, and as evidence of a special Germanic or Protestant profundity of response to scripture (as distinct from Italianate pomp and sensuality). And yet the musical means by which it was accomplished, as Schütz’s career so beautifully demonstrates, were nevertheless rooted in Catholic Italy. Schütz was only the father of modern German music to the extent that he served as conduit for those Italianate means.

Rebuilding of the impoverished German courts and their cultural establishments could only begin after the signing of the Peace of Westphalia on 24 October 1648, which effectively terminated the Holy Roman Empire as an effective political institution (although it would not be formally dissolved until 1806). The German Protestant states, of which Saxony was one, were recognized as sovereign entities, leaving only France as a united and centralized major power on the continent of Europe. Schütz’s patron, the Elector Johann Georg, emerged from the war as one of the two most powerful Protestant princes of Germany. (The other was the Elector of the state of Brandenburg, which later became the kingdom of Prussia.)

Schütz’s last publications reflected these improved fortunes. In 1647 he issued a second book of Symphoniae sacrae, scored like the first for modest vocal/instrumental forces, but with texts in German. The next year saw the publication of his Geistliche Chor-Music, beautifully crafted polyphonic motets specifically intended for performance by the full chorus rather than favoriti or soloists. Finally, in 1650, aged sixty-five, he issued what is now thought of as his testamentary work, the third book of Symphoniae sacrae, scored for forces of a size he had not had at his disposal since the time of the Psalmen Davids. The music, though, was still characterized by the terseness and pungency of expression he had cultivated during the lean years. Schütz’s Gabrielian and Monteverdian sides had met at last in a unique “German” synthesis.

One of the crowning masterworks in this final collection is Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich, scored for six vocal soloists, two choruses, and an instrumental contingent consisting of two violins and violone (string bass), all accompanied by a bassus ad organum (continuo). The text consists of two lines from the Acts of the Apostles (chapter 7, verse 14), containing the words spoken by Christ to the Jewish priest Saul on the road toward Damascus. As Saul, according to the Biblical account, later reports to Agrippa I, the grandson of King Herod:

I myself once thought it my duty to work actively against the name of Jesus of Nazareth; and I did so in Jerusalem…. In all the synagogues I tried by repeated punishment to make them renounce their faith; indeed my fury rose to such a pitch that I extended my persecution to foreign cities.

On one such occasion I was travelling to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests; and as I was on my way, Your Majesty, in the middle of the day I saw a light from the sky, more brilliant than the sun, shining all around me and my travelling-companions. We all fell to the ground, and then I heard a voice saying to me in the Jewish language, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you, this kicking against the goad.” I said, “Tell me, Lord, who you are”; and the Lord replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But now, rise to your feet and stand upright. I have appeared to you for a purpose: to appoint you my servant and witness, to testify both to what you have seen and to what you shall yet see of me” (translation from The New English Bible).

Thus did Saul become the Apostle Paul. The italicized words are the ones that form the text of Schütz’s concerto. It is no straightforward setting, but one designed to fill in a great deal of the surrounding narration of Paul’s miraculous conversion by means of dramatic symbolism. The words echo and reecho endlessly in the prostrate persecutor’s mind, which we who hear them seem to inhabit. The echo idea is portrayed in the music not only by repetition but also by the use of explicitly indicated dynamics, something pioneered in Venice by Schütz’s first teacher.

The musical phrase on which most of the concerto is built is sounded immediately by a pair of basses, then taken up by the alto and tenor, then by the sopranos, and finally by the pair of violins as transition into the explosive tutti. (Divine words were often set for multiple voices, so as to depersonalize them and prevent a single singer from “playing God.”) The syncopated repetitions of the name Saul are strategically planted so that, when the whole ensemble takes them up, they can be augmented into hockets resounding back and forth between the choirs, adding to the impression of an enveloping space and achieving in sound something like the effect of the surrounding light described by the Apostle. The words was verfolgst du mich (“Why dost thou persecute me?”) are often set in gratingly dissonant counterpoint: a suspension resolution in the lower voice coincides with an anticipation in the higher voice, producing a brusque succession of parallel seconds (later known, albeit unjustly, as a “Corelli clash” owing to its routinized use in Italian string music).

The second sentence of text is reserved for the soloists (favoriti), whose lines break out into melismas on the word löcken (lecken in modern German), here translated as “kick.” Against this the two choirs and instruments continually reiterate the call, “Saul, Saul,” as a refrain or ritornello. In the final section of the concerto, the soloists declaim the text rapidly in a manner recalling Monteverdi’s stile concitato. Meanwhile, the tenor soloist calls repeatedly on Saul, his voice continually rising in pitch from C to D to E, the two choirs interpreting these pitches as dominants and reinforcing each successive elevation with a cadence, their entries marking “modulations” from F to G to A, the last preparing the final return to the initial tone center, D (Ex. 2-14).

The ending, rather than the climax that might have been expected, takes the form of reverberations over a fastidiously marked decrescendo to pianissimo, the forces scaled down from tutti to favoriti plus instruments, and finally to just the alto and tenor soloists over the continuo, the fadeout corresponding to the Apostle’s “blackout,” his loss of consciousness on the road to Damascus. Through the music we have heard Christ’s words through Saul’s ears and shared his shattering religious experience. Schütz has in effect imported the musical legacy of the Counter Reformation into the land of the Reformation, reappropriating for Protestant use the musical techniques that had been originally forged as a weapon against the spread of Protestantism.

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ex. 2-14 Heinrich Schütz, Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich (Symphoniae sacrae III), mm. 67–74

Schütz’s largest surviving works are oratorios, or as he called them, Historien—Biblical “narratives,” in which actual narration, sung by an “Evangelist” or Gospel reciter, alternates with dialogue. Oratorios were most traditionally assigned to Easter week, when the Gospel narratives of Christ’s suffering (Passion) and Resurrection were recited at length. Sure enough, of Schütz’s six Historien, five were Easter pieces: a Resurrection oratorio composed early in his career, in 1623; a setting of Christ’s Seven Last Words from the Cross, evidently from the 1650s; and three late settings of the Passion according to the Apostles Matthew, Luke, and John, respectively. These last, in keeping with Dresden liturgical requirements for Good Friday, are austerely old-fashioned a cappella works in which the chorus sings the words of the crowd (turbae), and the solo parts (the Evangelist, Jesus, and every other character whose words are directly quoted) are written in a kind of imitation plainchant for unaccompanied solo voices.

The remaining oratorio, called Historia der freuden- und gnadenreichen Geburth Gottes und Marien Sohnes, Jesu Christi, unsers einigen Mitlers, Erlösers und Seeligmachers (“The Story of the Joyous and Gracious Birth of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Mary, Our Sole Intermediary, Redeemer and Savior”), performed in Dresden in 1660, is by contrast a thoroughly Italianized, effervescent outpouring of Christmas cheer in which the Evangelist’s part (printed by itself in 1664) is in the style of a continuo-accompanied monody. The words given to the other soloists (Herod, the angel, the Magi) and chorus in ever-changing combinations are set as eight little interpolated songs (Intermedia), accompanied by a colorful assortment of instruments: recorders, violins, cornetti, trombones, and “violettas,” the last probably meaning small viols; and there are introductory and concluding choruses—the former announcing the subject, the latter giving thanks—in which voices resound antiphonally against echoing instrumental choirs in a manner recalling the Venetian extravaganzas of the composer’s youth.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 2 Fat Times and Lean." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2020. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-02009.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 2 Fat Times and Lean. In Oxford University Press, Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries. New York, USA. Retrieved 31 Mar. 2020, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-02009.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 2 Fat Times and Lean." In Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 31 Mar. 2020, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-02009.xml