26 July 2013

Some Comments on Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672)

Seems to me music is very much like language, you have to learn its idioms in order to really “get" it, and most people, even those who have a little familiarity with “classical" music, simply do not really hear 400 year old music (much less music that’s even older or more remote culturally). But if you open your ears and heart to this motet (Ist nicht Ephraim mein teurer Sohn; SWV 40, from Psalmen Davids, 1619), you will note that it is about as poignant as anything you’re likely to hear anywhere.

The 17th century produced 2, and exactly 2, real geniuses of Western Music. And I would rank them Schütz #1, Monteverdi #2, although of course most music history buffs would chose the reverse order and might even insist on the superiority of lesser composers like Dowland, Corelli, Alessandro Scarlatti, or Purcell.

But I’ve made a real study of this, and I am confident in my judgment.

Schütz gets downplayed because virtually all of his surviving music is sacred music, which, let’s face it, just isn’t as popular. This is partly because that actually was his chief focus (he was a VERY serious guy), but also partly a selection effect. For the most part only his published music survives. The manuscripts were almost all destroyed in a fire. If that had happened to Bach’s music we would hardly know the bulk of his output. Schütz wrote an opera, Daphne (1623), at least some organ music, and hundreds of songs and occasional pieces (although very little other instrumental music, apart from the introductions to some of his vocal compositions)… almost all of which (including the opera) are lost. And he disdained the new recitative & aria format for oratorios, preferring to set texts as motets and concertos, or using a sort of chanted narration for his Christmas Oratorio* and passions. So it’s little wonder he isn’t that popular. His music is grave and majestic, but not frolicsome.

* Die Geburt unsres Herrn Jesu Christi, SWV 435, 1660. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Gyromantic Informicon. Comments are not moderated. If you encounter a problem, please go to home page and follow directions to send me an e-mail.