The death of a nobleman in 17th-century Germany was an event that warranted the highest level of attention. When Prince Heinrich der Jüngere died in 1635, celebrated composer and organist Heinrich Schütz was entrusted with composing the music to accompany religious texts personally selected by the devout prince the year before. This rather macabre set of instructions resulted in some of the composer’s most beautiful and haunting music, the Musikalische Exequien, and Schütz even structured the composition around the textual design of the prince’s coffin, which was to be decorated with biblical verse. Taking the form of a German-language Kyrie and Gloria, the words ‘Christe eleison’ – the very heart of the composition’s text, representing Christ’s resurrection – not only represent the symbolic point at which the lid and case of the prince’s coffin joined, but also the climax of Schütz’s music. The more joyful aspects of the prince’s passing were also celebrated by the innovative composer, who positioned a separate small choir ‘in die Ferne geordnet’ – ‘set up in the distance’ – to represent heavenly angels welcoming the prince’s soul to paradise.
Also sung at the service were a number of chorales, and those of Michael Praetorius, typical of the time, could well have been among them. Included on this release too is music by Johann Hermann Schein, a friend of Schütz and a gifted composer in his own right. Schein had composed Threnus on the death of Dorothea Maria of Saxony in 1617. In 1630, when Schein himself lay dying, he asked Schütz to compose a burial motet in his honour: ‘Das ist je gewißlich wahr’, a work that beautifully complements the other motets on this release. Demantius, the last composer to be featured here, was no stranger to death, outliving almost all of his children, a hardship which perhaps inspired his two Threnodiae. Death was certainly never far away in 17th-century Germany, and the losses, whether of an admired patron or far more personal, certainly inspired some of the most touching and eloquent music of the period. The works are performed by the Schütz-Akademie, an ensemble that was founded in 1991 with the support of the Heinrich Schütz Haus in Bad-Köstritz, leading their performances to be extensively grounded in historical research.
This CD brings together 17th century vocal works in which death and burial play a central role, the agony, the penitence and the consolation of the hereafter. Reformation composers didn’t write Requiem Masses for the dead, but they commemorate their beloved deceased in smaller forms of a vocal ensemble accompanied by an instrument group of violin, theorbo and organ.
The selection include works by Heinrich Schütz, Michael Praetorius, Johann Hermann Schein, and Johannes Demantius, music of poignant beauty, devotion and consolation.
Beautiful performances by the Schütz-Akademie, recorded in the intimate atmosphere of the Salvator Church in Gera.
Recording from 1992, licensed from Berlin Classics.
Sung texts available at www.brilliantclassics.com
Recorded in Germany in 1992.
Contains notes on the works in both German and English written by Howard Arman.