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Heinrich Schütz

The Complete Narrative Works

Ars Nova Copenhagen, Paul Hillier, Adam Riis, Johan Linderoth, Julian Podger, Jakob Bloch Jespersen, Else Torp, Linnéa Lomholt, Concerto Copenhagen, Sirius Viols

This box set presents the complete narrative works (historiae) of Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) in the acclaimed new recordings featuring Ars Nova Copenhagen conducted by Paul Hillier. The engaging account of the six stories of Christmas, Passion and Resurrection in Schütz’ sublime Baroque settings is presented along with authoritative notes and the conductor’s own commentaries.

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Total runtime: 
244 min.

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It is always unfortunate when our familiarity with one composer's music gets in the way of hearing another's. But for most of us in the 21st century our experience with J.S. Bach's two passions makes us likely to hear settings by other composers primarily in comparison to them. If we approach the passions of Heinrich Schütz in particular with ears attuned to Bach's compositions we are likely to be puzzled and maybe even disappointed, because the older composer's approach and choice of musical medium were very different.

The structure of both Schütz's and Bach's passions is governed by the musical recitation of the Gospel text. In Bach's settings these words are presented by a musician representing the Evangelist who sings the narrative accompanied by basso continuo instruments in melodically and harmonically expressive music that emphasizes the emotional and affective implications of the words. The closest musical relatives of these Gospel settings are actually the recitatives in Bach's church cantatas, in which Bach sets free poetic texts and heightens them with musical gestures. In the passion the words of the Evangelist are narrative prose, but Bach sets them much like the cantatas' poetry for expressive effect.

Schütz's St. Luke Passion takes an entirely different approach. The Evangelist's words there are intoned in a kind of chant whose melodic contours are modest and whose largely unspecified rhythms are presumably meant to follow stylized speech. A few simple formulas govern most of the Evangelist's extensive music in Schütz's St. Luke Passion, formulas that emphasize recitation on one pitch with decoration at moments of grammatical punctuation. In comparison to Bach's music the effect is stark and much less obviously expressive. Schütz was certainly capable of writing expressive monodic music with basso -continuo - in fact he composed a passion-season work (The Seven Last Words) that draws largely on exactly this kind of writing. But his St. Luke Passion uses no instruments in deference to a tradition at the Dresden court (for which Schütz evidently composed his -passion settings) of silencing them during Holy Week.

This much plainer style to which Schütz turned would nonetheless have been intimately familiar to listeners because recitation according to a melodic formula was the usual way of presenting the passion story in the liturgy. This kind of setting has its own virtues; among other things, it puts a strong emphasis on continuous narration in the words of the Gospel, in contrast to the tendency in Bach's passion settings to focus on individual moments in the story and to pause often for reflection on them.

Those moments of reflection represent another significant difference. In Bach's passion settings the narrative is frequently interrupted by commentary movements either in the form of chorales (hymn stanzas almost always presented with their associated melodies) or free poetry set as solo arias (and sometimes as instrumentally-accompanied recitatives). These movements, together with framing ensemble pieces at the beginning and end of the work, represent perhaps the most characteristic aspect of Bach's passions. The arias reflect on the action in vivid and gripping terms with musical settings meant to evoke emotional reactions. The carefully selected chorales are designed to draw the congregational listener into the narration by their use of familiar texts and tunes.

These commentary movements have no musical or emotional parallel in Schütz's passion. That work is introduced by a short ensemble number that announces the presentation of the passion story according to Luke - essentially a liturgical formula, neutral in its affect. The only other non-Gospel movement is the last, an ensemble setting of a chorale stanza that urges reflection on the passion story and on one's own mortality. But this piece is short, does not use the hymn melody associated with this text, and in its relatively -neutral musical style is not designed to provoke an emotional response to the story just concluded. The focus remains on the narrative.

Two elements in Schütz's setting are more closely related to Bach's passion. The first is the presentation of the words of various characters. The direct speech of Jesus, Peter, -Pilate and others plays a large role in the telling of the passion story, particularly in Luke's Gospel. In Schütz's setting (as in Bach's) these words are assigned to particular singers. The liturgical tradition from which Schütz drew this practice used three people in total: one to sing the Evangelist's words, one to sing those of Jesus, and a third to present all the other speaking characters. Schütz evidently used distinct singers for the various roles (as did Bach), and just as in the traditional liturgical manner of presentation, their words are musically distinguished by range and by the choice of a reciting note. It would be going too far to call Schütz's passions dramatic, but the delivery of the words of characters by specific singers (not the Evangelist) does bring an element of drama to the telling of the story.

The other resemblance to Bach's passions is in the presentation of words of groups and crowds. In Schütz's St. Luke Passion these are set as short pieces for a four-part ensemble, today often sung by a chorus. They are labeled Disciples,\\ \\High Priests\\ and so on, and clearly stand out by their scoring from the intoned narration and words of individuals. Here, too, Schütz is following a Lutheran tradition that sometimes decorated the plain liturgical chanting of the passion story with polyphonic (multi-voiced) settings of the words of groups; his three passion settings can be seen as a culmination of this tradition, in fact, providing the most elaborate music for the words of groups.

These movements draw on the vocal style Schütz cultivated in collections like his Geistliche Chor-Music in which the entire musical substance resides in the voices, with no essential instruments and no basso continuo. Compared to the kind of setting that uses solo voices against basso continuo, this style is expressively relatively neutral. But in Schütz's hands (and in contrast to the formulaic and plain recitation of the rest of the passion's text) these brief pieces stand out as particularly expressive. The composer often uses the characteristic texture of imitation among the parts to suggest multiple speakers; he controls the density of the texture and the speed of declamation to suggest different affects; and once invokes a musical convention of quick repercussive vocal writing to highlight the martial violence suggested by words of the disciples who offer to take up the sword (\\Herr, sollen wir mit dem Schwert dreinschagen\\).

These pieces go beyond the detached emotional neutrality suggested by the choice of unaccompanied recitation, and for the modern listener are likely to represent high points of the work. This way of listening might be another legacy of our familiarity with Bach's passions, with their emphasis on the listener's personal and emotional reaction to events in the story; Bach's musical style and the expressive language of the added poetic commentary are especially well suited to exactly this kind of expression, and we are accustomed to listening for it. The choice of musical styles in Schütz's St. Luke passion - liturgically-derived unaccompanied recitation and ensemble settings that tend only somewhat towards text expression - result in a work that we need to hear differently, perhaps, to appreciate fully.

If we have a tendency to see Schütz from the perspective of J.S. Bach at least we are in good company. The modern study of Schütz's music started with 19th-century Bach scholars who were curious about the musical traditions from which his church music arose. This spurred studies of Dieterich Buxtehude (whose music-making Bach experienced directly) and of earlier 17th-century predecessors including Johann Hermann Schein and Schütz (whose music Bach was likely to have known at least in passing). So we might as well embrace our position as listeners who come first to Bach's passions and try to understand the ways in which Schütz's pieces differ.

In fact this was exactly the conclusion reached by Philipp Spitta, the greatest 19th-century scholar of Bach's music and one of the first to explore Schütz's music thoroughly; he concluded that the older composer's passion settings had very little in common with Bach's but found immense value in each. This is surely a good model for our listening as well.


The Lutheran tradition of musical passion settings grew out of liturgical presentations of the crucifixion story during Holy Week. The kind of musical work that emerged, with a narrative text from scripture and framing movements at the beginning and end, was known as a historia and was realized in a continuous and varied repertory dating from early in the Reformation to the settings of Schütz and beyond. The musical presentation of the resurrection story at Easter has a more modest history, and one reason was textual. The passion had long been presented according to one of the four gospels, but there were no equally well-established narratives of the resurrection in general use. In the Lutheran tradition, Easter historiae were compiled from words drawn from the four gospels, combining words and episodes from each of them into a composite text, and their text was not fixed.

The most famous of the compiled narratives was by Johannes Bugenhagen (1485-1558), a Wittenberg theologian and colleague of Martin Luther. Among his accomplishments was the organization of the German reformed church in Denmark, where he lectured at the University of Copenhagen during his stay in the 1530s. The strong political, confessional and cultural connections between the regions were ultimately responsible for the period that Heinrich Schütz was to spend at the Danish court 100 years later. Both the textual compiler and the composer of Schütz's Resurrection historia thus have a connection to Denmark.

Bugenhagen's resurrection text, first published in 1526, was well known from a musical setting by Antonio Scandello, an Italian-born composer who was one of Schütz's predecessors at the Dresden court. Scandello's work dates from the late sixteenth century and was published in the first years of the seventeenth; Schütz was familiar with it, and his own setting published in 1623 represented a stylistically more up-to-date presentation of the same text.

The features of this text have consequences for a musical setting. After an opening chorus that announces the topic of the historia (just as in a passion) and declares its origin in \\the four evangelists,\\ it begins a series of episodes drawn from scripture. The first is the discovery of Jesus' empty tomb three days after the crucifixion, starting with a long narration by the Evangelist, who sets the scene. But the real goal of the section is the question asked by the three women at the tomb in their own voices: \\Who will roll away the stone from the grave's entrance for us?\\

Up to this point, Schütz's musical setting has consisted of an intonation of the Evangelist's words accompanied by an ensemble of four string instruments and basso continuo, a familiar texture often used for settings of Italian poetry. But with the direct speech of the three women the music changes; their words are presented in a different style that uses solo voices over a basso continuo line. This music relies on melodic interest, harmonic color, and the relationship of the several voices to each other, employing imitation, expressive dissonance and its resolution, and other devices. This is the style of the modern vocal concerto and represents the most up-to-date feature of Schütz's work.

The alternation of narration and direct speech continues throughout the work and with it the alternation of accompanied recitation and concerted settings. After another passage of narration the concerted style reappears for the words of the two men in the tomb, who sing in a variety of speeds of declamation in distinct musical sections marked by strongly-directed drives towards cadences. Their music aims for vivid expression of textual imagery and affect, and often repeats phrases of text for emphasis. In the Resurrection historia this style conveys not only the meaning of the words of direct speech but also their affect-their expressive element-meant to move the listener's emotions.

The narrative is undoubtedly important but the direct speech is the focus both of Bugenhagen's text and of Schütz's musical setting. Each of the episodes included in the historia was evidently chosen for the presence of the direct words of participants, including Mary Magdalene, the two men at the tomb, two angels, Cleopas, and particularly Jesus himself. The expressive weight of Schütz's setting falls decisively on these passages but occasionally spills over into the Evangelist's part; sometimes his music goes beyond mere narrative intonation to a more luxuriant style that briefly invokes the monodic solo writing used in theatrical music.

The first two sets of quoted words-those of the three women at the tomb and of the two men in it-appear to set up a quasi-realistic relationship between voices and -characters. Three high voices deliver the words of the women, and two voices in lower ranges present the words of the men. But this is not consistent throughout the historia. Larger groups are indeed presented by multiple voices (priests by three low voices, disciples by a six-voice complement), and pairs (the two men in the tomb, two angels, Cleopas and his companion) are represented by two voices. But most of the quoted words of individual characters are presented in a way that might not seem obvious to the modern listener, by two voices with basso continuo, not just one. This includes the words of Mary Magdalene (soprano, with an additional soprano part below), Jesus (tenor, with an additional alto above), and the young man at the tomb (alto, with an additional alto above)*. The only character represented by an individual voice is Cleopas (tenor), and it may be significant that his words begin with the question \\Are you alone such a stranger in Jerusalem?\\

The use of two voices for individuals, though not literally representational, allows Schütz to deploy the full range of expressive devices available in concerted settings, including dissonance between the two parts, imitation (and the text repetition and emphasis that comes with it), and textural changes to delineate sections. These effects do not require that both lines be sung, and in fact in his preface (which is full of detailed advice on the performance of the piece) Schütz offers the option of performing one of the two lines instrumentally. He also suggests that the second line may be eliminated altogether. This is rarely done in modern presentations; performers are understandably reluctant to drop entire lines of Schütz's music. But doing so is not simply an emergency measure to be taken if forces are not available. Performing these passages with individual voices tilts them (especially the words of Jesus) towards the soloistic and expressive-that is, towards the theatrical style suggested by the texture of a single voice and basso continuo. Schütz himself suggested this option, and it is one to be taken seriously.

The text of the final framing movement prompts Schütz to move one last time from the telling of the story to the depiction of its associated emotions. The words are from 1. Corinthians and invoke the theological topic known as Christus victor, using language that portrays Jesus' resurrection and its significance in military terms. This is realized in an eight-part setting for two choruses presenting the epistle text itself (\\Thanks be to God\\), throughout which a ninth voice (the one who sang the Evangelist) continuously weaves repetitions of the triumphal cry \\Victoria.\\ Eventually the other eight voices pick up this word as well, and the entire concluding section consists of repetitions of it. The musical setting-quick declamation over static harmony-invokes a stereotyped 17th‑century musical expression of the text's military metaphor. The tendency of this work to move from narration to expression here sweeps up the entire ensemble to round off the historia.


The text of Schütz's Christmas historia is similar to that of the resurrection piece in several respects. It, too, is compiled from more than one gospel, though it tends to use long episodes from Luke's and Matthew's narratives rather than draw on all four evangelists in small units. More importantly, the Christmas piece also divides its text clearly into narrative passages and sections of direct speech and contrasts them musically. In this work the speakers are an angel, the host of angels, shepherds, wise men, high priests, and Herod, and once again their words are the high points of the musical setting.

Schütz handles the two kinds of text-narrative and direct speech-in very different ways. The gospel narrative is presented by a tenor voice accompanied by basso continuo. The composer's instructions tell us that the singer of the evangelist's words is to be accompanied by organ and violone (double bass), that his voice should be \\good\\ and \\bright,\\ and that he should sing not according to a regular pulse but according to the measure of the words. Schütz here describes the stylo recitativo, or recitative style of the theater. He does leave the option of singing the narrative in unaccompanied plainsong (chant) according to liturgical formulas. But the point of the publication of this music was clearly the dissemination of this new style and its flexibly expressive presentation of the story.

In this flexibility and responsiveness to the text, and in the approximation of speech-like declamation, this presentation of the narrative is markedly different from that in the Resurrection historia even though both are sung by a solo voice supported by basso continuo. The narration in the Easter piece clearly owes its musical style to the intonation of biblical prose in plainsong; this can be heard particularly clearly in the tendency for the text to be recited on one pitch for long stretches. In contrast, the narration in the Christmas work, with its inflections, rhythmic variety, and relative harmonic freedom, is designed as a quasi-dramatic presentation of the story. This style is from the world of the musical theater, and was (as Schütz pointed out in his preface) new in published music in German-speaking lands.

This approach to the narrative does elevate its importance and effect, but Schütz still focuses closely on the eight passages of direct speech in the Christmas work. He sets them-along with framing texts at the beginning and end-in an entirely different manner from the narration. These movements belong, in fact, to an entirely separate ensemble, a concerted group with organ. They present the 10 texts as a series of vocal concertos using an astonishing variety of textures and instrumentation. Schütz labels each of the settings of direct speech \\Intermedium,\\ a label suggesting that he thought of them as inserts between the passages of narration.

Schütz takes his cues for the musical style and instrumentation of each Intermedium from the identity of the speaker. The angel's words of reassurance in Intermedium 1, with its repetitive rocking bass that recurs throughout the movement, invokes the cradle songs traditionally associated with tellings of the Christmas story. When the angel reappears in Intermedia 7 and 8, this time addressing Joseph, the cradle-song material is reprised, now framing more expressive and text-responsive settings of words of warning and advice. The text of praise sung by the host of angels in Intermedium 2 calls forth a concerted setting of the Christmas text that German composers set to music more often than any other, \\Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe.\\ The central place of this text in German musical celebrations of Christmas helps explain its length and ample scoring in this work.

The words of the shepherds in Intermedium 3 are introduced by a characteristic pastoral sinfonia with two recorders; this, too was a Christmas convention, one that could still be heard 50 years later both in the Pifa of Handel's Messiah and in the woodwind sinfonia that opens Part II of J. S. Bach's Christmas Oratorio BWV 248. Intermedium 4, for the three wise men, matches a 3-part instrumental texture (imitative at the beginning to make the scoring clear) with a 3-part vocal texture. The high priests, as befitting their solemnity, are sung by four bass voices accompanied by trombones in Intermedium 5. In a strong contrast of color, texture and range, Herod (Intermedium 6) is depicted by a solo voice and two high trumpets in keeping with his royal status.

The outer movements set their framing texts in a mostly simple and declamatory texture in which the four voices move almost entirely together. Probably they alternated with instruments playing in a similar texture, pitting a choir of voices against a choir of instruments in an antiphonal relationship. We have to say \\probably\\ because the Christmas historia is transmitted in a complex way, leading to several problems, and the instrumental lines for these outer movements are missing.

The difficulties stem largely from the way the composer himself treated the piece. When Schütz decided to publish this work in 1664 he did so in an interesting way. Having divided the work's performing forces into two choirs (one for the evangelist, one for the concerted framing movements and intermedia), he published only the first, \\hesitating\\ (he wrote) \\to publish these pieces [the concertos], because he has observed that outside of princely musical establishments these inventions of his are unlikely to achieve their intended effect.\\ He listed the ten concerted movements and their scorings in his preface and instructed interested musicians that they could purchase copies of his settings from the organist of the Kreuzkirche in Dresden or the cantor in Leipzig (Sebastian Knüpfer). Either out of modesty or practicality he suggested that these pieces could alternatively be adapted to available forces, or even composed anew.

Just enough printed material from the Evangelist's group survives to transmit the whole musical substance of the narrative, though not a complete set of parts; Schütz himself wrote of printing only a few copies. For the concerted movements we have to rely on two manuscript sources. These do not entirely agree with each other, and may reflect both revision over time by the composer and intervention by other musicians, some of it clumsy. The result is an imperfect picture of the concerted movements, and even some variants in the narrative that may well go back to the composer. But aside from the instrumental lines in the framing movements and a few other gaps, we are fortunate that most of the musical text of Schütz's Christmas historia does survive. It makes a striking companion to the Resurrection historia, adopting its basic textual framework but taking it a step further in musical expressivity both in its narrative and in the words of characters who appear in the story.


For his setting of the St. John Passion (as well as those of St. Luke and St. Matthew), Schütz chose an outline that was familiar to listeners and musicians of the time and evidently traditional for the Dresden court chapel: individual voices present the narration and the direct speech of most characters, and multiple voices sing the words of groups. But the styles Schütz used in this composition were far removed from the most characteristic feature of 17th-century music: the aim of moving the affections - stirring the emotions of the listener. In the case of a passion setting, the purpose was to move the devout listener to a particular reaction to the story and (according to Lutheran theology) towards a personal connection to it.

In fact, Schütz was famous for his mastery of Italian ideals of expressive music. In solo song this meant operatic monody - an individual voice presenting heightened musical speech supported by basso continuo. In writing monody the composer controlled vocal range, harmonic relationship to the bass line, and other melodic features to express the text, also counting on a performer's dramatic abilities to move the listener. In polyphonic vocal music the expressive elements came from the introduction of dissonance between voices (and its resolution); from a wide range of text declamation from the slowly unfolding to the rhythmically percussive; and from the creation of the forward drive of harmony resulting from the combination of vocal lines over a well-directed bass line.

But the musical types Schütz chose for his passion settings do not allow for this kind of expression either in the solo material or the choruses. The solo singing is modeled on the formulaic recitation of scriptural texts, favoring a melodic line that remains on the same pitch for many words in a row. It uses no basso continuo, its range is limited, and there is no text repetition (a device often employed in monody at particularly expressive moments). And for the settings of the words of groups Schütz uses essentially the inherited style of the sixteenth-century motet in which the contrapuntal relationship of the voices is more important than the expression of the words. This style is much better at laying out the grammatical structure of a text - its division into phrases - than at expressing its content, let alone moving the listener.

Schütz does sharpen the narration of the passion story and intensify its presentation, but not by moving a listener's affections. Instead, the composer expresses the text by careful control of the hearer's progress through the narration, musically dividing the text into smaller units and guiding of the listener's path through the story. This allows him to focus attention on particular moments, actions and words of special theological significance.

In the evangelist's narration, Schütz's principal tools are the choice of reciting pitch and the arrival on particular notes as resting places (cadence points). The composed narration, like the liturgical chant on which it is modeled, tends to recite on one note, inflecting the vocal line to demarcate phrases and clauses and eventually cadences at the end of sentences. Schütz carefully varies the reciting pitch and controls the strength of cadences to suggest a particular structure.

This is well illustrated in the opening narrative. The evangelist begins on the pitch E and narrates \\Da Jesus solches geredet hatte ging er hinaus mit seinen Jüngern\\ mostly on B natural, with an inflection in the middle; continues \\über den Bach Kidron\\ still emphasizing B; then finishes the verse in a gradual descent back to the opening pitch (E) on the two phrases \\da war ein Garte\\ and \\darein ging Jesus und seine Jünger.\\ The return to the opening note signals the close of a unit, and the recitation mostly on one pitch unifies the section, whose text sets the scene. Schütz clearly separates this from the next (and very different) text, \\Judas aber, der ihn verriet ...\\ which recites on a different pitch, F; this lies an awkward musical distance from the previous reciting pitch, B, and contrasts Judas with Jesus and the other disciples. The narrator recits next on G (\\denn Jesus versammlete sich oft ...\\) for the words that first introduce the element of conflict. The third verse, beginning \\Da nun Judas zu sich genommen hatte die Schare\\ recites on yet a third pitch (A) as the text introduces the next event in the narrative. The beginning of the following verse (\\Als nun Jesus wußte alles ...\\) recites on C, again distinguishing it. This segment of the narration is rounded off by the words \\Judas aber, der ihn verriet ...\\ which cadences on the original opening pitch E, and when the narration continues - \\Als nun Jesus zu ihnen sprach ...\\ - Schütz uses the same formula and recitation on B as in the opening, as if starting over, reciting on B and cadencing on E (\\und fielen zu Boden\\).

The result of this construction (which is much easier to hear than to read about) is that Schütz guides the listener through the narrative, dividing sentences, verses and sections not just by inflecting the reciting note (as in the traditional liturgical formulas) but by moving the recitation onto various pitches (B to F to G to A to C and back to B) to give a sense of progression through the story and to shape larger sections. The structure guides the listener through the elements of the story; this is an indirect kind of expression but an effective one nonetheless. The various reciting pitches in slightly different parts of a singer's range also give the performer scope for a more expressive delivery of the text than recitation on one note would allow.

In the ensemble pieces that present the words of groups Schütz similarly structures text and music within the inherent neutrality of the unaccompanied polyphonic style he chooses. Almost all of the choral utterances are imitative, with successive entrances of the four voices (or of pairs of voices). The choice of imitative textures highlights the multiple voices in these passages in contrast to the single voices of individuals and of the narrator. To the extent that John's gospel recounts a large number of agitated words of groups (a feature with some troubling implications, particularly for the depictions of the Jews), the repetition of words from voice to voice adds a degree of urgency, as well as obviously emphasizing the words of witnesses to and participants in the narrative with whom listeners are perhaps meant to identify.

There is also a great deal of word repetition even within each vocal line; Schütz extends most of the choral passages by repeating musical ideas and the text they carry. He also breaks up the longer texts into small grammatical units, giving each its own musical idea. Once again, Schütz guides the listener through each phrase of the text, here by segmentation, imitation, and repetition. He also introduces a greater variety of text declamation than is found in classical polyphonic models, using shorter or longer note values to set various phrases of text; this often has the effect of highlighting particular phrases, particularly in more active (faster) choruses.

The techniques are illustrated in the chorus \\Wäre dieser nicht ein Übeltäter, wir hätten dir ihn nicht überantwortet.\\ Schütz divides the text into three units, devoting a new musical idea to each. The first (\\Wäre dieser nicht ein Übeltäter\\) is declaimed at moderate speed among the four voices in imitation, with a pause in the middle that emphasizes the word \\nicht.\\ The next text segment (\\wir hätten dir ihn nicht\\) is declaimed in quicker notes. Most of the voices repeat this text, adding to the urgency; and successive statements (in soprano, tenor, soprano and bass) are on rising pitches (E-F-G-A) with a similar effect. The series of strong arrivals on the word \\nicht\\ in this section points up the grammatical parallel with the first textual phrase; together these settings emphasize the strange conditional statement attributed to the Jews (\\If he were not . . we would not have ...\\). Schütz finally reaches the last word, \\überantwortet,\\ the culminating and dramatically most important element that identifies the group's action; this he presents in a drawn-out setting that contrasts with the syllable-by-syllable declamation of the previous two phrases. Here the German grammar (which pushes this verb to the end of the sentence) works in Schütz's favor, allowing him to emphasize the word by making its musical setting drive towards a musical conclusion.

In this kind of choral piece, as in the narrative recitation, Schütz is more concerned with the division and pacing of the text than with its overt emotional expression. But in a text as significant to the devout listener as the passion story, this is a powerful tool in his hands.

Die Sieben Worte

Schütz never published \\Die Sieben Wortte unsers lieben Erlösers und Seeligmachers Jesu Christi\\ as he did his Resurrection and Christmas Historias, and the work is known only in a set of performing parts whose connection to the composer is uncertain. We do not know whether the piece was intended for liturgical use in Dresden (though this is possible), and our only clue to its date is an inventory of music once found in Naumburg that evidently cites the piece; if the work listed is indeed Schütz's setting then the piece must have been composed before 1657/8, when the inventory was compiled. We do not know exactly how Schütz expected the work to be presented; the surviving set of performing parts represents one realization of the piece from the 17th century, but presumably was not the only possibility.

The text of the Seven Words deals with the passion story but it is not a narration of the crucifixion, nor does it present only one of the four gospels. Rather it is a compilation of Jesus' utterances from the cross drawn from all four evangelists, sometimes quoted one at a time and sometimes in combination. Each of the \\words\\ has the same structure: Narrative material in the voice of an evangelist introduces the words of Jesus' direct speech, which are the high points of each section. (The second and last sections each add a brief narrative tag.) Schütz realized this structure musically by clearly distinguishing the two kinds of material, making an audible contrast between the narrated portion (evangelist) and the spoken words (Jesus).

Schütz distinguishes the narration from the quoted words by vocal scoring. Jesus' words are sung by the same tenor voice throughout, whereas the words of the narrator are sung by various other voices: soprano, or alto, or another tenor, or (in two cases) by a four-voice ensemble. That is, the voice of Jesus is associated with a particular singer but that of the evangelist is passed among three different voices, and even entrusted to a four-voice ensemble for the fourth (central) word and the last one. The constantly-changing narrating voice is less dramatically realistic than in Schütz's passion settings, but the changes in narrator help distinguish sections of the piece, which are more episodic than dramatically continuous - more a series of tableaux than a sequence of events.

Schütz also distinguishes the two kinds of text by musical style. The evangelist's words are presented primarily in narrative recitation that draws both on the traditional chanting of gospel texts and on theatrical recitative. The tendency towards recitation on one note over a static bass line is most clearly audible at the beginning of sections; as each develops, the narrator's vocal line tends to take more expressive turns. Jesus' words are set in a very different style entrusted to one singer in the texture of the modern vocal concerto, setting an expressive line against an independent basso continuo. The vocal lines in these sections, in contrast to the evangelist's recitation, are characterized by musical and textual repetition including so-called sequences, passages in which a small musical and textual idea is repeated successively at several pitch levels (rising or falling) for intensification. In fact, text repetition in the passages of direct speech, mostly absent in the narration, is among the most important differences and helps make the organization of the text clear.

It also makes for some striking moments in which Schütz breaks the pattern and does allow some repetition of text in the narration. One is at the start of the fourth section, in which Schütz assigns the narration to four voices rather than one. Those voices repeat the words \\schrei Jesus laut\\ (Jesus cried out) both within their own lines and between each other, greatly intensifying the description of the outcry. And repetition also surfaces in two passages of solo narration: at the words \\alles vollbracht, alles vollbracht war\\ (that all, all was accomplished) in the fifth section, and \\Und abermal rief Jesus laut, rief Jesus laut und sprach\\ (And Jesus cried out, cried out and said), which introduces Jesus' final words in the seventh section. These passages heighten the narration, transferring to it some of the expressive language otherwise reserved for direct speech.

In addition to using word repetition, Schütz intensifies the words of Jesus by adding two high-range instruments that play along with the singer, sometimes in passages of brief imitation of the voice and sometimes in alternation with it. The four parts - two instrumental lines, the tenor voice of Jesus and the basso continuo - together form a complete harmonic ensemble that offers further contrast with the much plainer texture of one voice and continuo heard in most of the narration.

The text of the third section presented a challenge to the distinction between narration and direct speech because it includes the words of the two criminals executed with Jesus. Their long passages of direct speech are set, like the surrounding narration, for voice and continuo - that is, texturally closer to narration than direct speech. But their musical style, including expressive repetition, mark them as directly-spoken words, like those of Jesus. The lack of the two instruments that constantly accompany Jesus' words distinguishes them, and the choice of alto and bass voices separate them from the narrator (soprano in this section) and from Jesus (tenor).

The seven sections narrating and quoting the words are doubly framed. Immediately before and after is a brief expressive sinfonia in a five-part texture (the two instruments that accompany Jesus as well as three others heard only in these passages). This repeated sinfonia is framed, in turn, by 5-part vocal movements that combine all the voices (SATTB) used in the work. The texts of these sections are the opening and closing stanzas of a hymn, \\Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund,\\ whose words have pre-Reformation origins and that appear both in Roman and Lutheran hymnals. Although there was a tune that had come to be associated with this hymn in the German Protestant tradition by the mid-17th century, Schütz does not use it, instead treating the text phrase by phrase in the manner of a motet.

The stanzas serve the same function both in the original hymn and in Schütz's setting, for the inner verses of Johannes Böschenstein's nine-stanza chorale text paraphrase the seven words, one each in stanzas 2-8. So the opening verse's message, urging the listener to consider well Jesus' last words, is equally apt for Schütz's setting. The final stanza of the hymn (the closing text of Schütz's work) promises God's favor to those who reflect on the words. This surely points to the composer's goal: to offer up and frame the words in expressive ways, less for narration and drama than for contemplation and reflection.

Voices of groups in Schütz's St. Matthew Passion

Schütz made the decision to set his St. Matthew Passion with the words of the Evangelist and individual speakers presented in newly-composed unaccompanied intonation. He complemented those sections (which account for the vast majority of the work's text) with settings of the words of groups mostly for four voices. The scoring of these sections brings with it several distinctive musical features: These passages are metrical (with a regular pulse and with an organization of beats into regular groups); they are harmonized (resulting from the combination of voices, in contrast to the unaccompanied intonation of the rest of the text); and they allow for the polyphonic interaction of the voices with each other in various ways.

These sections sound a great deal, in fact, like works in the inherited tradition of vocal polyphony, the legacy of the 16th century still pursued (in a more modern musical language) by Schütz and his contemporaries in collections like the composer's own Geistliche Chormusik. There are differences, of course-the sections in the St. Matthew Passion are very short compared to free-standing compositions-but in many respects these passages draw on the same techniques as their models. One way to hear these passages, which certainly stand out to the modern ear, is to listen for features Schütz borrows from these larger pieces. And it is not difficult to discern some basic patterns the composer adopted in setting these kinds of words throughout the passion.

The passion movements that most closely resemble freestanding polyphonic compositions are those that set long texts. In these pieces (\\Andern hat er geholfen,\\ \\Herr, wir haben gedacht,\\ and the slightly shorter \\Der du den Tempel Gottes zerbrichst\\), Schütz sets each of the texts' many phrases as its own unit, marking new textual phrases by changes in musical texture, melodic material, level of rhythmic activity, and so on. In essence, he borrows the compositional construction of the motet, in which each phrase of text receives its own setting completed with a cadence before the next is begun. Given the length of the texts, most of these settings are homorhythmic (with voices declaiming together to move efficiently through the words), with only a few passages using the voices in independent imitation of each other. These pieces in the St. Matthew Passion are miniature motets.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the settings of short texts in the passion, which Schütz typically treats by presenting the text once through. Examples include \\Wo willst du, daß wir dir bereiten?\\ \\Wahrlich, du bist auch einer von denen,\\ and \\Der rufet den Elias.\\ A few of these sections are briefly extended in various ways. \\Herr, bin ich's?\\ is amplified by the repetition of the textual phrase \\bin ich's,\\ clearly in loose illustration of the voices of the many disciples who ask the question \\Is it I?\\ \\Ja nicht auf das Fest\\ is rounded off musically and rhetorically by the emphatic repetition of the opening assertion \\Not on the feast day\\ at the end of the setting.

The very shortest texts are presented with artful repetition. The single word \\Barrabam\\ is presented repeatedly both on and off the beat in each of the voices, confusing the musical meter and suggesting a kind of continuous outcry (even while not being literally representative). The two identical settings of \\Lass ihn kreuzigen\\ and portions of \\Gegrüsset seist du\\ are in homophony with one offset voice. By these means, Schütz slightly elaborates a simple declamation of these short passages.

One of Schutz's most common models in the St. Matthew Passion is the presentation of a text twice through. The sections \\Weissage uns\\ and \\Gegrüsset seist du\\ do this, as does \\Sein Blut komme über uns.\\ The setting of \\Halt, lasst sehen\\ is similar except that it repeats only its final words. This is a tendency that can be heard throughout the passion setting; the repetition of the ending words of a text helps contribute to the finality of its cadence. \\Wozu dienet dieser Unrat\\ employs a version of this technique, presenting its opening phrase once but its second twice.

\\Wahrlich, dieser ist Gottes Sohn gewesen\\ works much the same way with an important variation: its opening word (\\Wahrlich\\) is treated in a strikingly elaborate fashion, emphasizing a theologically important moment. This demonstrates another important strategy: the isolation of a single attention-grabbing word, often presented in long notes, at the start of the text. This is a borrowing from motets, which typically start with slow note values and with some kind of rhetorical exordium (call to attention). The clearest examples in the St. Matthew Passion are \\Herr, bin ich's?\\ with its voice-by-voice opening statements of \\Herr\\; and \\Wahrlich, du bist auch einer von denen,\\ which presents its opening word in long note values simultaneously in all voices. Clearly related is the setting of \\Sein Blut komme über uns,\\ in which the opening words of this troubling text (\\Sein Blut\\) are isolated and dwelt upon.

Schütz has several techniques for suggesting the participation of many people in the groups whose words are quoted, even when the musical setting might well be performed by only four singers. Text repetition is one, as in \\Herr, bin ichs?\\ Another is the suggestion of a double-choir setting in at the opening of \\Halt, lasst sehen,\\ in which the lower three voices (alto, tenor and bass) and then the upper three (soprano, alto and tenor) present the first words in turn, simulating the effect of opposed choruses.

There is even some broad symbolism in the scoring of several movements. The words of the two false witnesses (\\Er hat gesagt\\) are presented by exactly two singers, as might be expected; Schütz further puts most of their music in strict canon, perhaps to suggest their lack of independence from each other. Essentially all of the other multi-voice movements are for soprano, alto, tenor and bass, but two are scored for low voices (alto, two tenors and bass). These are two of the passages spoken by the high priests (in one case together with the elders), \\Was gehet es uns das an?\\ and \\Es taug nicht.\\ By his choice of scoring, which eliminates the soprano line that would most likely have been sung by younger boys and turns to the three lines typically sung by adult male singers, Schütz briefly hints at a depiction of words he otherwise gets across by his control of musical material and by his borrowing of techniques from vocal polyphony.

Daniel R. Melamed is Professor of Musicology at the Jacobs School of Music, -Indiana University

Singing stories

by Paul Hillier

I wanted to record the narrative works of Schütz because I am interested in singing stories. There is plenty of vocal music that does other things of course - describing nature, professing love, celebrating wine, uttering a prayer, decorating a ceremony; we choral musicians frequently make whole concerts (or CDs) of such things, using contrast and balance to try and hold the audience's interest. But when you take a sequence of songs and weave them together into a narrative of some kind, then you create something that is more than the sum of its parts, and each element resonates with added meaning. With songs, as with poems, we need some kind of context in which to position ourselves in relation to what we are hearing, some kind of narrative (in the broadest sense) that helps us find our place. And it was this general concern that led me to plan the present series.

Although Schütz is a major figure in the history of music, he is not so often performed. I put this down to the usual early music problem: lots of pieces, mostly rather short (three to five minutes typically); and to do Schütz justice you need a rather unusual array of voices and instruments, at a cost that is normally only justified if you can use them for a whole concert. But I do enjoy his music, so I looked again and noticed that - of course - six of his largest works are ones that tell a story, using a narrator and several characters. What worked in new music would surely work in old: and quite suddenly I had the idea that we should perform and record all of them over a period of four years.

It would require careful planning, so that the preparation and performances of each work could be followed by the recording of them - after a little pause to allow the experiences of performance to sink in. This would lead to the publication of the CD in the following season, by which time we would have moved on to the next work(s).

This meant that for several seasons in a row our Easter offering would be a Schütz Passion - and I hoped this would not be detrimental to our box office receipts (such as they are) nor exhaust the patience of our regular audience in Copenhagen! Fortunately this was not a problem and the Danish audience proved very receptive to the music. There are several reasons for this. First, Denmark shares very closely in the Protestant tradition that we more widely associate with northern Germany, and the musical links throughout the area are just as deeply interwoven: the music's message is ‘local'. Second, German is widely understood and spoken here (as is English), and therefore audiences are able to hear texts sung in German and understand them without necessarily having to bury their heads in a printed translation. There can be no doubt that a feeling of linguistic familiarity with words sung transforms the listener's experience. Third, the Danish church, which still enjoys State support, is active as a promoter of concerts. Many (perhaps most) of the local village and town churches maintain some kind of musical season, which is well supported locally. This has the happy tendency to turn a concert into an event that is still rooted in a local sense of community, with a sense of identity that goes beyond the merely aesthetic concerns of a music club or festival.

Schütz did in fact spend several periods of his career here in Denmark, where he was greatly appreciated. Indeed it was this association that first prompted me to focus on Schütz and it has led me to a deeper historical appreciation of the cultural interdependence of all the countries hereabouts: Germany and Denmark, yes, but also England, Scotland, Norway, southern Sweden, and Holland.

One of my first decisions in planning the series was aimed at creating a natural variety in the Passions by choosing a different tenor for each Evangelist, while keeping the same bass singer as Christus - who remains the fixed point of focus. Schütz already helps us by casting each Passion in its own mode, which has a profound effect on the harmonic coluring not only of the polyphony, but also of the monophonic chant (about which, more in a moment.) I feel that this has worked even better than I dared hope: each of our tenor Evangelists has his own very distinct way of telling a story and this inevitably coloured our collective response to each of the three works in turn. Of course, take any three singers and they will always have different performance mannerisms, but individually our three Evangelists are singers who have already immersed themselves in baroque performance and developed their own sense of style in the light of that.

The various other roles in the stories are taken by members of the chorus, and here we enjoyed ourselves in seeking out suitable characterisations, having in mind that Schütz is known to have composed operas (including during his time in Copenhagen) - although, sad to relate, these have not survived.

In addition to variety I also wanted continuity - as of a repertory company. Therefore in the non-Passion works I called upon the same individuals plus soli from the chorus to present the various roles and to sing as a consort in The Seven Last Words.

Apart from the choosing of singers and players, another early decision was prompted by my visit to the Brücke Museum in Berlin. Here I saw Karl Schmidt-Rottluff's sculpted reliefs of four Evangelist heads and decided to make them the cover art for our series. (Schütz didn't compose a Mark Passion, so we adopted Mark for the Christmas/Resurrection CD.) There is a connection: Schmidt-Rottluff studied in Dresden, where Schütz also worked for much of his life.

The six pieces we have now recorded rank as some of the finest of the 17th century: three Passions (Matthew, Luke, John,) which are entirely unaccompanied, and three works that use a variety of instruments: a Christmas History, the 7 Last Words, and the Resurrection History.

The Christmas History is fresh, tuneful, and crisply characterized through its instrumentation. It was the first work by Schütz I ever encountered - I sang the bass solo in Bridport (in Dorset) when I was about 17 - and I have held it in special affection ever since.

The 7 Last Words is an ineffable masterpiece. To be honest, I only added this to the series rather late in the day. I had not thought of it as a ‘narrative' work, given its serene, contemplative character: but it does indeed narrate, and forms a link between the Passions and the following piece.

The Resurrection History closes the narrative sequence, though it was the first to be composed and is the nearest in feeling to Schütz's mentor, Monteverdi. It presents two unusual and highly effective novelties: the narrator is accompanied by a quartet of viols, who are instructed to improvise following the singer and using the chord patterns provided; while Christus (like Mary Magdalene) is represented by two voices singing in duet.

Although there is much to say about the musical fabric of these works, the thing which struck me most forcefully as we engaged with the three Passions one after the other, was the unending variety and expressive virtuosity of the quasi-plainchant that Schütz invented for the Evangelist, Christus and other characters (only the chorus sings polyphonically). To appreciate what he accomplished I think two things are important. First, to understand that while to imitate chant is easy, to do it well and with any sense of authentic creativity is extremely difficult! Second, we should remember that by this time the tradition of continuo accompaniment, rooted in the harmonic relationship between melody and bass part, had been the basis of composition for two generations of composers. The old style of imitative polyphony was still used, but mostly for its symbolic value to mark moments of special solemnity. Schütz had been schooled in that style and heartily recommended it to younger composers, for whom he felt the basso continuo was too often relied upon as an easy option. It is not surprising therefore to find him writing imitative polyphony - but that is something quite different from monophonic chant.

In his ‘chant' Schütz in fact creates something new. Certainly he is looking back to the ancient tradition of chanting psalms and gospel lessons. But he is also well versed in the newer kind of monody - the sort with basso continuo - and its harmonic underpinnings. In writing unaccompanied chant in a style that respects the venerable tradition standing behind it, yet allows itself a degree of affective expression suited to more modern expectations, Schütz achieves a remarkable balancing act. Taking examples from the St Matthew Passion only, we can hear right at the outset that the Evangelist begins in a very traditional manner, reciting primarily on a single pitch (Bb - not in fact the tonic, the work is in G minor), with a signature dip on the third syllable (Und es begab sich), a half-cadence to the median pitch of A (vollendet hatte), and then another signature formula, this time more lyrical, to cadence onto the tonic G (sprach er zu seinen Jüngern). Christus responds in a similar manner, approaching his reciting pitch of G from below, and with an expressive flourish on the middle syllable of gekreuziget. In the next passage the Evangelist takes his recitation up to a higher pitch (D), which provides musical balance, but also helps to open up our auditory perspective to picture the group of High Priests now mentioned. The name of Kaiaphas is carefully dropped in on a brief semi-cadence (F), which is echoed by the placing of töteten; and the passage concludes back on the first recitation pitch (Bb).

Elsewhere we can find stronger elements of harmonic patterns being used to draw together a sequence of utterances by more than one singer. Kaiaphas sings Ich beschwöre dich (a little after the beginning of track 4) with a falling 5th outlining the triad of D minor. This initiates a passage built around interlocking 5ths, first ascending: dass du uns sagest (Bb - F), ob du seist Christus (C-G), der Sohn Gottes (D -A) ...stepwise! This is answered by Evangelist, now descending, Jesus sprach (C- F), and Christus, Du sagest es (A-D), Doch ich sage euch (G - C). Further 5th activity marks the next passage with Evangelist and Kaiaphas, starting at Da zureiss der Hohe-priester seine Kleider.

A similar exchange occurs in the exchange with Peter (middle of Track 5) where Peter's descending A minor triad (Ich kenne des menschen nicht) is echoed and varied by the Evangelist (Und alsbald krähet der Hahn) to cadence on F. Soon after this follows a phrase by Judas with its chromatic colouring taken from the contrasts between Eb and En and Ab (Ich habe Übel getan, das ich unschuldig Blut verraten habe).

While these harmonic outlines are very clear, there can be no sense of imagining a bass line, and certainly no feeling that an accompaniment is in some sense ‘missing'. Schütz has succeeded in creating his own monophonic world which holds itself together masterfully.

Paul Hillier, 2011


Release date: 
October 2011
Track count: 


Recorded on 29-30 March 2008 (Auferstehungshistorie), 1-2 December 2008 (Weihnachtshistorie), 27-29 August 2009 (Die Sieben Worte) and 5-8 April 2010 (Matthäus-Passion) in Garnisonskirken, Copenhagen; on 10-11 April 2007 (Lukas-Passion) and 5-7 June 2009 (Johannes-Passion) in St. Paul's Church, Copenhagen.

Recording producer: Preben Iwan
Sound engineer: Preben Iwan

Previously released on 8.226019, 8.226058, 8.226093 and 8.226094

(p) 2007-2010 Dacapo Records, Copenhagen
© 2011 Dacapo Records, Copenhagen

Cover image: Reliefs of four evangelist heads by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff: St. Lukas (1912), St. Markus (1912), St. Johannes (1912) and St. Matthäus (1912). Reproduced with kind permission of the Schmidt-Rottluff estate

Graphic design:

Dacapo Records and Ars Nova Copenhagen acknowledge, with gratitude, the financial support of Augustinus Fonden, Sonning-Fonden, Bikuben Fonden, Wilhelm Hansen Fonden, Etatsraad Georg Bestle og Hustrus Mindelegat, and Generalkonsul Einar Høyvalds Fond