Javier Medina and Marsha Burks, violins
Krista Vernon and Daniell Mattern, violas
Cass Patrick, guitar
Echo Fantasia (organ solo). . . . . . . . . Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621) Ich liege und schlafe (SWV 310) . . . . . . . . . . . Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) Capriccio (organ solo) . . . . . . . . . . . . Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-1667) Es gingen zweene Menschen hinauf (SWV 444) . . . . . Heinrich Schütz Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund (organ solo). . . . . . . Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654) The Seven Words of Jesus Christ on the Cross . . . . Heinrich Schütz (SWV 478) Praeludium (organ solo) . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707) Weib, was weinest du? (SWV 443) . . . . . . . . . . . Heinrich Schütz Gott sei Dank (from The Resurrection, SWV 50) . . . . Heinrich Schütz
Germany has been known since the eighteenth century for music of high quality and serious purpose, as the fame of Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Schumann, Wagner and Hindemith suggests. These composers based their work on that of earlier generations of musicians who combined Italian expression and virtuosity and French grace and elegance with the German traits of thoroughness and order. During the seventeenth century, German composers began the process of assimilating foreign genres and techniques to the needs of the German Lutheran liturgy, with its popular hymns or chorales. At the same time, German organ builders created the magnificent instruments that inspired an unparalleled interest in music for the King of Instruments during the Baroque era.
Foremost among German composers of the seventeenth century was Heinrich Schütz. A pupil of the Venetian master Giovanni Gabrieli, Schütz pioneered in the assimilation of Italian techniques and forms, including dramatic recitative and the sacred concerto with instruments. During his long career as Kapellmeister at the Saxon court, Schütz continued to develop a highly personal musical language of rhetorical gestures (or figurae) in order to express the meanings and emotions of scriptural texts.
Tonight’s program features four sacred concertos of Schütz, each preceded by an organ work by one of Schütz’s contemporaries. The organ works are discussed below. “Ich liege und schlafe” is a setting of four verses from Psalm 3, from the second book of Kleine geistliche Concerte, op. 9, published in 1639; the modest resources required (solo bass and continuo) are a response to the impoverished condition of German musical establishments during the Thirty Years War. The music effectively illustrates the biblical contrast between a slow static “sleep” and a more animated “wake” in the first line. Warlike sentiments are expressed in the quick repeated notes of Monteverdi’s stile concitato. The final “Selah,” a biblical word of obscure meaning, is expanded into a purely musical flourish.
“Es gingen zweene Menschen hinauf” is a biblical dialogue, a form in which Schütz displayed his greatest skill at musical characterization. After a brief opening narration, the Pharisee and the publican appear, at prayer in the Temple. The Pharisee is portrayed as vain and self-righteous, while the publican’s repeated cry of humble contrition, “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” acts as a musical and verbal refrain. All four voices join to present the moral of the parable; the musical contrast between the ascending lines of “exalt” and descending lines of “humble” illustrates the meaning of the text.
The Seven Words of Jesus Christ on the Cross is the longest work on tonight’s program, and the only vocal work with independent parts for instruments. A mature work, it dates from before 1657. The biblical narration of the Crucifixion (excerpted from all four Gospels) forms the main body of the work. The words of Jesus are distinguished by the presence of two violins, who contribute an air of solemnity, as well as realizing the possibilities for imitative counterpoint in the brief speeches. The narration is shared among four additional soloists, while the roles of the two thieves on the cross are taken by a countertenor and a bass. The central narrative is symmetrically framed by a five-part instrumental Symphonia, and by a chorus singing the first and last verse of the Passiontide chorale, “Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund.” Although Schütz avoids setting the text to the usual chorale melody, he adopts the Phrygian tonality of the chorale (with cadences on E), and maintains it throughout the work. The continuo ensemble of organ and viol is supplemented here by the plucked string sound of the guitar.
The final work on the program, “Weib, was weinest du?” is an early work, an Easter dialogue between the risen Jesus and Mary Magdalene. As in the other dialogue, the parts of the two speakers are combined musically, the reassuring male voices (Jesus) contrasting with the anxious female ones (Mary). In the climax of the work, Mary, hearing her name, recognizes the Lord’s voice. The final chorus with which the work originally ended has been lost; only the continuo part survives. In tonight’s performance its place is taken by the final chorus of The History of the Resurrection (1623), an oratorio sharing a biblical theme and several melodic motives with the present concerto. A double chorus interprets the meaning of the Resurrection in the words of St. Paul, while the Evangelist, who narrated the longer work, repeatedly cries out the Latin word for “victory,” finally joined by both choirs.
Although Heinrich Schütz wrote no works for organ, the seventeenth century was the golden age of the organ in Germany, a period when English and Italian advances in keyboard forms and technique were grafted onto an already vigorous German keyboard style. The four organ works on the program illustrate various genres and styles of German organ music in the seventeenth century. Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck spent his entire life in the Netherlands, but he influenced German organ music through his pupils. He adopted English keyboard techniques, such as runs and broken chord figures, and applied them to continental models such as the monothematic fantasia. As an employee of the city of Amsterdam, he was free from the harsh musical restrictions of the Calvinist church; he played after divine services, and in special weekday concerts which attracted visitors from all over Europe. His echo fantasias are thematically informal, and involve contrasts of timbre (loud and soft stops) and register (high and low).
A well-traveled German who studied in Rome with Girolamo Frescobaldi, Froberger was intermittently employed at the Hapsburg court in Vienna between 1637 and 1653. Though his harpsichord suites follow the latest French fashion, his toccatas, canzonas, ricercares and capriccios are thoroughly within the Italian tradition. They often develop their themes more fully than their models, however. The present Capriccio was published posthumously in Diverse curiose e rare partite musicali (Mainz, 1696). Its four fugal sections are based on rhythmic variants of a single subject, and are separated by free toccata-like sections of runs and dissonant chords.
Samuel Scheidt was Sweelinck’s most famous pupil. His Tabulatura Nova (1624) summarizes the forms and techniques then available to the organist, from popular song variations to liturgical cantus firmus pieces. Especially noteworthy were his variations on Lutheran chorale melodies, in which the composer provided the model for many of the greatest works of later generations of German organists. In “Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund,” Scheidt sets six verses of the traditional melody, which appears in a different part in each verse. English figuration is heard in the inner verses, which are set in two voices only. The final verse surrounds the melody with ascending and descending chromatic countersubjects. Scheidt’s set of chorale variations serves as a fitting introduction to Schütz’s Seven Words, whose opening and closing choruses are based on the same chorale.
Dietrich Buxtehude served from 1668 until his death in 1707 as organist in the Hanseatic port of Lübeck, where his concerts were heard by the young Bach and Handel. His organ works are the ideal musical embodiment of the North German organ during the peak of its development, where tonally and spatially distinct divisions (German Werk), each controlled by a separate keyboard, contrast with each other and with a highly developed and powerful pedal division. Although the Praeludium of Buxtehude and his contemporaries led to the Prelude and Fugue of the eighteenth century, it is in fact a multisectional work containing at least two fugal sections and a variety of less formal writing. The present work, in G minor, begins with flourishes in the manual, which quickly develop into variations on a chaconne bass. The first fugue ensues, followed by a toccata-like cadence. The next section, played on the reeds, resembles a written-out realization of a walking bass continuo, leading into a cadential figure played on both pedal solo and manual. The second fugue, in slow triple time, develops continuously, without nonthematic episodes, until it finally breaks down in measured trills and brilliant flourishes.David Warren Steel
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