Personalities | Heinrich Schütz | Early Baroque | Classical
(Hin’-rikh Shüts) 1585–1672
Schütz received his early training at the Collegium Mauritianum at Hessen-Kassel. From there he went to Marburg University to study law. In 1609, Landgrave Moritz of Hessen-Kassel, of whom Schütz was a protegé, sent the young composer to Venice, where he studied with Giovanni Gabrieli (c. 1553–1612).
He returned to Kassel in about 1613, but after visiting Dresden became a permanent member of the household of Elector Johann Georg I of Saxony. He held the post of Kapellmeister at the Dresden court for almost half a century. Schütz’s fame grew rapidly both in Germany and abroad, but he was prevented from publishing many of his large-scale pieces by the difficult economic conditions caused by the Thirty Years’ War. He suffered much personal sadness, including the deaths of his wife in 1625, his friend Schein in 1630 and his two brothers (1638 and 1655).
Venice and Dresden
Schütz paid a second visit to Venice in 1628, following the production of his opera Dafne (now lost) for the wedding celebrations of the Elector’s daughter and Landgrave Georg II of Hessen-Darmstadt. He met Monteverdi and published the Symphoniae sacrae (‘Holy Symphony’) in Venice the following year. Back in Dresden in 1630 he composed ‘Das ist je gewieslich wahr’ at the dying request of Schein.
Schütz’s principal responsibilities at the Dresden court were the provision of theatre and occasional music for special functions, and the supervision of vocal and instrumental resources. He rebuilt and reorganized court music after the Thirty Years’ War, recruiting many musicians from Italy. Such were the privations inflicted on German cultural and economic life by this, that during the 1630s and early 1640s Schütz divided his time between the Dresden court and that of King Christian of Copenhagen. The king appointed Schütz his Kapellmeister in 1633, and in 1639 he took up an additional Kapellmeister’s post at Hildesheim. Schütz returned to Dresden in 1645 and struck an agreement with the Elector to work for him just six months a year over the following decade. In 1656, Johann Georg I died and his successor appointed Schütz Ober-Kapellmeister, at the same time releasing him from the responsibilities of supervising the court music and musicians. He continued to travel and compose almost until his death.
Schütz’s music spans over half a century and embraces old and emerging compositional styles. By introducing Italian developments to Germany he laid the foundations of eighteenth-century German sacred music. Among his finest collections are Psalmen Davids (‘The Psalms of David’, 1619), and Cantiones sacrae (1625), both of which reveal a masterly rapprochement between Italian expression and Lutheran tradition, the strikingly organized Musicalische Exequien (1636), Geistliche Chor-Music (‘Spiritual Choir Music’, 1648) and the stylistically forward-looking and emotionally affecting Die sieben Wortte Jesu Christi am Kreuz (‘The Seven Words of Jesus Christ on the Cross’, c. 1645). The Weinachtshistorie (‘Christmas Story’, 1660) also demonstrates his talent for orchestration.
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