Sunday, 24 April 2011

Heinrich Schütz -Victoria!

Gott sei dank! sing the trebles, while the tenor intones Victoria! Victoria!  Meaning victory over death, as Jesus has risen in glory.  In theory the tenor part should be more dominant, almost contrapuntally cutting across the choir a bit like an unfurling banner. But this is the only clip I could find. That's the thing with youtube, you get what's posted, not what there is. This piece is the final part of Heinrich Schütz Aufferstehungshistorie - the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, written for Easter 1623, sixty years before Bach was even born.  It deals with the days between the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Jesus's friends had ben feeling low after he died, and suddenly they spot him walking among them. "You're supposed to be dead!" But he eats and drinks and shows them his wounds. "Siehen, siehen, siehen meinen Hande und meinen Fussen!" It's so human and natural, but that's part of the theology that's often overlooked. Jesus, God made Man, alive again despite all logic. That's the miracle. What  I love about this music is its conversational simplicity, and the sense of genuine wonder. It's like the singers are telling a miraculous piece of news for the very first time.

Single voices, apart from the choirboys and the women's parts taken by high tenors. Minimal accompaniment - small ensemble, mainly continuo. Indeed, it's interesting how prominent Schütz makes the women's parts, since this was the Reformation. Although Schütz visited Italy and knew Monteverdi, being Lutheran he couldn't use castrati. Indeed, most of Schütz's music comes from this early time between Martin Luther and  JS Bach, when German music was finding new means of expression. 

Germany was in the midst of the Thirty Years War when millions died. Not until the 20th century were its horrors surpassed. Read more about the period here, for it was the real "first world war" played out as far as South America and China.  Peter H Wilson's book Europe's Tragedy should be studied by anyone with an interest in how Europe came to be.  Schütz had a difficult life even though he was Kappelmeister to the Court of Saxony. He often didn't get paid and was caught up in political intrigues he had no interest in.  His wife died young and then both his daughers. Alone, unwell and unhappy he lived to be 87 which in those times was like being Methusaleh. Perhaps his  faith sustained him until he at last experienced "Victoria!"

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