One of The Big Three
The MHS Review 239 Vol.3, no. 5 • May 7, 1979
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David M. Greene
The "Three S's" of German Baroque music were born in Saxony in three successive years--Schutz in 1585. Schein in 1586. and Scheidt in 1587. The first is known for his vocal music. the second for both vocal and instrumental works. the third for his organ music (notably his chorale settings). I was dimly aware that Scheidt had written motets. and a check of my catalogue told me that I even had a recording of one--the Duo seraphim clamabant directed by Philippe Caillard. listed in Schwann as a Westminster record for some years and now on MHS 1913. The same piece and one other were once available on an imported Kantate disk. led by Ludwig Doorman. and there is one side of an Argo record featuring Schutz on the flip. both selections directed by Raymond Leppard. Prior to 1955. WERM lists only a recording of A mighty fortress." in Scheidt' s arrangement. though I have no doubt that choral anthologies might turn up a few more examples. But the fact is obvious: this music is not well known--a curious freak of fortune. for in his day it was what he was chiefly admired for. Modern history books mention it only in passing: the musical dictionaries shrug it off with a mere listing of publications These include the Cantiones sacrae of 1620. for 8 voices: the Geistliche Concerten for up to 12 voices with nstruments of 1621-22: the Liebliche Krafftblumlein of 1635. and the last four volumes of Geitsliche Concerten of 1631-40. the later works all for small vocal ensembles with continuo.
Lacking specific information. I should guess that the works on the first side of the record are from the Concerten and those on the second from the Cantiones since I hear no instruments there. Had I been asked to guess whose work they were, I should have said "Schutz·s." The first pieces are deeply indebted to the Venetian tradition--the tradition of the Gabrielis rather than that of the later Monteverdi. The two real novelties were the use of continua (which made its way slowly into the rest of Europe) and the attempt to express the text emotionally in music. This often involves repetition of phrases and. in chorale-based concerti, even distortion of the melodic line, as well as the characteristic use of solo voices coloristically (in terms of contrasting timbres).
In a recent piece that included some music by Scheidt (rhymes with "light"). I indicated that I found his biography confusing and wondered if anyone could throw light on it. The problem is perhaps merely the density of my mind and the fact that I haven't bothered to consult the several German studies of him because they are not locally available. But here is a brief sketch of what I've found. His father. Conrad. was in charge of the saltworks at Halle. Both Samuel and his brother Gottfried went to Amsterdam to study with Sweelinck. and Sam became his star pupil (which must have made Gottfried feel just awful). Somewhere around 1610 Samuel was appointed organist at the ancient Moritzkirche in his home town. Here the plot thickens. We read that in 1620 he became organist and Kapellmeister to Christian Wilhelm. Markgraf of Brandenburg. who was administrating the Archbishopric of Magdeburg. But Scheidt did not have to go to Magdeburg. up the pike a ways. for his place was in the court church in Halle. In the Thirty Years War. we are told. Magdeburg was razed. the Moritzkirche was destroyed. in 1637. and Christian Wilhelm abdicated in 1638. We hear little more of Scheidt until his death: tradition has it he died virtually a beggar. but his will left money for a new organ in the Moritzkirche. which argues otherwise
Now. if I am reading my history correctly. Halle did not come into the Prussian-Brandenburgian orbit until the Treaty of Westphalia in 1639. In 1478 it had come under the sway of the Catholic Archbishop of Magdeburg. who had built a castle. the Moritzburg. overlooking the city. (It was destroyed in the War. but I'm not certain of the church.) Apparently the town remained under the Archbishops after they became Protestant. The Markgraf of Brandenburg, as I understand it. was named Georg Wilhelm: he came into power in Berlin in 1619 and beat it for his Prussian stronghold in 1638. Why either he or the Archbishop should have kept a court staffed with a
Kapelle in Halle simply eludes me. There may have been a Christian Wilhelm. who. like J.S Bach's Brandenburg Markgraf. had some inferior position in the Hohenzollern lands. but I'm unable to resurrect him. Even the tedious perusal of a German history of Saxony shone no light. Once again: Help!_
Review of Five Sacred Baroque Masterpieces Samuel Scheidt, Five Motets