The Schütz passion music

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

Two recently published Eulenburg miniature scores of Passion Music by Heinrich Schütz are of deep interest to musicians, because he is that German composer who derived his training from the famous Italian musician Gabrieli. This was at the time when the great polyphonic school was declining, and those in revolt were pressing home their successes. Schütz came under the influence of both the new and the old Italian music, and by the force of his own character vitalised again the art of music in Germany. In his wake came Bach and Handel. Those apt to see portents have told us how Bach and Handel followed Schütz by exactly a century — 1585:1685 — neither more nor less.

Schütz spent most of his life as Kapellmeister to the Elector of Saxony at Dresden, a position which seems strange to many moderns, but which produced men whose music endures. At the close of his life Schütz wrote four settings of the Story of the Passion according to the four Evangelists, which remained unpublished until after his death in 1672. The original manuscripts of three are lost, but that of the St John Passion is in the library of the Duke of Wolfenbüttel. Copies of the other three, made by one Grundig, are now in the Leipzig Stadt Bibliothek.

Thanks to Ernst Eulenburg, musicians may now, for two shillings [10p] each, become possessed of the Schütz scores of the St John and the St Luke Passion. Their primal interest is that they inspired Bach and others to produce similar work. These Schütz Passions are for unaccompanied four-part chorus with unaccompanied recitative, and without the familiar arias and chorales found in the works of other and later Passion composers. The glory of Schütz lies in his wonderfully flexible and musical recitatives, which have the beauty of Gregorian and Indian melodies and do not need accompaniment. During recent years editors have attempted to remodel Schütz after the manner of Bach. Moser thinks that Schütz used chorales for the congregation during the performance of his Passions, but no one knows.

Eulenburg has been wise to issue the scores as left by Schütz. The music suggests that he was no less filled with religious piety than his great successor. The four-part choruses (SATB) are of lovely simple contrapuntal quality, and the unaccompanied recitatives given to all the chief characters of the Crucifixion depict the tragedy with pathos and austerity, a very different attitude from what it became during the century preceding Bach.

On the other hand, by La main gauche

Musical opinion, March 1935, p. 492