courtesy of Naxos of America
This past Friday I received word that Carus-Verlag had released the sixteenth volume in Hans-Christoph Rademann’s project to record the complete works of Heinrich Schütz. That news came with a link to a download site set up for business connections (including press reviews); and I could not get to those tracks fast enough. The recording presented the entirety of Schütz’ final published work. Called Schwanengesang, it was published in Dresden in 1671; and Schütz would die of a stroke the following year at the age of 87.
The volume accounts for catalog numbers 482 through 494 in the Schütz-Werke-Verseichnis (SWV). The first twelve entries account for an extended setting of Psalm 119 with each individual entry accounting for a consecutive pair of “strophes.” This is a very long Psalm. It consists of 22 of these strophes, each of which has eight verses. Thus, each SWV entry accounts of sixteen of those verses. The Psalm is also an acrostic, since each strophe begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet following the order of that alphabet. The remaining entries are a single-movement setting of Psalm 100 and a German-language setting of the Magnificat canticle. Curiously, this recording is not yet listed on Amazon.com, meaning that those wishing to keep up with Rademann’s progress will have to purchase the recording through its Web page on the Amazon Web site for Germany.
As might be guessed, Psalm 119 is rarely encountered in religious services, due to its prodigious length. Nevertheless, the booklet notes by Werner Breig (translated from the German by Elizabeth Robinson) suggest that Schütz had a strong personal attraction to the words of this Psalm. Having “paid his dues” with an abundance of extended settings of narrative texts, primarily from the New Testament, one gets the impression that, recognizing his advanced age, Schütz decided to turn to a text purely for the religious values that it expressed. In other words his setting is as much a labor of devout love as it is a “swan song.”
The key sign of Schütz’ devotion is his straightforward delivery of the text. One might almost say that he was more interested in making sure that the listener appreciated the rhetoric of the text, rather than dwelling on his own rhetorical skills as a composer. This may stand as a problem for more “secular” listeners; but, if one is willing to take Schütz on his own terms, there will be much to consider as one journey’s through the thirteen selections on this album.