Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

Heinrich Schütz's Musikalische Exequien: Evidence of Influence*

Academic journal article Canadian University Music Review

Heinrich Schütz's Musikalische Exequien: Evidence of Influence*

Article excerpt

It is generally agreed that Heinrich Schütz's Musikalische Exequien (SWV 279-81) is among the most inspired of all his works. Schütz himself thought highly enough of the Exequien that he had it published in 1636, and later assigned to it an opus number (op. 7),1 a distinction he reserved for his most valued creations and attributed only once to an ad hoc composition. Ironically, though, the praise accorded Schütz's Exequien has come almost entirely from writers of this century, while in the seventeenth, as Werner Breig observes in a recent article, "Schütz's attempt to detach the work from its original purpose apparently found little resonance among his contemporaries ..."2 Did Schütz at the height of his career completely misjudge contemporary tastes, or have we perhaps underestimated the importance of the Musikalische Exequien to Lutheran musicians of the seventeenth century?

Although there are no surviving prints of the complete work (which in itself bespeaks a modest publishing run), the Musikalische Exequien did not simply disappear without leaving some impression on German musicians of the seventeenth century. A surviving manuscript copy of the continue part currently housed in the Biblioteka Gdanská suggests that at least the third movement was performed sometime in the seventeenth century.3 Some if not all of the work was also heard at a funeral in 1645, evidenced by a surviving intabulation made of the first two movements by Johannes Simbracký, organist in Kirchdorf, Waralia (currently Spisské Podhradie, Slovak Republic) from 1630 to 1657.4 There is, moreover, the possibility of the Musikalische Exequien's sphere of influence extending beyond transcriptions and performances of itduringSchütz's lifetime. I would like to suggest in this study that the Exequien, in keeping with the Baroque tradition of musico-rhetorical imilatio, may in fact have been used posthumously as a model for another composer's work - namely, Michael Wiedemann's music composed for the funeral in 1693 of Sigismund Heinrich, Baron of Bibran and Modlau.

Before examining these works together, it may prove useful at the outset to sketch in some of the background to the composers and the compositions in question. As regards Heinrich Schütz, who in 1636 was Hofkapellmeister in Dresden and Royal Danish Kapellmeister in Copenhagen, he is generally considered to be the most significant German composer of the seventeenth century - a view shared equally by Schütz's contemporaries. The three works comprising the Musikalische Exequien were composed by Schütz for the funeral in February 1636 of his sovereign Prince Heinrich Posthumus von Reuß (1572-1635). Throughout his life. Heinrich Posthumus was well-known for his diplomatic skills, as a generous patron of the Church, education and the arts, and also as a proficient instrumentalist and singer. His long personal and professional association with Schütz began as early as 1617, at which time the Prince entrusted Schütz with the reorganization of the musical affairs of the court, school and town of Gera.6 Perhaps the most striking detail about Heinrich Posthumus in view of the Musikalische Exequien is that the entire first movement of the work is based almost entirely on the Prince's own selection of scriptural and chorale texts which he secretly had inscribed on his coffin a year before his death.

In contrast to Schütz, rather little is known about the second composer, Michael Wiedemann. Born of peasant stock in Upper Lusatia in 1659, he was employed as pastor in Ossig near Liegnitz (currently Legnica, Poland) and subsequently at Schweidnitz (currently Swidnica, Poland).6 Better known for his literary than his musical production, Wiedemann was author of an invidious collection entitled Historisch-poetischer Gefangenschaften, published at Leipzig in 1689 and 1690.7 Because of the calumnies against the Catholic Church perceived in these and perhaps other works by Wiedemann, the Jesuits conspired towards and eventually succeeded in having him expelled from his pastoral post. …

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