DRESDEN: Music of Schütz, Heinichen & Zelenka
Nisi Dominus aedificaverit domum Johann David Heinichen (1683–1729)
Shannon Canavin, soprano; Graham St-Laurent, oboe;
Audrey Cienniwa, cello; Bálint Karosi, organ
Qui Lazarum resuscitasti Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679–1745)
Benedictus Dominus (Canticum Zachariae)
Shannon Canavin & Shari Wilson, soprano
Thea Lobo & Martin Near, alto
Michael Barrett & Owen McIntosh, tenor
Bradford Gleim & Ulysses Thomas, bass
Bálint Karosi, organ
Die Sieben Worte Jesu Christi am Kreuz Heinrich Schütz (1585–1672)
Allen Combs, Jesus
Shari Wilson, Thea Lobo, Owen McIntosh & Bradford Gleim, Evangelists
Martin Near, Schächer zur Linken; Ulysses Thomas, Schächer zur Rechten
Michael Barrett, Shannon Canavin & Jason Wang, chorus
Alice Robbins, Jane Hershey, Laura Jeppesen,
Zoe Weiss & Carol Lewis, viola da gamba
Catherine Liddell, theorbo; Bálint Karosi, organ
Shannon Canavin, General Director
Martin Near, Music Director
Sunday, March 14, 2010 at 5:30pm
First Lutheran Church of Boston, 299 Berkeley Street, Boston, MA
Notes on the Program
The son of a pastor, Johann David Heinichen (1683–1729) displayed considerable musical gifts as a child, including composing and conducting sacred music in Leipzig while attending the the Thomasschule under the tutalege of Johann Kuhnau. In 1702 Heinichen entered Leipzig University as a law student then moved to Weissenfels, where he was lured away from his legal career for one in music at the court of Duke Johann Georg. In 1709 he returned to Leipzig at the request of the manager of the opera house, for which he composed several operas. He became the director of the collegium musicum that met at Lehmann’s coffee house and was appointed composer to the court of Zeitz and opera composer to the court of Naumburg.
In 1710, Heinichen gave up his successful career in Leipzig to travel toVenice, the center of Italian operatic music, the style of which Heinichen was determined to learn firsthand; in 1713 he composed two opera for Venice’s Teatro S. Angelo. He left Italy in 1716 when the Prince-Elector of Saxony, who engaged him as Kapellmeister to the court at Dresden, a post Heinichen shared with Johann Christoph Schmidt and held until his death.
The court of August the Strong maintained one of the most important musical establishments in Europe, and Heinichen staffed the orchestra with such fine musicians as violinist Veracini, flautist Quantz, and lutenist S. L. Weiss. Heinichen assured his position at the forefront of Baroque theorists with his Der General-Bass in der Composition (1728), an encyclopedia of knowledge not only for thoroughbass practice, but also for a wide range of information both theoretical and philosophcial concerning the art of composition. Heinichen composed in almost every popular form of his day except keyboard music; more than 250 of his works were lost during World War II. Most of his compositioins were specifically tied to his duties as court Kapellmeister, none of which was published during his lifetime, and very little of which has appeared in modern editions. His musical style mixes the national idioms of German, French, and Italian music, resulting in galant music that is pre-Classical in character and often shows the virtuosic influence of the Italian school he so admired. Nisi Dominus aedifcaverit domum is an excellent example of Heinichen’s vocal style, combining Italian virtuosity with German rhetorical ideals while exploring the sonorities available to him.
The earliest known composition of Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679–1745)—now lost—is music for a school drama performed at Prague’s Jesuit College of St. Mikulás in 1704. In 1709 he was attached to the Prague household of a member of the von Hartig family, and in 1710–11, he moved to Dresden as a violone player in the Hofkapelle. In 1711, a performance of his Missa Sanctae Caeciliae was given at the new Catcholic Hofkirche, established in 1708 following the conversion of the Saxon elector, Friedrich August I. Chaplains there were administered by the Jesuit proviince of Bohemia, and young Bohemian musicians, suzh as Zelenka, provided ligurgical music while royal musicians performed on high feast days and state occasions.
From 1716 to 1719, Zelenka traveled and studied in Italy, France, and Vienna, where he studied with J. J. Fux. Following the closure of the Dresden opera in 1720, musical attention turned to the royal chapel, where patronage by the electoral prince and his Habsburg consort, Maria Josepha, led to a vigorous promotion of Catholic liturgical music; Zelenka’s celebrated sonatas ZWV181 and works for Holy Week date from this period. In 1721, Zelenka visited Prague, and in 1723 the Collegium Clementinum commissioned him to compose and direct his Melodrama de Sancto Wenceslao for the Prage celebrations marking the coronation of Charels VI and Elizabeth Christine as King and Queen of Bohemia.
Following Heinichen’s death in 1729, Zelenka assumed most of the musical responsibilities of the Dresden court, and expected to succeed him as Kepellmeister. But his hopes were dashed by the increasing desire of the electoral princes for the re-esablishment of opera, who instead appointed Johann Adolph Hasse, a prominent composer of Italian opera, in 1733. Zelenka’s compositional output decreased significantly at this point, due to illness and his ongoing efforts to win the position of Kapellmeister. He later made frequent visits to the court of Poland and Hubertusburg, leading to the loss of sustained royal musical patronage for the Dresden Catholic chapel. He died in 1745 with the title Kirchen Compositeur.
Compared with many of his contemporaries, Zelenka was not a particularly prolific composer; the greatest of his works date from the 1720s and his final years. His musical idiom is highly original, and his liturgical works show a mastery of contrapuntal techniques, rhythmic invention derived from Bohemian fold music, and a concern for the rich musical expression of texts. These traits can be clearly heard in the responsory Qui Lazarum resuscitasti and Benedictus Dominus, or the Canticles of Zachary.
Declared “the father of musicians, to whom the Germans…were indebted” by Johann Mattheson in 1740, Heinrich Schütz (1585–1672) was arguably the most important and influential composer of seventeenth-century Germany. Trained as a choir-boy at the court at Kassel, Schütz went on to study law in Marburg before making his first sojourn to Venice from 1609 to 1612 to study music with Giovanni Gabrieli. He then served briefly as organist at Kassel before moving to Dresden in 1615 to work as court composer to the Elector of Saxony. His duties there included composing music for major court ceremonies, ensuring that the Kapelle was well-staffed, and supervising the choirboys’ musical education. Because of the prestige of his position, Schütz was soon able to extend his activities beyond the confines of Dresden, and was called to oversee the reorganization of musical activities in Reuss and Magdeburg. In 1655, he accepted an ex officio post of Kapellmeister at Wolfenbüttel, and died of a stroke in 1672 at the age of 87. Schütz was of great importance in bringing new musical ideas to Germany from Italy, and integrating these styles with the unique declamatory and expressive styles of the German language that influenced countless musicians who succeeded him.
Dating from 1645, Schütz’s Die Sieben Worte Jesu Christi am Kreuz is one of Schütz’s most emotionally-charged works that invites the listener to remember these most sorrowful moments of Christ’s life. It is certainly one of Schütz’s most personal works, having never been published during his lifetime. The tradition of singing the Passion story began in the early centuries of the Christian church, with priests chanting the appointed Gospel account rather than simply reading it to add solemnity in later centuries. The earliest polyphonic settings date from the fifteenth century and by the mid-seventeenth century, the Reformation had led to a distinctly German oratorio Passion set in the vernacular, employing recitatives, arias, choruses, and instrumental movements. These oratorio Passions ultimately reached their pinnacle in the great St. Matthew Passion and St. John Passion of Johann Sebastian Bach.
This version of the Passion is perhaps most compelling in its simplicity. In order to include all seven sayings Christ spoke during the crucifixion, Schütz created a composite text from all four Gospels. The piece begins and ends with a chorus of five voices and continuo based on stanzas from the passion hymn Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund (though Schütz does not quote the chorale melody). The main section of the work is framed by an instrumental sinfonia for five unspecified instruments—here performed by a consort of violas da gamba—that can be seen to both prepare the listener for Christ’s words and later to allow him/her to reflect upon them. Within the main section, Schütz reduces the role of the evangelist and assigns it to a quartet of voices, who sing both individually and in chorus, to focus attention on the seven last words. Jesus’s words are further illuminated by the accompaniment of two viols that provide a halo of sound around his pronouncements. The result is one of the most powerful representations of the final moments of Christ, and one of Schütz’s most successful masterpieces.