Monday, January 09, 2006

Heinrich Schutz: Musical Valium

I've been listening to a lot of my newer cds since Christmas: Dufay, Obrecht, Machaut, and last but definitely not least, Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672). According to the Grove Concise Dictionary of Music, Schutz spent most of his career in Dresden, as a court composer (Kapellmeister), and his output was almost entirely sacred music. He is described as the most important German composer of the 17th century, and a major figure of the early Baroque.

I mention him here because he is largely unknown beyond early music circles, and for the fact that I find his music to be some of the most soothing and spiritually helpful I have yet encountered. I say this because during a particularly stressful week, I found a meditative refuge in Schutz's solemn and beautiful pieces, especially his "German Requiem" (Musicalische Exequiem; Concert in Form einer teutschen Begrabniss - ie., "Concerto in the form of a German Funeral Mass). It is hauntingly beautiful, at times even tender, and a definite balm for the weary soul. I commend it to you with the highest regard.

Another cd of Schutz's music is the Psalmen Davids, eleven psalm settings of serene loveliness and spiritual inspiration. These were written early in Schutz's career (1619), and have a more Renaissance feel to them. The cd ends with his German Magnificat, which was written when he was 85, still giving thanks for God's grace. His epitaph reads: "the Christian singer of psalms, a joy for foreigners, and a light for Germany." Amen to that.

(Both cds are available on the Naxos label)


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