Updated: Apr 24
Schutz Die sieben Worte Jesu Christi
Buxtehude Jesu meines Lebens Leben Membra Jesu Nostri
Full programme can be found here:
Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) Die Sieben Wortte unsers lieben Erlösers und Seeligmachers Jesu Christi
Schütz is considered one of the most important composers of the 17th century as well as the most notable German composer before Bach. He was born in Köstritz in 1585 and studied with Giovanni Gabrieli. In 1615, he moved to Dresden to work as court composer to the Elector of Saxony, where he sowed the seeds of what is now the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden. He wrote the first German opera, Dafne, in 1627 and went to Venice in the following year to study with Monteverdi. Best known for his mature sacred choral music, including his Symphoniae Sacrae and other vocal concertos, Schütz is commemorated as a musician in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church on 28 July, along with Bach and Handel. He died in 1672 in Dresden.
The text of the Seven Words deals with the passion story but is neither a narration of the crucifixion nor presents only one of the four gospels. Rather it is a compilation of Jesus' utterances from the cross, drawn from all four evangelists, sometimes quoted one at a time and sometimes in combination. Each of the Words has the same structure: narrative material in the voice of an evangelist introduces the words of Jesus' direct speech, which are the culmination of each section. Schütz realised this structure musically by clearly distinguishing between the spoken words (Jesus) and the narrated texts (evangelist); Jesus’ words are sung by the same tenor voice throughout, whereas the words of the narrator are sung by various other voices: soprano, alto, another tenor, and the chorus. The constantly changing narrating voice helps to characterise the sections of the piece, which are more episodic than dramatically continuous – more a series of tableaux than a sequence of events.
Schütz also differentiates the two kinds of text by musical style. The evangelist's words are presented primarily in narrative recitation that draws both on the traditional chanting of gospel texts and on theatrical recitative. The tendency towards recitation on one note over a static bass line is most clearly perceptible at the beginning of sections; as each develops, the narrator's vocal line tends to take more expressive turns. Jesus' words are set in a very different style, entrusted to one singer and in the style of the modern vocal concerto, in which an expressive line is set against an independent basso continuo. The vocal lines in these sections, in contrast to the evangelist's recitation, are characterised by musical and textual repetition including so-called sequences, passages in which a small idea is repeated successively at several pitch levels (rising or falling) for affect. In fact, text repetition in the passages of direct speech – mostly absent in the narration – is among the most important differences and helps communicate the organisation of the text.
It also makes for some striking moments in which Schütz breaks the pattern and does allow some repetition of text in the narration. One is at the start of the fourth section, in which Schütz assigns the narration to four voices rather than one. Those voices repeat the words ‘schrei Jesus laut’ (‘Jesus cried out’) both within their own lines and between each other, greatly intensifying the description of the outcry. Repetition also surfaces in two passages of solo narration: at the words ‘alles vollbracht, alles vollbracht war’ (that all, all was accomplished) in the fifth section, and ‘und abermal rief Jesus laut, rief Jesus laut und sprach’ (‘and Jesus cried out, cried out and said’), which introduces Jesus' final words in the seventh section. These passages heighten the narration, transferring to it some of the expressive language otherwise reserved for direct speech. In addition to using word repetition, Schütz embellishes the words of Jesus by adding violins that play along with the singer, sometimes in passages of brief imitation of the voice and sometimes in alternation with it. The four parts - two instrumental lines, the tenor voice of Jesus, and the basso continuo - together form a complete harmonic ensemble that offers further contrast with the much plainer texture of the narration and, in the third section, passages of direct speech by the two criminals executed with Jesus.
The seven sections narrating and quoting the words are doubly framed. An opening as well as closing Sinfonia in a five-part texture (the two instruments that accompany Jesus as well as three others heard only in these passages) is framed, in turn, by five-part vocal movements that combine all the voices used in the work. The texts of these sections are the first and last stanzas of the hymn ‘Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund’, whose words have pre-Reformation origins and appear in both Roman and Lutheran hymnals. Although there was a tune that had come to be associated with this hymn in the German Protestant tradition during the mid-17th century, Schütz does not use it, instead treating the text phrase by phrase in the manner of a motet. The stanzas serve the same function both in the original hymn and in Schütz's setting, for the inner verses of the nine-stanza chorale text paraphrase the seven words, one each in stanzas 2 to 8. So the opening verse's message, urging the listener to consider Jesus' last words, is equally apt for Schütz's setting. The final stanza of the hymn – the closing text of Schütz's work – promises God's favour to those who reflect on the words. It thereby reinforces the composer's design of offering up Jesus’ last words for contemplation and reflection.
Dietrich Buxtehude 1637-1707 Jesu meines Lebens Leben Membra Jesu nostri patientis sanctissima
Considering Dietrich Buxtehude’s sacred music as a spring in the foothills of Mount Bach is unavoidable, given Bach’s peerless stature: inadvertently, an Olympian reputation invites avalanches to smother the achievements of distinguished forebears. Such a dramatic claim is not too wide of the mark if one examines the Düben Collection in Uppsala, Sweden, a resource containing reams of seventeenth century North German masterpieces, including a range of fine cantatas by Buxtehude, and forgotten contemporaries. Buxtehude, however, was not entirely buried in the wake of Bach’s ascendancy. His death in 1707 brought eulogies and epithets such as ‘world-renowned, incomparable musician and composer’ (Johann Caspar Ulich). We can safely say, also, that the discriminating young Bach did not disappear to Lübeck in 1705 – incurring the wrath of his Arnstadt employers in the process – to hear Buxtehude’s music for anything other than guaranteed and supreme nourishment for his own artistic formation. Whilst Bach clearly understood and admired Buxtehude for his breadth of experience and vision, more recent commentators have – as scholar Christoph Wolff reminds us – streamlined his influence to that of a parochial loft-bound organist whose achievements can be viewed principally as refining Bach’s notion of stylus phantasticus (the free-wheeling, virtuosic toccata style) and chorale paraphrases or preludes. Such a notion was encouraged in the nineteenth century by both Brahms’ and Phillip Spitta’s admiration for Buxtehude the organist.
Amongst Buxtehude’s 130-odd surviving sacred works, there exists the fullest compass of concerto-motets, chorale settings and varied strophic arias, as well as vocal concertos employing all the textural and tonal developments of the late seventeenth century. Jesu meines Lebens Leben is a Passion Cantata-aria with text by Ernst Christoph Homburg. After an introductory Sinfonia, five verses are set to a ground bass, based on a descending tetrachord, which is repeated forty-one times.
The voices and violins are in dialogue here, in the ‘concerto’ style which features a phrase or two by the voices, followed by a ‘response’ from the instruments. There is another dialogue created between solo lines (soprano initially, followed by tenor) and full chorus responses to each. The text is about the struggle that Jesus had to go through to save humanity. Each stanza finishes with the protagonist thanking Jesus ‘tausend tausendmal sei dir liebster Jesu Dank dafür’ (A thousand, thousand thanks to you) - this echo of a thousand thanks could be represented by that repeating bass line.
Jersey Chamber Choir
JCC was formed in 2022 and this is the second performance. The next concert will be on 29th July: a celebration the 450th anniversary of the death of Claudio Monteverdi, with music by Gabrielli, Monteverdi and Vivaldi’s famous “Gloria”! and on 11th November, Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil (Vespers)
Violin I Pat Woodsford
Violin II Julie Riley
Viola I Paula Malorey-Vibert
Viola II Molly Hord
Cello Martin Marsay
Organ Paul Matthams
Sopranos Elaine Doublet Ellen Harvey-Hills Gailina Liew Jane Silvester Karen Spencer Kate de la Haye Simone Garton Tenors Hilton Packies Kevin Jones
Mezzo-Sopranos Gillian Sawyer Judy Egre Liberty Spears Nikki Blampied Baritones Fergal Kelly Henri Trepant Paul Craig Stephen Kemp
Michael Wynne is Director of Music at St Luke’s Church, as well as founder and Artistic Director of Jersey Chamber Choir. In 2003 he made his conducting debut with the D’Oly Carte opera company, and from 2005-2013 worked with Scottish Opera and Swansea City Opera, where he conducted over 150 performances of opera and ballet.
Since 2007, Michael has worked for the American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz, Austria, and has worked with Barbara Bonney, Christa Ludwig, Susan Graham, and Christine Brewer. Since 2009, he has been visiting professor of Organ and Church Music at the Kunstuniversität, Graz.
Michael studied organ and voice at the Royal Academy of Music, London, and Church Music at the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, in Rome. In addition, he holds Fellowships from the Royal College of Organists, Trinity College of Music, and in 2021 was awarded an honorary Fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts.