Heinrich Schütz famously studied in Venice with Claudio Monteverdi with whom he mastered the new expressive ‘secunda prattica’ – where declamation of words, allied to extrovert theatrical devices, challenged the decorum of classical counterpoint as the sine qua non of musical composition. For Schütz, representing The Word was essentially mimetic and less fragrantly lush than Monteverdi’s luminous canvases. Der Herr ist gross (from his 1636 ‘Kleine geistliche Konzerte’) shows us Schütz, the greatest German composer before Bach, instilling a style of intractable purity in the vocal concerto: the musical messages here are succinct and unequivocal but also graciously honed. Alighting on two urgent exclamatory verses from Psalm 145, the lines are exchanged with tenderness over a continuo line. In the context of the ravages of the Thirty Years War, and therefore with few available musicians, there is a pragmatic simplicity here through which Schütz directly conveys God’s greatness (in David’s Psalm of praise, the sentiment, ‘his greatness is unsearchable’, prevails). With the trumpet alighting on a partnership with the right hand of the piano, the intimacy of the music can be conveyed.

Jonathan Freeman-Attwood

Parts included:

  • Trumpet in C
  • Piano

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