schutz david and salomon jourdain HMM905346

Heinrich Schütz (1585 – 1672)
David & Salomon – Psalmi, Canticum Canticorum
Les Cris de Paris/Geoffrey Jourdain
rec. 2021, Église protestante unie de Saint-Esprit, Paris
Texts and translations included
harmonia mundi HMM 905346 [74]

In 2022 the death of Heinrich Schütz, one of the great masters of the 17th century, was commemorated. He died in 1672, after a long life, during which he had gained the reputation of ‘father of German music’ and had seen a drastic change in musical aesthetics. The disc under review, which was released at the occasion of this commemoration, focuses on two collections of music which document that aesthetical change. They are the results of two stages in Schütz’s life, which he spent in Italy, and where he became acquainted with the latest trends.

The first collection was published in 1619. It comprises settings of psalms in which Schütz makes use of the cori spezzati technique, which was a feature of the music written for St Mark’s in Venice, and whose master was Giovanni Gabrieli. Schütz went to Italy to become his pupil, and he held his teacher in the highest esteem all his life. He regularly returned to what he had learned from Gabrieli, for instance in his Geistliche Chor-Music of 1648, and at the very end of his life in his so-called Schwanengesang.

In 1628/29 Schütz spent more than a year in Italy, where he wanted to get to know the latest stylistic developments, especially in the field of setting music for single voices. He later recalled that “during my recent journey to Italy I engaged myself in a singular manner of composition, namely how a comedy of diverse voices can be translated into declamatory style and be brought to the stage and enacted in song – things that to the best of my knowledge … are still completely unknown in Germany.” This resulted in his first collection of Symphoniae Sacrae, which he published while still in Venice. They clearly bear the traces of the new style, especially in the writing for solo voices, which are treated in a declamatory manner, and in the instrumental accompaniment, which is mostly for two violins and basso continuo – the standard in Italy.

What connects these two collections is that the text is always in the centre, and that its meaning has to be communicated in an expressive manner. Both collections are full of expression, but with different means. I can’t imagine any listener’s not feeling the impact of such a brilliant and exuberant piece as Danket dem Herrn, denn er ist freundlich. The Sacrae Symphoniae selected here are settings of texts from the Song of Solomon, and with very different means Schütz achieves a maximum expression as well. That comes not entirely off here. There are certainly things that I appreciate. However, here and there the blending of the voices could have been better. I also think that in the pieces for solo voices the dynamic differentiation, for instance through the use of the messa di voce, could have been stronger. The above-mentioned psalm seems to be a little too fast, and as a result the text is not as clearly intelligible as it should be. The end of Die mit Tränen säen is too restrained.

However, it there are two particularly serious issues – connected to each other – that make me less than happy with this production. First, Geoffrey Jourdain has taken some liberties with regard to scoring that I find very questionable. In the interview in the booklet, he rightly states that Schütz allows the performers quite some freedom with regard to scoring. His own scorings are based on what was available to him, who was in the service of the court in Dresden. However, he realized that many chapels and churches did not always have the singers and instruments at their disposal which he intended for his compositions. In the Psalmen Davids, for instance, it is possible to use instruments supporting the voices, and one may even add a cappella of additional singers. However, one can also perform them with just eight voices and basso continuo. That does not mean that performers can do what they like. There were some conventions with regard to combinations of instruments. In this performance a guitar is involved, which seems rather odd.

The main problem concerns the way the smaller-scale pieces are performed. Jourdain selected three pairs of motets. Ego dormio et cor meum vigilat and Vulnerasti cor meum are taken from the Cantiones Sacrae of 1625. This collection of motets is largely written in the stile antico. The scoring is for four voices without any instruments. In the printed edition Schütz added a part for basso continuo, but that was at the request of the publisher. In all but four of the motets the basso continuo part has the character of a basso seguente. Whereas the first of the two motets is performed in accordance with this basic concept, the second is sung here by soprano and tenor, whereas the two remaining parts are performed instrumentally. I can’t see any justification for that, apart from the fact that it is questionable to perform two pieces of a pair in a different line-up. The latter is also the case with O quam tu pulchra es and Veni de Libano (SWV 265/266), taken from the Symphoniae Sacrae I. The former is performed by two tenors, with two violins and basso continuo, in accordance with the original scoring. The latter is sung by two sopranos, and here Jourdain has added two recorders, playing colla parte with the violins.

These decisions are inspired by a view on this part of Schütz’s output, that Jourdain expresses in the interview in the booklet, and which to me seems a pretty basic misunderstanding – the second issue. He wants to emphasize the sensuality of the settings of texts from the Song of Solomon, suggesting that Schütz moves away from the spiritual interpretation of this book from the Old Testament. He is wrong if he says that Schütz frequently turned to these kind of texts. He set a number of them, but that was in no way exceptional. Many composers did, including Lutheran composers of his own time. Schütz’s colleague Melchior Franck (c1580-1639) published an entire collection of motets on texts from the Song of Solomon. Both Franck and Schütz were Lutherans, and their oeuvre has to be interpreted in the light of Luther’s theology. Whereas the Catholic church identified the young woman with Mary and Christ with the young man, representing the church, Martin Luther returned to the allegorical interpretation of the early church. In the foreword to his translation of the Hohelied Salomos, he states that “this booklet describes in guarded terms the great love and blessings, which Christ, the heavenly bridegroom of his spiritual bride, renders the dear Christian churches here on earth, and every verse needs a special interpretation (…)”. The fact that such pieces could be written at the occasion of a wedding, as is the case with Franck’s motets, is not in conflict with this spiritual interpretation. It was Paul, who in one of his letters compared marriage with the bond between Christ and his church.

Jourdain’s view makes him ‘personalize’ these motets, as it were. “I assigned Veni de Libano from the Symphoniae Sacrae of 1629 to two sopranos. With the aim of achieving a seductive twinning of tessituras, I chose to double the violin parts with recorders. In Vulnerasti cor meum, traditionally performed by four voices and continuo, I gave two of the parts to instruments, reinforcing the idea of a love duet between a soprano voice and a tenor. This process generates interlacing elements, a new harmonic space that is highly conducive to sonic ambiguity.” It seems to me that this is in conflict with Schütz’s intentions. If he aims at writing a dialogue, he explicitly indicates this, for instance in Ich beschwöre euch, also included here, which has the addition Dialogus. In other cases there is no connection between voice type and the sex of the character that is speaking. In Anima mea liquefacta est and Adiuro vos it is the young woman who is speaking, but Schütz scored them for two tenors. In O quam tu pulchra es and Veni de Libano the young man is speaking, but these are to be sung by two tenors. Performing the latter with two sopranos is rather inconsequent. In Vulnerasti cor meum there is no hint of a dialogue, and because of that the line-up in this recording makes no sense.

As the music by Schütz is not as well-known as it should be, certainly not outside Germany, every disc with his music is welcome. However, although this recording includes some performances that are enjoyable, overall I am rather disappointed by what is on offer here. It is not what I had hoped for, and the interesting concept of this project – the confrontation of two different stages in Schütz’s career – has not been worked out in a really convincing manner.

Johan van Veen

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music

Heinrich Schütz
Alleluja! Lobet den Herren (SWV 38)
Die mit Tränen säen (SWV 42)
Ich beschwöre euch, ihr Töchter zu Jerusalem (Dialogus) (SWV 339)
Anima mea liquefacta est – Adjuro vos, filiae Jerusalem (SWV 263/264)
Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654)
Paduana dolorosa a 4 (SSWV 42)
Heinrich Schütz
An den Wassern zu Babel (SWV 37)
Warum toben die Heiden (SWV 23)
Ego dormio et cor meum vigilat – Vulnerasti cor meum (SWV 63/64)
O quam tu pulchra es – Veni de Libano (SWV 265/266)
Herr, unser Herrscher (SWV 27)
Danket dem Herrn, denn er ist freundlich (SWV 45)