HISTORIA DER AUFERSTEHUNG JESU CHRISTI
English translation Henrich Schütz (1585-1672) by Neil Jenkins edited by Neil Jenkins
The great Passions and Oratorios composed by J S Bach can be seen as the culmination of a North German tradition stretching back to the Roman Catholic practices of reciting or chanting the Nativity, Passion and Resurrection stories on their respective holy days. As these austere versions gradually developed, other music began to be incorporated, especially if there were trained solo singers and a choir available. A solo singer, and later a small chorus, would perform the words of the crowd (turbae) and lesser personages, while another solo voice took the role of the narrator or Evangelist, and a single voice – or occasionally a group of voices – undertook the words of Jesus.
These works tended to be called ‘Historia’, and after the Lutheran reformation were performed in the German language rather than in Latin. One of the earliest is a setting of the St Matthew Passion by Johann Walter, dating from around 1530. It displays all the characteristics mentioned above: a soloist each for the Evangelist and Jesus, and one for all the lesser personages, as well as a chorus for crowds, such as the groups of Disciples, Jews, Priests and Soldiers. The music is based on plainsong recitation tones and falso bordone choruses. The earliest-known setting of the Resurrection Story dates from a few years later, around 1550, and is arranged similarly, with solo voices reciting the roles of Evangelist, Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Cleophas, and the Angels in White. By the end of the century the role of the chorus was being expanded more elaborately in works by Nikolaus Rosthius and Antonio Scandello – one of Schütz’s predecessors as Kapellmeister at the Dresden court. These were the works that Schütz would have known from an early age. He would also have been aware of the important works by Rogier Michael, his immediate predecessor at Dresden. In these works the part of Jesus tended to be sung by a group of voices, and the chorus itself was given an opening and closing movement to sing.
There is one more important ingredient to mention when discussing the Historiae of this period, and that is the unusual text that was customarily used. It was not a straightforward recitation of the events from one particular Gospel, but a rather clever mish-mash of all four versions. This is usually referred to as a “harmonisation” of the four Gospels, and was the handiwork of Luther’s colleague Johann Bugenhagen in 1526. It was widely read in Lutheran churches of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and frequently reprinted.
These, then, were the works and their components that were available to the young Schütz when he sat down to write his own version of the Resurrection Story in 1623. He had already been exposed to the Italian influences of Monteverdi and Gabrieli when he had studied in Venice from 1609 to 1612 and this can already be heard in the choral writing – particularly in the elaborate final chorus which fuses Italianate 8-part polyphonic choral lines with a 9th quasi cantus firmus line given to the Evangelist.
As an important predecessor to the great flowering of the North-German oratorio in the works of J S Bach, Schütz’s oeuvre can be seen as a halfway point in its transformation from simple recitations chanted by the clergy to large-scale choral works with full orchestra and trained soloists. Already in the Resurrection Story, and especially a few years later in the Christmas Story of 1664, the Evangelist’s recitation has been influenced by Italian dramatic models, and turned into a more expressive and pliable vocal line. The roles of the various characters, Mary Magdalene, Jesus, Angels etc, whilst developing the earlier tradition of being sung by more than one voice, are given madrigalian polyphonic settings of great musical interest. All are set as duets apart from a brief solo passage for Cleophas. Curiously, Schütz also suggests that other duets could be turned into a solo by giving one of the parts to a suitable solo instrument.
In one sense there is still an old-fashioned feel to the work, and that lies in the predominantly modal style of recitation given to the Evangelist, together with its instrumental accompaniment. In his Foreword Schütz recommends that the performers should be divided into two groups, one for the Evangelist and one for everyone else. The instruments accompanying the Evangelist should be four viole da gamba and basso continuo, while the others could be accompanied by organ, harp, lute, bandora (a kind of bass lute) or other suitable continuo instruments. Aware of the practicalities of this arangement he also adds that the Evangelist could be accompanied just by the continuo [and for this reason the present edition includes both options]. Schütz gives licence to the viols to add optional expressive ornamentation. [No suggestions are made in this edition as it will depend on the taste of the individual performers]. The music for the Evangelist is a curious combination of very free plainsong developing into mensural Italian recitative at cadence points. Together with the madrigalian duets this turns the entire piece into a kind of ‘Janus’ work, looking both back to its medieval beginnings and forward to such expressive features as Bach’s instrumental accompaniments to the words of Jesus in his two Passions.
Since the final chorus requires at least 9 singers the solo voices could be drawn from their number as follows:
Three Maries: S1, S2, A2
Mary Magdalene: S1, S2
2 Men at the Tomb & 2 Angels in White: T2, B1
Cleopas and his companion: T2, B2
Jesus: A1, T1
Young Man at the Sepulchre: A2, T2
High Priests: T2, B1, B2 or a Choral group
Chorus a 6: S, S, A, T, B, B or a Choral group
Chorus a 9: S, S, A, A, T, T, B, B, or a Choral group
+ Evangelist (T3)
Because of the nature of the text – having been ‘harmonised’ from all 4 Gospels – it appears that some incidents early on in the work occur twice. This is because of the disparity in the Gospel accounts. Luke chapter 24 and John chapter 20 tell of 2 Angels in White at the Sepulchre, while Matthew chapter 28 and Mark chapter 16 speak of only one. In trying to incorporate both accounts in his text Johann Bugenhagen has inadvertently made the Women report the empty tomb to the other Disciples twice. Other sections of the narrative are more successful, especially when one or another Gospel’s account predominates. Such moments are the Chief Priests at Jerusalem which is taken from Matthew chapter 28, the Road to Emmaus scene which is entirely drawn from Luke chapter 24, and the concluding Disciples at Jerusalem section where the texts of Luke chapter 24 and John chapter 20 are cleverly interwoven. Anyone wishing to abridge the work in performance, and rid it of the above anomaly, should consider using the suggested cut, in which the Women only visit the empty tomb once, and Mary Magdalene only has one meeting in the garden with the risen Christ.
A transposition of this work up a tone can be obtained from the publisher, which makes some of the vocal lines (particularly the low Alto lines)
easier to sing.
Separate instrumental parts for the 4 Viola da Gambas maybe hired. Please contact Neil Jenkins. Otherwise it may be performed just with the Continuo Part shown in the vocal score.