Heinrich Schütz composed his Seven Last Words around the year 1645, probably for Dresden, where he was the Kapellmeister at the Saxon court. The vocal and instrumental forces required include a chorus (SATTB) for the opening and closing movements and five unspecified instruments (also SATTB) to double these voices and also to play the Symphonia which occurs twice, once after the Introitus and then again just before the Conclusio.
The work can be performed by chamber choir or by as few as five singers, who would therefore sing the choral parts as well as the solo roles. These are allocated as follows:
Evangelist: individually by S, A, T1, and in a S, A, T1, B ensemble
Jesus: T2 (but it could be sung by a baritone)
Malefactor on the left: A
Malefactor on the right: B
The words of Jesus are accompanied by the continuo and two unspecified treble instruments in a manner which prefigures Bach’s treatment of Jesus’ utterances in his St Matthew Passion. For ‘modern instrument’ performances it would be sensible to employ a group of the following strings: Violin 1 & 2, Viola 1 & 2, ‘Cello, together with a keyboard instrument. In this edition it is assumed that Violin 1 & 2 would be used in the ‘Jesus’ sections, with the full group playing in the Introitus, Conclusio and both Symphonias.
The text of the opening and closing movements is verses 1 and 9 of the chorale text “Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund” by Johann Böschenstein (1472 – 1539?) The biblical text is a “harmonized” version of the events taken from all four of the Gospels. This is a device that was frequently used in Italy and northern Germany at the time, and had been used by Schütz in his earlier work “The Resurrection Story” (1623), where the need to include all of the events mentioned in each Gospel made for a much longer and more confusing narrative. In the present work there is no such problem; but it does reveal that apart from Matthew and Mark, whose accounts largely tally, other significant events only occur in the versions by either Luke or John.
The English translation has been newly prepared for this edition. The previous versions by Paul Steinitz (1961) and Dorothy Parry Thomas (1938) have been consulted, as has an unpublished version by Boris Ord, which I discovered in the choir library at King’s College Cambridge when I was a choral scholar there in the 1960s. I have followed Steinitz’s suggestion of translating Es ist vollbracht as “It is fulfilled” rather than “It is finished” in order to preserve Schütz’s stress. But the King James text can easily be put back if preferred.
It will be left to individual conductors and performers to decide on suitable dynamics and tempos for their performances, as these do not appear in the original, and I have no wish to appear prescriptive by inserting them.
Instrumental parts are available on hire, viz:
Violin 1 & 2, Viola 1 & 2, Cello/Bass, Keyboard continuo
Please contact Neil Jenkins