(The Master Musicians.) Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. xvii + 218 pp. $35. ISBN: 0-19-816674-5.
Over a long career that can be considered a model for studying the court patronage system, Heinrich Schutz became the leading figure in seventeenth-century German music and one of the most important musicians of all time. While Schutz is especially known for his many innovative works that reflect the influence of the early Italian Baroque, some of his other compositions look back to the Renaissance. Recent decades have seen much information about this composer come to light, but this is the first in-depth English-language biography of the composer to emerge since a translation of Hans Joachim Moser's Heinrich Schutz: Sein Leben und Werk was published in 1959.
Smallman presents Schutz chronologically, which allows the reader to "trace a clear path from the ardent, often experimental, writing of the composer's earliest period to the serene, most abstract manner characteristic of his maturity; and at the same time to identify instances where momentous external events appear to have impinged upon his music...." (vii). The strategy is quite compelling, because many of Schutz's compositions were linked to or influenced by specific events, such as the Thirty Years War and the numerous deaths within his circle of family and friends. The presentation of periods of Schutz's life, followed immediately by an analysis of the corresponding music, allows the reader to grasp his life-long development.
Smallman's insightful discussions of Schutz's collections typically begin with an informative overview, then proceed to an analysis of compositions that share traits, with additional attention then devoted to specific works. Larger-scale compositions, such as the Musikalische Exequien, receive a more in-depth analysis. Smallman's work with Schutz's texts, a central focus of the book, is particularly impressive. This book contains substantial information on music composed for specific court events (such as weddings and festivals) and this is very enjoyable reading. While much of Schutz's theatrical music is lost, Smallman makes clear that the composer devoted a sizeable amount of time and effort to this area.
There are just a few places where more information seems desirable. Schutz's life prior to Dresden is covered in one chapter, which seems a bit too concise. In addition, scant attention is devoted to the Dresden court prior to Schutz's arrival. Following the transfer of the Saxon electoral vote to their court in 1547, Dresden electors maintained a respectable musical retinue. From the start, the court and its composers were committed to producing high quality Lutheran music while at the same time displaying an avid interest in emerging Italian trends. Smallman gave Schutz's predecessors as Dresden Kapellmeister the briefest, and not always the most accurate, of introductions -- each received just one sentence of text, and four were given short entries in the Personalia appendix. Georg Forster's three-year tenure, referred to as short "for some unknown reason," (30) was actually terminated by his death. No substantial description of their compositional styles is provided, including that of Rogier Michael, Schu tz's immediate predecessor. Smallman describes Michael, who served as Kapellmeister for 32 years, as "a prolific composer of sacred music, including Passions, motets, and chorale arrangements" (30). Since he may have studied in Italy, as Schutz did, one is left wondering how similar or different Michael's style is from that of his successor. Little mention is also made of Hans Leo Hassler and Michael Praetorius, leading composers of the time who were employed to assist Michael during the last decade of his service. Elector Johann Georg I, who played a key role in Schutz's career, also remains a largely ambiguous personality. The limited information does not allow for a proper understanding of the Dresden court musical atmosphere at the time of Schutz's arrival.
There is also some inconsistency in Smallman's comparisons of Schutz to other composers, both predecessors and contemporaries. References are somewhat scattered, and there are several points where a more detailed explanation of another composer's approach would be appropriate. For example, Smallman notes the structural influence of Antonio Scandello on Schutz's Aufferstehung Historia, but the depth of the musical/stylistic similarities remains unclear. Comparisons of Schutz's works to Schein's are more numerous (Smallman's research into the latter being brought to bear).
This book is an excellent, up-to-date study that addresses a tremendous need. The criticisms I note may stem from editorial limitations set to keep the book within the scope of the series. While specialists in seventeenth-century German music may crave an even more finely detailed biography, this book will be of great assistance to many seeking up-to-date information on this very important and interesting composer.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2002|
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