Heinrich Schütz

Meine Seele erhebt den Herren, for double chorus & continuo ("German Magnificat," Der Schwanengesang), SWV 494

    Description by Timothy Dickey

    The concept of a swansong resonated deeply in the nineteenth century Romantic mind. Franz Schubert wrote a poignant cycle of autuminal lieder under that title, helping ensnare the Romantic imagination with the ineffable beauty of a creature's last music on Earth. It should come as no surprise, then, that nineteenth century Romantic music historians salivated over the apparent discovery of Heinrich Schütz's swansong. Schütz's very last published collection of music (now lost) used the term Schwanengesang in its title. Schütz's own hand, furthermore, added the solemn Latin word "FINIS" (the end) in all capitals after the conclusion of the last bass song of the collection. Could this represent the very last notes written by the greatest German composer of the seventeeth century? Unfortunately for popular history, an earlier manuscript copy of this music exists, proving its existence well before Schütz's deathbed. Nevertheless, he did choose to end his very last publication with the piece, and apparently gave it special attention. The piece was Schütz's Meine Seele erhebt den Herren, the German Magnificat.

    Despite serving Protestant courts and churches throughout his life, Schütz held a special place in his heart for the Magnificat, the Canticle of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He composed no fewer than six separate settings of the text, one in Latin and five in German (two of which do not survive). This Magnificat, almost certainly the last he wrote, existed in manuscript form as early as 1669, before its publication in his swansong collection. It may have been the only piece in that collection set for the standard eight-voiced double choir of equal voices. Its musical style thus recalls his early Psalmen Davids, though the German Magnificat uses no preexistent plainsongs and displays a much more restrained gestural language. Most of its music proceeds in triple meter, with frequent hemiolas before phrasal cadences. The composer occasionally allows the voices to imitate one another; most often this makes the texture thinner in response to texts such as the "lowliness of His handmaiden" or "cast down from their seats." Much more often, however, Schütz's music lives within the sheer and simple succession of harmonies. The opening of the Doxology (surprisingly, the passage invoking the Trinity) briefly returns to duple meter, leading to an understated harmonic sequence. The final "Amen" also remains shockingly straightforward and simple. Schütz's hymn of thanksgiving for God's mercy ends in confidence, without undue artifice.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Ricercar RIC 376
    2016 Warner Classics 558209
    2013 Brilliant Classics 94697
    2008 Delphian 34043
    2007 Rondeau 1019
    2006 Coro 16036
    1998 Collins Records 1530
    1998 EMI Music Distribution 69748
    1996 Berlin Classics 0092062
    1996 Haenssler 98105
    1996 Naxos 553044
    1995 Koch International Classics 7174
    EMI Music Distribution 65736
    Koch Schwann 313012
    Vox Allegretto 8403
    Linn Records 148
    Capriccio Records 10050
    Bellaphon Records 69001020
    FSM Adagio 92207
    Helicon Records 1037