DOCUMENTATION | Exhibitions: 1648 - War and Peace in Europe
|Essay Volumes > Tome II: Art and culture|
Heinrich Schütz and the Thirty Years' War
The first German composer of European significance, Heinrich Schütz, was born in Köstritz near Gera on October 8, 1585 and died in Dresden on November 6, 1672 following a long career as the court orchestra director of the House of the Saxon Electorate. For more than one hundred years this outstanding master of 17 [th]-century German music has been regarded by musicologists to be the one great and prolific musician whose life and work provide particularly clear insight into the human and artistic fate of a contemporary of the Thirty Years' War.  This is no coincidence: Schütz's most active period as court orchestra director is nearly identical with the time span covered by the Great War. The Middle German regions were quite fiercely afflicted by this war; thus it is not surprising that the events left a permanent mark on the life of the "Sagittarian." (According to humanist custom Schütz latinised his name, which means "archer.")
In the late summer of 1615, having completed his schooling and studies in Kassel, Marburg and Venice, Heinrich Schütz entered the service of the Dresden court; he was thirty years old. Originally appointed to the position of organist and "Director der Musica," he soon attained the title of court orchestra director.
He is likely to have been introduced to his new duties by his predecessor Michael Praetorius, the orchestra conductor at the court of Wolfenbüttel who had acted temporarily as musical director in Dresden. Schütz's first employer was Prince Elector Johann Georg I of Saxony, a reputedly difficult personality whose age was identical with that of the new appointee. At his death in 1656, the prince was succeeded by his son Johann Georg II who granted Schütz the status of quasi-retirement: Although still required to produce compositionally, he was released from his duties as head director. Formally, however, due to his position of seniority, Schütz remained the orchestra's director until his death, at which time he had held his office for fifty-seven years.
Of his forty-one years of active service as orchestra director, thirty coincided with the war. During this time he produced the major portion of his oeuvre, preceded by the Italian madrigals written in Venice in 1611 and followed by his late work, including the "Christmas Story" of 1664, the "Seven Words," the three passions of 1665-66 and the "Swan Song," completed in 1671. (Little is known about numerous additional unprinted Schütz works destroyed in ca. 1760 by fire in Dresden.)
Historians have attained a good overview of all but a few short phases of Heinrich Schütz's vita, and to a large degree have succeeded in making it transparent. This is due in great part to the Dresden court files, which contain numerous comments by and about the composer and thus provide a fairly clear impression of Schütz as both a person and master conductor, or at least of certain main characteristics. The picture which emerges is — like Schutz's music, to the extent that it is adequately performed — a source of constant fascination.
We will focus below on the question as to how deep were the marks made by the Thirty Years' War on Schütz's life and work. Naturally "life" and "work" are two different quanta. Here as in any artist's biography, we must consider the relationship between the artistic oeuvre and the individual circumstances of its creator, an issue sometimes ignored. We will attempt to identify a few major historical processes certainly or likely to have been within Schütz's field of vision. In his position as the highly esteemed orchestra director at the most important Protestant electoral court of the empire, Schütz was frequently in contact with the major proponents of the politics responsible for the war. On the other hand, he was no better acquainted with the secrets of Saxon electoral politics than the other court employees. The majority of the information circulated will have been nothing more than rumours — except for the few cases in which a court secretary or journalist dropped a reliable remark. Occasionally sermons delivered by the court chaplains also contained allusions to the current circumstances. Schütz maintained good relationships with most of his "colleagues" at court — with the court chaplains, Lord Chamberlain of the Household Pflugk, Privy Councillor and Reichspfennig Master vom Loß, Private Secretary Reichbrodt and other high officials. And although the orchestra and its director are known to have suffered abominably from the prince's indolence, Schütz's relationship with the prince elector himself seems to have been characterised by sympathy. The musician was, however, no more knowledgeable about secret matters as a result.
When Schütz entered employment in Dresden in 1615, it is likely that neither he and the members of the orchestra nor even the prince elector and his highest officials had any presentiment of the long war to come, despite constant political unrest and the general sense of uneasiness it caused. Emperor Rudolph II had been deprived of his political power in 1611 and met his death in 1612; thus the fraternal strife in the House of Hapsburg had been ended. The Dresden orchestra musicians may have been unofficially instructed about these affairs by the chamber organist Hans Leo Haßler, who worked at the Dresden court from 1608 to 1612 (i.e. in the period shortly before Schütz's arrival) and was closely associated with the imperial court in Prague through financial transactions. The religious tensions in Bohemia, however, which Rudolph had attempted to mitigate by means of the "Majestic Charter" were common knowledge in Protestant Electoral Saxony. For what had begun as a stream of refugees from the neighbouring land was quickly becoming a veritable torrent.
Not yet two years after his appointment, in the summer of 1617, Schütz was required to plan and execute the musical accompaniment to a major state ceremony, probably with the assistance of Praetorius. Emperor Matthias was to visit Dresden along with a huge retinue including the Empress, the imperial nephew Ferdinand — whose future election to the emperorship was the main subject of the meeting —, Archduke Maximilian, Cardinal Klesl, Hanns Ulrich von Eggenberg, Adam von Waldstein and many others.  Along with the large-scale, multi-choral church music produced by Praetorius,  Schütz's Empfangs-Carmen (reception songs) and his theatrical welcoming "Apollo and the Nine Muses"  must have made a deep impression on the guests. In a twinkling he was at the height of his fame, soon to be further expanded by the festive music for the first centenary celebration of the Reformation in October, 1617. On the eve of the long war, Schütz's world was still intact; the wealthy Dresden court was an ideal forum for his activities as both composer and orchestra director. Nevertheless the constant reception of important visitors to the court in 1617 and 1618 will not have escaped his notice. According to the court journals, a wide assortment of noblemen — those akin to the imperial family, those loyal to Friedrich V of the Palatinate, those devoted to the King of Bohemia (the emperor himself), and those sympathetic to the rebellious Bohemian estates, as well as Silesians, Brandenburgers and Swedes — and their envoys came and went with great frequency, both before and after the Defenestration of Prague on May 23, 1618.  During his "musicalische Auffwarttung bey der Taffel" (musical attendance at the dinner table), Schütz is certain to have caught sight of many of these guests. And Johann Georg I, the object of so much diplomatic attention, must have perceived himself at the height of his power.
The prince's sluggishness and indecisiveness, also observed in the context of internal court activities, nevertheless prevented him from doing justice to his intended role in imperial politics, a fact which requires no further discussion here. On November 19, 1618 the court journal records: "His Princely Grace was out riding when for the 1 [st] time His Princely Grace saw overhead a comet with a long tail nearly 5 ells long."  Everyone else saw it as well, and many will have asked themselves and the astrologers what it portended. Was it perhaps the following? On March 10, 1619 "... according to God's will the Rom. Imp. Maj. Matthias was taken from this world by a timely death in Vienna at 7:00 in the morning, and thus relieved of great toil and effort."  (It took the official notification of the emperor's death — in the form of a report by the Electoral Saxon agent Friedrich Lebzelter, with whom Schütz also corresponded frequently — nine days to reach Dresden. And Johann Georg was the Imperial Substitute! ) For Schütz, private matters were much more important: On June 1, 1619 he married Magdalena Wildeck.  This was also the date appearing on the foreword dedicating Schütz's first major printed work to the prince elector. The volume contained sacred music written in German, the "Psalms of David," illustrating Schütz's translation of his Venetian experience — which was to remain a life-long influence — into German musical practice and establishing his fame particularly in professional circles. 
On June 13, 1619 "Count Schlick had audience." Count Joachim Andreas Schlick had come to offer the prince elector the crown of Wenceslaus on behalf of the Bohemian estates. Against the growing resistance of the estates the title had been borne by the Hapsburg Ferdinand since 1617. The manner in which Johann Georg later treated this Protestant Bohemian count, who was among those executed on Prague's Altstädter Ring in June of 1621, is well-known.  Here these allusions are meant to indicate what appearances and word of mouth might have revealed to a man like Heinrich Schütz of the earthshaking events in the offing.
A prelude to the Battle at Weißer Berg on November 8, 1620 was Johann Georg's military expedition to Upper Lusatia beginning in late August / early September of the same year. In the course of this undertaking the cities of Bautzen and Löbau, then occupied by the elector palatine Friedrich, were besieged, burnt and conquered. The prince's return on December 3, 1620 — "the task well-executed" — was celebrated with a thanksgiving service in the castle church of Dresden, accompanied by the singing of the Te Deum laudamus and the firing of large guns.  The leading court chaplain D. Matthias Hoë von Hoënegg of Vienna, a man of great political influence, preached a sermon no doubt thoroughly informing the listeners of his version of the events: the Lusatian campaign, the Battle at Weißer Berg, the defeat and flight of Friedrich of the Palatinate. Schütz is certain to have heard this report. Like the rest of the congregation, he was on the victorious side. Whatever feelings he associated with this victory will have been all the more intense the following year when Schütz and the orchestra accompanied the prince elector on his journey to Silesia from October 5 to November 21, 1621. In Breslau and Jauer, Johann Georg acted on behalf of the emperor to receive the tribute paid by the Silesian towns and estates which had sworn the oath of allegiance to the "Winter King." The occasion resounded with Schütz's "political" works of festive music: "Syncharma musicum" with the text beginning "En novus Elysiis succedit sedibus hospes" (SWV 49) and "Teutoniam dudum belli atra pericla molestant" (SWV 338). Yet this happy end of the Bohemian war, heartily celebrated in Breslau by means of alternating princely invitations all requiring music,  did not mean the end of war altogether — a fact still to be bitterly experienced by all involved. For the time being, however, Johann Georg had succeeded in effecting a gratefully welcomed breather "in statu confessionis" for Silesia.
Schütz very probably lived with his young wife in the Frauengasse, in a house belonging to her relatives, before purchasing his own house in 1627 with the help of the widow electress Hedwig.  The houses surrounding the Neumarkt of Dresden, where the old Frauenkirche was located, were stately, forming a residential area of "elevated" standard. Count Wilhelm Kinsky had bought a house here a few years earlier.  Although known as a Protestant "rebel," he had managed to escape execution in Prague following the failure of the anti-Hapsburg rebellion. He lived in Dresden in exile, supplying the court with paper from his mill in Dittersbach  and involving himself quite actively in clandestine politics. On February 25, 1634 he was assassinated in Eger for his partisanship to Albrecht von Wallenstein, who met his death on the same occasion.  Before that, however, Schütz would have encountered Kinsky frequently in town and at court.
Originally the war had only an indirect — but painful — effect on the court attendants. "Good" money became scarce, "bad" coins were in circulation, purchasing power rapidly diminished. Many of the prince elector's employees delayed the receipt of their salaries in the hope that the currency would soon improve. On July 14, 1621, however, the prince officially admonished them to accept their payment "in the present coin and no longer leave it in the treasury to their own disadvantage."  The period of inflation known as the "Kipper- und Wipperzeit" had set in, a development that was to have a devastating impact in the years to come, long before the war directly intervened in the life of the Saxon population. As early as 1624 the court attendants began to submit applications for the payment of salaries one-and-a-half years overdue. "Es ist aber menniglichen, mehr dann vnns lieb, kunnd vnnd offenbar, in was vberauß geschwinden, vnndt vnerhort teuren leufften wir arme diener ... vnns befunden vnnd gelebt ..." (the exceedingly rapid and outrageously expensive conjuncture in which we poor servants existed and lived is known and obvious to many — more than we like), the prices having doubled, tripled, quadrupled.  At first only the court employees themselves suffered; outward representation was not to be compromised: Samuel Scheidt received 28 1/8 Reichstaler from the chamber  for a copy of his "Tabulatura nova" of 1624 and other works, although Schütz had proposed even higher compensation.  As late as 1626 the prince elector acquired an Italian violin at the price of 20 taler and 20 groschen — a large sum! — for the orchestra. Treasurer von Osterhausen wrote to Johann Georg that, according to the orchestra conductor, it was a "very good" instrument, "the likes of which are not to be found here in Germany." 
In 1625 the "Cantiones sacrae," a large collection of sacred Latin madrigals by Heinrich Schütz, was published in Freiberg, Saxony. The texts had been taken from the Psalms and, above all, medieval prayer literature. Schütz dedicated the work to Hanns Ulrich von Eggenberg, a confidante of Emperor Ferdinand who had risen to the status of prince.  Only very recently has some light been shed on the highly political background of this work, which has long been a puzzle to researchers. There must have been reasons for the orchestra director of the most important Protestant electoral court to dedicate such an opus to one of the Catholic emperor's most powerful ministers. The scholar Jürgen Heidrich set out to investigate the underlying motives.  Heidrich's doubts as to whether Eggenberg had visited Dresden in 1617 with Emperor Matthias seem to be dispelled by a passage in the Latin dedication of the "Cantiones sacrae." Here Schütz refers to a meeting of the two Hapsburgs Emperor Matthias and Archduke Ferdinand with the prince elector of Saxony, taking place at some previous point in time, on which occasion the "Chorus musicus" of the Saxon court was "led by my unworthy self" and "the glorious sovereigns and Your Lordship did most graciously delight in our harmonies."  Heidrich is surely correct in assuming that the Schütz compositions were actually intended more for the musical emperor than for Eggenberg himself. 
This theory is also confirmed by the prologue: "For which reasons I present to Your Grace this musical work, asking with all due submissiveness, that, as I have been reassured, the present musical arrangement might displease neither His Sanctified Imperial Majesty nor yourself."  It is nevertheless quite doubtful whether such an indirect dedication to the emperor had the slightest chance of bringing about changes in the severe counter-reformational measures Matthias had undertaken in Bohemia even against the Lutherans.  With his highly expressive "Cantiones sacrae" Schütz was approaching the primary participants in what was theoretically still a living empire. These considerations shed some light on the dilemma of Saxony's vacillating politics, oriented toward Luther's "two-empire doctrine." Loyalty to the empire and emperor was hardly reconcilable with adherence to the creed.
Even if money was becoming ever scarcer, reason of state demanded that representative court festivities continue to be celebrated. For several months of the year 1626 a troupe of English actors led by John Green performed at the Dresden court, offering an immense repertoire of plays whose themes we are familiar with from the works of Shakespeare: Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, Lear, etc. The "Comoedianten" also played at the wedding of Johann Georg's eldest daughter Sophie Eleonore to Landgrave Georg II of Hesse-Darmstadt, taking place in April, 1627 at the Hartenfels Castle in Torgau.  After the wedding the "Engelländer" were paid and dismissed — they were foreigners! The following month Schütz made his first attempt to obtain permission to travel to Italy. It was denied on May 30,  despite his considerable services to the court: the overall organisation of the wedding music at Torgau, including his own music to Martin Opitz's "Dafne," mistakenly apostrophised as the "first German opera" until quite recently. 
Furthermore, the congress of the prince electors was to take place in Mühlhausen in the autumn, for which occasion Schütz had already composed the double-choral concert "Da pacem, Domine" (SWV 465). In this work the first choir recites the antiphonal text as a prayer composed for five voices, alternated by a four-part choir celebrating the emperor and prince electors as the foundations and protectors of peace: "Vivat Moguntius, vivat Colonniensis, vivat Trevirensis, vivant tria fundamina pacis. Vivat Ferdinandus Caesar invictissimus. Vivat Saxo, vivat Brandenburgicus, vivat Bavarus, vivant tutamina pacis" (Long live the prince of Mayence, long live the prince of Treves, long live the prince of Cologne, long may they live, the three foundations of peace; long live Ferdinand, the unconquerable emperor! Long live the prince of Saxony, long live the prince of Bavaria, long live the prince of Brandenburg, long may they live, the three protectors of peace).
This concert being official music of the highest order, it is quite probable that Hoë von Hoënegg had some measure of influence on the impressive combination of the text with the antiphon. Against the background of Hapsburg politics, the work was also an obvious attempt at a "captatio benevolentiae" directed toward the emperor, more clearly so than in the case of the "Cantiones sacrae." The "Da pacem, Domine" was presumably not performed during one of the divine services, in which the Catholics did not participate, but rather on October 8, 1627 at the opening of the first of twenty-seven meetings to take place in the town hall of Mühlhausen. It should be added, however, that neither the emperor nor the prince electors of Cologne and Treves were present in person, but had themselves represented by envoys. 
It strikes one as strange that in 1626 the war had reached dangerous proximity to Electoral Saxony — on April 15 Wallenstein defeated Count Ernst von Mansfeld at the Bridge of Dessau — while at the same time festivities were being celebrated at the court of Dresden as though no urgent problems loomed anywhere on the horizon. And, being a well-situated man and therefore not yet threatened by the desperate monetary situation, Schütz was able to continue composing, performing, even publishing: His "Story of the Resurrection" (SWV 50) had already appeared in 1623; in 1628 Beuther of Freiberg printed his "Psalms of David, translated into German rhymes by D. Cornelium Beckern" (SWV 97a-256a), a collection of cantional settings. Schütz had written them in response to the death of his wife in 1625. His second, now successful petition to the prince elector for permission to travel to Italy had two motives. One was purely artistic: He wanted to become acquainted with"new" Italian music right at the source. The other was connected with the rapid deterioration of his orchestra members' circumstances. Schütz himself could just manage to tolerate the interruption of his income — by Crucis 1629 the court chamber owed him 781 gulden, 5 groschen and 3 pfennigs for five quarter years. Yet such losses brought others to the brink of starvation. 
Schütz visited Florence, Venice, probably Cremona and other North Italian cities to catch up on the latest developments in the areas of the opera or monody, solo vocal and instrumental concertising, pure instrumental music and instrument making, his previous journey to Italy having ended in 1613. The first fruit borne by these impressions was a collection of sacred concerts in Latin, the "Symphoniae sacrae" published in Venice in 1629.  And he purchased instruments for his court orchestra despite increasing threats to its very existence — an absurd situation! What lay in wait for him upon his return in 1629? Philipp Hainhofer of Augsburg, whom Schütz stopped to visit on his way home, will have supplied him with an impression of the prevailing circumstances. A short time earlier this patrician, known and esteemed at many courts of the empire for his so-called art cabinets, had attempted on behalf of Augsburg's citizenry to induce the Saxon prince elector — patron of the Lutherans — to stand up to the emperor by intervening in the developments: The Counter Reformation in Augsburg was becoming ever more radical, causing fear to spread. Hainhofer was just returning from Dresden and is quite likely to have reported to Schütz and his two companions about the events in Augsburg as well as his audiences with Johann Georg. 
The sources do not reveal what music Schütz performed for the "Holsteinischer Beylager," the wedding of the Saxon princess Maria Elisabeth and Duke Friedrich von Holstein Gottorp, in 1630. We do know, however, that his initial contact to the Danish court materialised on this occasion, a connection later to prove very consequential for Schütz. The year 1631 granted him two important tasks marking the preliminary end of the phase of life and work which had begun so splendidly in 1615 / 1617. It was the year after the arrival of King Gustav Adolf of Sweden in Pomerania, and furthermore it marked the death of a close friend — Johann Herrmann Schein, cantor at the Leipzig church of St. Thomas, for whom Schütz wrote a moving musical remembrance.  On February 10 the "Leipziger Konvent" got underway, a congress of Protestant rulers and cities taking place with the emperor's knowledge but in opposition to his confessional policies. Schütz and the court orchestra performed at the inauguration service in the church of St. Thomas.  While the court files fail to mention the titles of the works played, they do document the rigorous interrogation of an uninvited imperial commissary caught in Leipzig on February 8,  certainly a source of much gossip and excitement. This convention resulted in the "Conclusion of Leipzig," a renunciation of the Restitution Edict, and thus in a (provisional) break with the emperor. In June of the same year a Representative Assembly was summoned for the purpose of informing the estates and other entities of Saxony's political about-face.
One of the prayer texts chosen by Hoë von Hoënegg for the assembly's opening worship service was the 85 [th] Psalm. Heinrich Schütz set this text — "Lord, thou hast been favourable ..." — to music in a major Psalm concert (SWV 461) known solely from a hand-written source found in Kassel. Landgrave Wilhelm V von Hessen-Kassel, the son and successor of Schütz's erstwhile patron Moritz von Hessen, had also participated in the Leipzig convention, where the old friendship was probably renewed. The 85 [th] Psalm may well have been among the works sent to Kassel by Schütz upon the request of Wilhelm. In this concert certain passages of the Psalm are emphasised with a sense of great urgency: "Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease," "I will hear what God the LORD will speak: for he will speak peace unto his people" and "Surely [this sentiment of certainty appearing in the Schütz work as 'ja, ja, ja, ja, ja, ja'] his salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other."
Thus it is highly probable that this work was written for the Representative Assembly  of that fateful year 1631 in which Magdeburg was destroyed by Tilly and Leipzig besieged by the Imperials, who themselves were then defeated by Gustav Adolf near Breitenfeld. The war had arrived in all of its severity. For Schütz, the court orchestra and more or less the entire princely household, this meant that relatively normal everyday life and activities had come to an end.
After the death of his wife Schütz remained a widower and cared for his two daughters alone. In addition to all the difficulties caused by outward circumstances, the 1630s confronted him with many a blow of personal fate. The biographical record appended to the funeral sermon composed by the chief court chaplain Martin Geier in 1672 informs us that, ". . . following his return [from Italy] our dear LORD spoiled his happiness and high honour for ever more in that his brother M. Valerius Schütz died in Dresden in the year 1632, his dearest mother in 1635, his mother-in-law in 1636, his brother D. George Schütze in 1637 and his dear daughter Miss Anna Justina in 1638, putting him into a lengthy state of mourning and distress."  In the eyes of all associated with him, this decade rendered Schütz a monument of humanity with regard to the musicians he was entrusted with, and a monument of the ability to persist and endure suffering with regard to his own life. Already during his lifetime, he was fully recognised as a musical authority and object of emulation, above all in the Protestant regions of the empire and in Scandinavia. His human integrity corresponded in every way to his professional achievements. Even today, both aspects are still firmly bound to our image of Heinrich Schütz.
Several passages from the numerous preserved writings of Schütz provide insight into his own situation and that of the musicians, as well his opinion of the circumstances: As it became obvious that the Saxon Princess Magdalena Sibylle would marry the Crown Prince Christian of Denmark, Schütz managed with the help of his enterprising factor Friedrich Lebzelter to be invited by King Christian IV and the bridegroom to direct the great celebration musically. Schütz had already been introduced to the Crown Prince and held him in high esteem. The conductor quite frankly acknowledged the real motive behind his application for leave in a memorandum of Februar 9, 1633, one of the many in which Schütz recorded the requests he wanted put forward by the prince's private secretary or the lord chamberlain: "The intention of this journey would furthermore be directed towards escaping temporarily from the hardships and obstacles to my work caused by the Present War and other circumstances prevailing in our dear fatherland, in the hope that in your cities of Lower Saxony I would be able to apply myself to my profession without perturbations to my state of mind." He then refers to the approaching wedding and the Crown Prince's request. In the introduction to this "Memorial" Schütz remarks: "That in view of the ongoing circumstances of war I could be spared from service since the performance of music on a large scale is hardly made necessary by the conditions of the present times, not to mention the fact that the company of instrumentalists and singers has been reduced and is fairly weak at present . . . ." 
Referring to the same subject, he writes to Lebzelter on February 6, 1633: "Yet if the continuing severe conditions here in our country . . . and the continuation of the oppressive warfare will not very soon be relieved, although I am firmly resolved to remain here, I am driven, even compelled [to accept the invitation] . . . for in reality I am presently good for less than nothing here . . . ."  Schütz was granted leave to participate in the splendid Crown Prince wedding of 1634 and he stayed on to serve the Danish court as orchestra director as well, but then the period of respite was over. He returned home in 1635 to find that his sovereign in the stricter sense, Heinrich Posthumus Reuß, with whom he had maintained friendly contact for many years, had died in Gera. On the request of Reuß's widow Schütz wrote the splendid and moving funeral music "Musicalische Exequien," performed at the funeral ceremony with musicians of Gera. It appeared in print in Dresden in 1636, probably financed in part by the Reuß court. Accompanying the notes is a poem Schütz wrote in memory of the deceased, beginning with these words: