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ClassicsOnline Home » German Lute Songs
By D. C. Culbertson
Lute Society of America Quarterly
German Lute SongsAbout the year 1600 three developments in German musical life came together, the special liking of German musicians for the lighter form of Italian madrigal, the villanella, which replaced the principle of equality of voices in a polyphonic texture in favour of allowing prominence to one voice, with the melody clearly at the top, and the principle, derived from Italian dramatic music, of an expressive single melodic line in monody accompanied by basso continuo. Both these combine with the German tradition of the dance-song. The musical conditions were present for the rise of a new form as, in accordance with the literary theory of Martin Opitz (Von der deutschen Poeterey, 1624), German verse and word accentuation should agree.
With amazing speed composers seized on the new stylistic possibilities and developed a characteristic form that in a very short time led to an astonishing blossoming of the new song form. This found support, however, among the urban middle class rather than at the hitherto dominant courts, especially through students in university towns. An outstanding figure in the earlier period of song composition was the Leipzig Thomaskantor Johann Hermann Schein, who nevertheless took as his model the Italian villanella and who wrote many of his own texts, with his collections of polyphonic songs coming before the Opitz metric reform. Another early centre of song composition was Nuremberg, where Hans Christoph Haiden and Johann Staden were influenced by older German dance song.
From 1641 Thomas Selle lived and published in Hamburg. He was probably a pupil of Johann Hermann Schein but soon freed himself from the latters Italian models and developed a true style of song that he later carried over into the Lutheran congregational and devotional song. While in imperial territories urban musical culture increasingly suffered as a consequence of the Thirty Years War, Königsberg lay in the secular dukedom of Prussia and was largely untroubled. A circle was formed around the poet Simon Dach, for whom Heinrich Albert, a cousin of Heinrich Schütz, proved an apt composer; he was also influenced, however, by Johann Hermann Schein. This circle, known as Kürbishütte (Pumpkin Hut) [from their summer meeting-place, where Albert carved verses on the skins of pumpkins in his garden hut] also shows the social nature of this interest in song. The circle was involved with a funeral club, a real problem in view of very high (infant) mortality, and the poems written there were, in the best sense of the word, occasional poems for all the eventualities of urban life. Alberts songs lasted a long time in popular favour and particularly influenced subsequent generations. There was no immediate successor to the Königsberg circle. The development of the song finally centred again on Hamburg, the towns of central Germany and the Franconian and Swabian region.
In Hamburg Gabriel Voigtländer wrote the texts of his songs himself, but fell back almost exclusively on older models for his melodies. He is known as the founder of the German couplet for his satirical texts. The poet Philipp von Zesen interspersed his novels with songs, for which the main composer was Malachias Siebenhaar. With the printing centre at Nuremberg a connection was formed with Franconian song. The literary figure Caspar Stieler, under the anagram Peilcarastres, published in the collection Die geharnschte Venus (Venus Armed) love-songs, written in the (Polish-Swedish) war, which are often modelled on French dance forms, the strictly regular period structure of which is here combined with German song style.
With Andreas Hammerschmidt, who by preference set texts from the Saxon circle of poets around Finckelthaus and Fleming, the central German art of song comes into view. He distinguishes for the first time between songs metrically similar in all stanzas with similar placing of rhymes that were set to similar music in all stanzas and so-called madrigal (heterometric) texts with different settings. His love-song is by and large one of the most charming song creations, with its strict form, developed in variations, which always keeps the aesthetic Schein des Bekannten, yet also enters sufficiently into the syntactical structure of the text and, not least, emphasizes in music its graphic quality.
We return, with Christian Dedekind and his Aelbianische Musen-Lust, to the milieu of Heinrich Schütz in Dedekinds dependence on Heinrich Albert. He makes use of the graphic method of Andreas Hammerschmidt, but without the latters strict form, in which they remain in a way exceptional. Since no secular solo songs by Heinrich Schütz himself survive, it is all the more important that his pupil Christoph Bernhard has handed down not only the principles of his composition but also songs. Similarly the lutenist Johann Nauwach belongs to the milieu of the Dresden court chapel. He is the composer of a gem of German song writing, although still strictly under the influence of Italian models, Ach Liebste lass uns eilen (Ah beloved, let us hasten). Somewhat of a departure from true song style are the settings by Jacob Kremberg, which are at the same time arranged for purely instrumental performance, allowing the vocal part to be omitted.
The present collection shows the great diversity of the development of German song in the seventeenth century.
(English version by Keith Anderson)
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