In the celebration of music – an offering from Ryan
July 28th marks the day that the ELCA commemorates three German composers: Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederic Handel, and Heinrich Schütz.
J. S. Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany, in 1685 into a family of musicians. As a youngster he studied violin and organ and served as a choirboy at the parish church. By early adulthood, Bach had already achieved an enviable reputation as a composer and performer.
His assignments as a church musician began in 1707 and a year later he became the organist and chamber musician for the court of the Duke of Weimar. In 1723, Bach was appointed cantor of the St. Thomas School in Leipzig and parish musician at both St. Thomas and St. Nicholas churches, where he remained until his death in 1750. A man of deep Lutheran faith, Bach’s music was an expression of his religious convictions.
George Frederic Handel was also born in 1685, in Halle, Germany. After studying law, he became organist at the Reformed Cathedral in Halle in 1702, and in 1703 he went to Hamburg to study and compose opera. His interest in opera led him to Italy and then on to England where he became a citizen in 1726. Once in England, Handel supported himself with court appointments and private patronage. His energies were devoted to producing Italian operas and English oratorios, large choral works based upon religious themes. Handel’s most popular work, Messiah, was first performed in Dublin in 1741, and is notable for its powerful musical interpretation of texts from the Holy Scriptures. A man of great charity and generosity, Handel died in London in 1759 and was buried in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey.
Heinrich Schütz was born in Köstritz in 1585 and, like Bach, was a choirboy in his youth, and, like Handel, studied law as a young man. After studying with Giovanni Gabrieli in Venice, Schütz moved to Kassel to work as an organist and then to Dresden as court composer to the Elector of Saxony, where he quickly became the leading figure in 17th-century German music. Schütz is best remembered for successfully using Italian influences in the development of the German musical tradition. Almost all of his known works are vocal settings of sacred texts.
“Zion hört die Wächter singe” from Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140 by Johann Sebastian Bach: One of Bach’s best-known works, more famously known in his organ arrangement, this is the fourth movement from his cantata Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Awake, calls the voice to us). This text and the main melody are usually sung (and Bach’s organ arrangement usually played) on one of the first Sundays in Advent each year.
“We praise Thee, O God” from The Dettingen Te Deum by George Frideric Handel: The opening movement of Handel’s Dettingen Te Deum, which is a setting of an ancient hymn that he wrote to celebrate King George II’s victory over the French at the Battle of Dettingen in 1742. This was the last time a British monarch led an army in battle; the music opens with a military march-like rhythm played on the strings and the drums.
“Der Herr ist mein Hirt” from Symphoniae sacrae III, Op. 12, No. 1 by Heinrich Schütz: This setting of Psalm 23 (which we read last Sunday) was composed for Schütz’s 1650 collection of works known as the Symphoniae Sacrae III, which is made up of sacred vocal works written shortly after the end of the Thirty Years’ War, and serves as a celebration of the return to peace.