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Presented with Passion: Church Music by Schütz

A workshop for singers and continuo directed by Peter Syrus, Glastonbury, 3rd February 2018

When the leader of a day's workshop on Schütz tells you that he 'hates' virtually all four-part choral works, it can make you wonder if you've come to the right place. But I had. About 35 people attended the SWEMF Schütz workshop at Glastonbury on 3 February, and we had a small continuo section of theorbo, bass viol and organ which, I felt, greatly enhanced the day.

My neighbour asked me at one point whether I liked Schütz and I admitted that I often found it hard to get into his sound-world. It seems, however, that you can't really call yourself an early music aficionado without loving Schütz, so I thought that total immersion therapy might help, and it certainly did. Peter Syrus took us through a range of pieces with passion and erudition. He admitted to owning more than 50 CDs of Schütz's music and he clearly had knowledge of many more. I learnt a great deal about the composer, and Peter showed us the transition from the early Gabrieli-style ornate Italianate works through to his increasingly austere and pared-back writing style as he grew older. And we did actually sing a couple of four-part pieces, which were very lovely.

In addition, we sang five- and six-part pieces and one for double choir. The one piece in Latin, Ad Dominum cum tribularer, seemed to hark back to the lush style of Victoria. My favourites? Also hat Gott die Welt beliebt (God so loved the world) in five parts, charmingly set, with words of such importance that they were sung twice; and the six-part setting of John the Baptist's Ich bin eine rufende Stimme, with its entertaining word painting where the twisting rhythms of the road are gradually straightened.

We were given the opportunity to sing straight through the works before they were analysed, which is something that adds to the pleasure of the day. We ploughed through the German words more or less correctly, although, as I'm no German scholar, I did struggle with some of the faster word settings, but you can't cover everything on one day. There were occasions when the explanations were a bit too erudite for me, as were the finer points of German pronunciation. However, I learnt a lot, and have certainly improved my opinion of Schütz. There is a wonderful sound-world to be discovered, and after a while I began to understand the idiom and the trademarks of his style of writing.

Often, on days of this type, there is far too much music and some is either skated over or not sung at all. Peter got this just right. We sang all the pieces during the day, and all but one in the run-through. There was enough time to go over tricky corners and to try to understand the word-painting and shape of each work. The day was well-organized, as always, and there were some familiar faces. I very much enjoyed it, although with a 5pm finish, it was a little on the long side for me. A good workout, however, and I look forward to adding Schütz to my favourites list.

- Julia Barrett


List of Music Performed:




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Last modified: 02 March 2018