SWEMF Workshop
21st October 2023 – Leckhampton, Cheltenham

Lob, Ehr und Dank – Sacred music by J H Schein

Peter Syrus directed another music-packed day, this time in Leckhampton near Cheltenham, looking at the life and music of Johann Hermann Schein (1586 – 1630).

Peter always provides a detailed potted biography and the accompanying picture of Schein shows him with an incredible hairdo (see Wikipedia for the same picture). Some of his early life was spent in Dresden and later years in Leipzig, where he studied law and the liberal arts for 4 years at the university, having previously attended the Schulpforta, which we would now call aspecialist boarding school for gifted children.

He was Kantor at Thomaskirche in Leipzig from 1616 till his death where, as well as directing choral music in both the Thomaskirche and Nicolaikirche, he had to teach 14 hours of Latin and singing. He had family sorrows (death of 4 out of 5 children in infancy and first wife), and very poor health (TB, gout, scurvy, kidney stones) and died of consumption aged 44, and his latter years were during the time of the devastating Thirty Years War.

Schein published secular and sacred collections of vocal music in alternate order. From 1618 (his 4th publication), his compositions were in the newer style with basso continuo (thanks to Clare Griffel for providing this on the electronic organ). His later compositions were more pared down, probably due to the war which would have reduced the number of musicians available.

Workshop pictureWe played (sackbuts, cornetts, curtals, recorders, viols, organ) and sang a variety of pieces in 5, 6, 8, 10 and 12 parts (I believe I mentioned the day was music-packed) together with a couple of 4 part chorale arrangements by Schein and Osiander.

A 12 part piece Quem Quaeris Magdalena’ – divided into 3 choirs with different tessituras – was particularly pleasing – a wonderful full lush sound.

There was great contrast in the repertoire Peter provided. At one extreme, Die mit Tranen saen was virtuostic and accidental-prone (with what Peter described as ‘filthy’ harmony) – for a flavour of this see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbBbCuwyqNk (singing + score – I suspect we added additional accidentals). At another extreme we played and sang the calm Da pacem Domine for 10 (2 choir) voices, which is one of several pieces only recently discovered in Berlin and Poland.

Particularly unusual was Da Jakob vollendet hatte. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBBe2fgIsc0 (singing + score, listen especially around b.40). To quote our music director for the day, Schein seemed to have a penchant for ‘expressive intervals’, ‘quite disconcerting and coloured harmonies’, and ‘active chromatics’.

Thanks Peter for an excellent day.
Thanks Jenny for organising it and producing delicious flapjacks.

Heather Jenne