German music of the early and middle baroque was inextricably interwoven with the paralyzing religious and political struggles of the nation. The Thirty Years' War deepened the rift between the denominations and widened the cultural gap between the Catholic south and the Protestant parts of northern and central Germany. The wave of Italian influence that rolled over Germany in the first half of the century was followed in its wake by a French one, and the assimilation and transformation of these stimuli gave German music its special problems. While the Catholic composers adopted the Italian style without essential changes the Protestant composers were faced with the task of bringing their precious heritage, the chorale, in harmony with the concertato style. The result of this fusion was the most original German contribution to the history of baroque music.
In the seventeenth century Protestantism passed through its "scholastic" period, a phase of rigid orthodoxy in which violent dogmatic quarrels were fought, first with the Calvinists, and later with the Pietists. The orthodox Lutherans upheld the "artificial" figural music in the church, sung not by the congregation, but by a specially trained choir, the Kantorei. The Pietists, who sought a mystic union with God and stressed the private devotion of the layman, were, like the Calvinists, opposed to the artistic autarchy of music and insisted on rather shallow songs within the reach of everybody. The struggle between Orthodoxy and Pietism which began in the second half of the century continued throughout the period and even overshadowed the life of Bach. Consistent with the Lutheran idea of exegesis as the foundation of the liturgy, Protestant church music had the function of interpreting the "word" of the Gospel. This goal could be achieved in two ways: the word could be either objectively "presented" by a chorale, the quintessence of the dogma, or subjectively "interpreted" by a free concertato composition. The first course, that of cantus firmus, treatment, was taken by the organists and cantors, the second by Schütz and his Italianate school. Both trends merged with Bach and found in his works their final consummation.
The two methods of exegesis, the objective presentation and the subjective interpretation of the "word" divided the figural music of the Protestant church into two equally important fields. They had the concertato style in common, but the first was bound by a chorale cantus firmus, the second only by the subjective imagination of the composer. Most German composers were active in both fields; only in the orbit of Schütz was the interest in the chorale subordinated to free composition. The greatest German masters of the early baroque, Hans Leo Hassler (1565-1612), Michael Praetorius (1571-1621), Heinrich Schütz, (1585-1672), Johann Hermann Schein (1586-1630), and Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654), were surrounded by a host of lesser lights whose music is comparatively well known thanks to the various Denkmäler editions. Hassler was the first great German composer to undertake an "Italian journey" which must be regarded as a symptom of the Italian domination over German music. Like his friend Giovanni Gabrieli he studied with Andrea Gabrieli, and from the time of Hassler to that of Handel and Mozart German composers traditionally sought their final education in Italy.
The most conservative of the cantus firmus compositions was the chorale motet which continued the polyphonic chorale settings of the renaissance. Although the chorales were not strictly biblical in their texts they were regarded as the pillars of the liturgy and thus paralleled the liturgical function of the Gregorian chant in the Catholic church. Music with a chorale cantus firmus showed generally a retrospective style. the task of adapting the chorale to the italian innovations, the affective interpretation of the word, the continuo, and the concertato style could not be solved at one stroke. hints at the future can be observed first in the penetration of counterpoint by an advanced harmonic vocabulary and in the migrant cantus firmus, that is a chorale that shifted in the course of the composition to any one of the voices in alternation. The famous chorale motets (1597), and the Preussische Festlieder by Eccard (d. 1611), posthumously published and expanded by his pupil Stobäus (1642), established the type for the baroque period. Michael Praetorius presented in his Musae Sioniae (I-IX, 1601 ff.) a veritable encyclopedia of chorale arrangements. The collection comprised more than 1200 compositions ranging from simple chorale harmonizations to overwhelming polychoral settings in the Venetian manner. In Part IX of the work Praetorius discriminated between three manners of chorale arrangement, "motet-wise," "madrigal-wise," and "cantus-firmus-wise." In the first manner the chorale pervaded the contrapuntal interplay of all the voices; in the second, the chorale was broken up into small fragments and motives set in a concertato dialogue; in the third, the cantus firmus was left intact and led against ostinato motives also derived from the chorale-a procedure obviously borrowed from the technique of the organ chorale. Only the first and last manners belonged to the chorale motet, the second showed Praetorius on the way to the chorale concertato, but all three were to become important for the elaborate chorale treatment in the future. Occasionally also instruments participated in the chorale motet, as can be seen in the works of Praetorius and Johann Staden.
The Psalmen und christliche Gesäng (1607) by Hassler were, according to the author "composed fugue-wise," that is, they corresponded to the motet manner of Praetorius. Equally important in musical and liturgical respect, this collection belongs to the small group of compositions that were revived as early as the eighteenth century. It has been re-edited by Kirnberger, the pupil of Bach." Hassler gave in his Psalmen classic examples of the chorale motet in which all voices participated in the melodic contours of the chorale. The organ master Scheidt also made, in his Cantiones sacrae (1620), a significant contribution to the chorale motet. In imitation of his organ variations he cast each verse of the chorale into a different setting and thus arrived at a chain of contrapuntal variations which forms one of the roots of the chorale cantata.
Unlike the conservative motet the chorale concertato was written in a progressive style, clearly manifested in the use of the continuo. Whereas the continuo formed only an optional part of the motet, it was indispensable in the concertato. The continuo found a staunch supporter in Praetorius whose Syntagma musicum is an invaluable source of information for early baroque music. Praetorius translated the rules of Viadana and naturally adhered to Viadana's conservative conception of continuo practice. Praetorius's first experiments with the continuo in the Musae Siontae were feeble and insignificant. However, in his Polyhymnia caduceatrix (1619) he applied it to the resplendent Venetian style. This collection contains many-voiced concertato compositions with brilliant instrumental and vocal choruses and lively gorgia passages for the soloists which clearly bespeak a modern spirit. It should be noted that Praetorius was cautious enough to print the ornamented version above the unembellished parts in case the German singers were not able to cope with the gorgia. Even though Praetorius could not compete with the harmonic ventures and the magic sonorities of Gabrieli, he handled the polychoral style most skillfully and brought to it the elements of the chorale, which Gabrieli did not know; at the same time the chorale restrained him from going far into the affective representation of the words.
The affective spirit remained, as in Italy, the domain of the few-voiced concertato. It found its first clear expression in Schein's Opella nova or Geistliche Konzerte (Part I, 1618; Part II, 1626) which must be considered as a milestone in the development of the chorale concertato. The title Geistliche Konzerte appeared here for the first time in German music. Schein, the successor of Calvisius at St. Thomas' in Leipzig and, like Kuhnau, one of the outstanding predecessors of Bach, combined a restless and excitable harmonic sense with a pronounced talent for affective melody. All pieces of Part I of the Opella nova, except one, are based on chorale texts for the liturgical year, and nearly always, also, the melody is retained. Not content with the presentation of the chorale Schein strove at the same time for a highly subjective interpretation. In his desire to interpret the affection of the words he distorted the chorale tunes, broke them up into fragments, vivified the rhythm, and infused them with extraneous chromaticism or exuberant gorgia.
The style of Schein was heavily indebted to Italian models, especially to Monteverdi's duet style with concerting instruments. While the contrast motives and the lofty interplay of the instrumental and vocal parts were obviously due to Italian influence, the fast pace of the changing harmony and the affective cantus firmus treatment were German characteristics.
Schein proceeded even more radically in the chorale monody which laid the ground for the future solo cantata. In the few monodic compositions of the Opella nova the solo voice was forced to give both the chorale and its interpretation simultaneously. While the vocal part retained the remarkable rhythmic and melodic flexibility of the monodic style, the vague bass line that was customary in the Italian monody was disciplined by the rigidly progressive beat of the instrumental accompaniment. Schein achieved here a unique fusion of the mechanical instrumental style of the north with the Italian monody.
Schein's works stand at the beginning of the long and devious development from the chorale concertato to the chorale cantata. Many organists and cantors pursued the course of Schein, notably Scheidt in his Geistliche Conzerten .The smaller masters of the chorale concertato in the early and middle baroque period can be grouped into three regional schools.
The north German school included Thomas Selle (d. 1663) in Hamburg; Matthias Weckmann, a pupil of Schütz; the important Franz Tunder of Lübeck, predecessor and father-in-law of Buxtehude; and finally Christoph Bernhard who transmitted to us a valuable treatise on composition, based on the precepts of his teacher Schütz. The south German school which had its center in Nuremberg comprised Johann Staden, and Johann Erasmus Kindermann, a pupil of Staden and Cavalli. The central German school of Saxony and Thuringia centered round Andreas Hammerschmidt (1639-1675), a most prolific and popular composer who watered down the achievements of Schütz for the multitude. It included also the three Thomas cantors between Schein and Kuhnau: Michael, Knüpfer, and Schelle.
All these masters contributed to the expansion of the chorale concertato into the chorale cantata. The various media of the chorale concertato, the many-voiced, the few-voiced, and the monodic, were no longer kept apart but were combined in large multipartite compositions in which solo, choral, and instrumental sections alternated. Here lie the beginnings of the chorale cantata. The organ chorale variation which Scheidt had already transferred to the chorale motet was also applied to the chorale concertato so that the composer had a great variety of styles at his disposal. The single verses could now be composed alternately as duets, monodies, choruses, and ensembles with or without instrumental accompaniment. One of the earliest attempts in this direction was Scheidt's Nun komm der Heiden Heiland from the Geistliche Conzerten, in which the eight verses were set in strictly organistic manner with cantus firmus and a simple chorale harmonization at the end, as customary in the later cantata. Selle was active primarily in the few-voiced medium, Weckmann in the many-voiced concertato. Tunder's chorale variations are remarkable for the extensive use they make of the concertato style and the inner expansion of the form. He more nearly approached the cantata than any other composer of the time. Tunder and Hammerschmidt both cultivated the chorale monody, the latter also the free composition of chorale texts. The chorale concertato per omnes versus, that is with a varied setting for each stanza, can actually be called a cantata although we find as yet only very sporadically the distinguishing feature of the late baroque cantata, namely a freely inserted poetic passage that interrupts the liturgical text by moralizing reflections. However, the strict chorale cantata in form of variations like Bach's Christ lag in Todesbanden grew directly out of the cantatas of Franz Tunder.
- Johann Christoph Bach
- Georg Christoph Bach
- Johann Egidius Bach
- Johann Ludwig Bach
- Christoph Bernhard
- Nicolaus Bruhns
- Dietrich Buxtehude
- (Johann) Christoph Graupner
- Johann Erasmus Kindermann
- Caspar Kittel
- Adam Krieger
- Johann Philipp Krieger
- Johann Kuhnau
- Sebastian Knüpfer
- Christian Ritter
- Johann Theodor Roemhildt
- Johann Rosenmüller
- Johann Hermann Schein
- Johann Schelle
- Thomas Selle
- Johann Staden
- Franz Tunder
- Matthias Weckmann
Poetry and Prose