In 1664, the eighty-year-old Schütz wrote his Historia der freuden- und gnadenreichen Geburth Gottes und Marien Sohnes Jesu Christ. It is a lively account of the Christmas story, in which the instrumental choir also plays an important role.
The evangelist tells the Christmas story with great expressiveness and subtlety. For example, you hear Herod’s ‘excessive anger’ when he finds out that the Three Wise Men have tricked him. The choirs are very impressive too: the choir of angels glorifying God, accompanied by violins; the shepherds rushing to the stable with recorder and dulcian; high priests with trombones and and Herod’s cynical instructions to the Three Wise Men.
‘Die Weihnachtsgeschichte’ op. 10 (1933) by Distler, is an a cappella Christmas oratorio for a four- to eight-part mixed choir that is strongly reminiscent of Heinrich Schütz’s ‘Historia der Geburt Jesu Christi’; built around the Christmas story told by a narrator, with the choir interpreting the angels, the shepherds, the wise men and the high priests. Distler adds a kind of ‘common thread’ with seven cleverly elaborated chorale variations on the old moving Christmas carol ‘Es ist ein Ros entsprungen’. These provide the poetic, contemplative moments of rest during the story. One variation is combined with the hymn of Mary (part of the Magnificat). The entire piece is strongly framed by a strong and contrasting opening and closing chorus.
He was born a hundred years before the great Johann Sebastian Bach, more than twenty years after Shakespeare and twenty years before Rembrandt: the greatest German musician of the 17th century, Heinrich Schütz. These famous names symbolize the era in which Schütz was born, on 8 October 1585 in the Thuringian town of Kösteritz. The Eighty Years’ War had only been going on for seventeen years, and from the age of 33 to 63 he would experience the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War. Despite these turbulent times, Schütz managed to lay a foundation for new developments in music that would influence composers to this day.
Hugo Distler made old melodies dance for joy. With completely new timbres and rhythms. But the music was written and heard in the wrong place and the wrong time! For Distler lived in the time of ‘Nationalsozialismus’. A sensitive and deeply religious boy, he was confronted with a totalitarian regime of horror and anti-clericalism. Distler’s music was considered ‘not done’, leaving him completely disillusioned and depressed. When he was called to serve in the Wehrmacht he ended his life. He died in Berlin at the age of only 34.
Elvire Beekhuizen & Agnes van Laar soprano
Franske van der Wiel & Rosina Fabius, alto
Falco van Loon & Francis Ng, tenor
Robbert Muuse & Bram Trouwborst, bass
David Rabinovich & Daphne Oltheten, violin
Beltane Ruiz, violone
Thomas Oltheten, dulcian
Robert de Bree, recorder
Mathijs van der Moolen & Tim Dowling, trombone
Elisabeth Opsah, recorder & cornetto
Nicholas Emerson, cornetto
Marion Boshuizen, organ