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Motet Notes

Heinrich Schütz: "O misericordissime Jesu," SWV 309- Kleine Geistliche Konzerte I

The onset of the Thirty Years War had a serious impact on composers of the mid-17th century, Heinrich Schütz not the least. With many fewer vocal and instrumental resources at his disposal, he was compelled to write on a more modest scale. resulting in two sets of small sacred concertos (Kleine Geistliche Konzerte) for various combinations of solo voices and continuo accompaniment.

Today’s motet - perhaps more than any other - fully takes on the Italian monodic style. The highly emotional text (taken from the Meditations of St. Augustine) is set melodically with great sensitivity to the inflection of the language, while the harmony – though dissonance and resolution – provides an expressive underpinning. The result is a piece whose apparent simplicity belies its startling emotional power. The importance of Schütz’s study in Italy can not be overstated. Monteverdi was a particularly strong influence; the ecstatic interludes (on texts from the Song of Songs) in the Vespers of 1610 are an obvious parallel to today's motet.

©Michael Beattie