Saturday, 19 February 2011

1620s Opera reaches Germany

Opera had begun in Florence and spread to Mantua, Venice and by the start of this decade had reached Rome. In 1627 it would reach Germany with a composer second only in importance to Monteverdi and his name was Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672).

Schutz, ‘the father of German music’ was the most influential of the three main German composers of the time, the other two being Schutz’s friend Schein who I have mentioned and Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654).  Shutz had been to Italy, met the great Monteverdi and was very much taken by the new form of opera. Through Schutz, the Italian expressive vocal style and the quick changes in tempo and loudness came to influence German music.

Schutz had quite a tragic time losing his wife, two daughters, parents and brother and all in the middle of the time during which Germany was a complete bloodbath due to the 30 years war, so his music naturally is a bit on the solemn side. To me he sounds a bit like he still has one foot in the renaissance.  Generally Schutz is all a bit sombre but I managed to find something called ‘Oh Suber Jesu Christ’ SWV 405 op 12 which is good if you want to listen to something a bit melancholic.

On the lighter side, the early composer of violin music, Monteverdi’s violinist and maybe the first violin virtuoso Biagio Marini, continues with a good piece called Sonata Sopra ‘La Monica’ from 1626. It is an improvement on his Affeti Musici collection from the last decade. From Samuel Scheidt in 1621 there is Galliard Battaglia. With this piece and those from Marini and Schein there is definitely a distinctly straight forward and jaunty style to this early instrumental music. My favourite choices from this decade are:-

Marini - The collected recordings of Il Giardino Armonico - Sonata Sopra La Monica

Scheidt - Ludi Musici - Galliard Battaglia
General History

Well the 20th Century had World Wars I and II - this 17th Century had the Thirty Years War which by now is well and truly underway. In terms of politics and power, it is the defining event of the century for Europe.

Other than that the pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts on the Mayflower on 1620. Cardinal Richelieu becomes Chief Minister in France (for Louis XIII) from 1624-42 and made the country extremely powerful.


Francis Bacon (1561-1626) had worked for the government of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I eventually becoming Lord Chancellor but all through his political career his writings had a great influence on the direction taken by Western philosophy and Science. In 1620, at the height of his power he published Novum Organum (and one year before he was sacked for accepting bribes). Francis ‘knowledge is power’ Bacon promoted the idea that science should be used for practical purposes to give humans power over nature, rather than just to acquire knowledge. He believed that science colleges and societies (which he unsuccessfully tried to persuade King James to set up) should collect as much data as they can, then patterns and regularities will reveal themselves through observation, then leading to the discovery of scientific laws by experimentation. He also believed that thinkers were all too keen to find the pattern and too quick to draw conclusions from it. For example pulling nine red marbles out of a bag did not necessarily mean the tenth would also be red.

Galileo who had been banned from promoting the Copernican theory was less disturbed by authority in this decade with a new pope in Rome who was more sympathetic to his ideas. This freedom would eventually lead to a new publication in the next decade that would get him into big trouble.


To add to his cv Galileo developed the microscope in 1624. In 1628 William Harvey published De Motu Cordis (on the circulation of blood). He was the first to realise and announce that the heart pumped blood around the body. 


The most high profile painter of the day, Rubens painted Minerva protects Pax from Mars (above)in 1629-30,  one of his most well known works. This was a painting to promote peace as the war raged through Germany. Frans Hals (1580-1666) painted The Laughing Cavalier in 1624. Hals was a portrait painter who is known as being very good at capturing a fleeting expression which he does with this portrait. 

Maderna, the leading architect of his generation began the Palazzo Barberini in 1628 and created the ground plan. It is lighter, more open and approachable and in the style of the palaces and villas in Northern Italy by Palladio and this was new to Rome. Maderna died in 1629.


No really major works published in this decade other than by Francis Bacon and William Harvey (mentioned above).

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