Heinrich Schütz

Christmas Story

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: About 35 Minutes
Genre: Historia
Time of Creation: Before 1660
World Premiere: Probably 1660

Table of Contents

Schütz' Christmas Story in 5 Sentences

The Christmas Story by Heinrich Schütz is still overshadowed by the “monumental Christmas works” (Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio), although it can certainly be considered a precursor of the latter: Different musical forms (such as recitatives and choral numbers) already alternate with each other here, and Schütz writes for soloists, choir and orchestra. The different musical profiles of the participants are also remarkable: while the evangelist sings secco recitatives in the Italian style (in which Schütz was a master, for he had received his training in Italy), the angel is accompanied by two violins. Interesting parallels emerge here with Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, in which this contrast between secco recitative and string accompaniment (for Jesus) is also central.

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Schütz's Christmas Story

Highlight 1: Introduction

In the introduction, the chorus makes clear what is about to come: the birth of Christ as described in the Gospels.

Highlight 2: Glory to God in the highest!

In this choral number, Schütz has the angelic host sing and praise God:

Highlight 3: Evangelist vs. angels

At this point it becomes clear how differently the evangelist and the angel are accompanied:

Highlight 4: Final chorus

Heinrich Schütz’s Christmas Story ends with a song of praise by the choir:

3 Questions and Answers about Schütz' Christmas Story

Question 1: What is a historia?

The Historia was a form of Lutheran church music that was very popular in the 17th century. It usually set the Gospels to music; thus, the Gospel reading could be set to music in a church service.

Question 2: To which musical epoch can Heinrich Schütz be assigned?

Heinrich Schütz is considered a composer of the early Baroque period.

Question 3: Where was Schütz active?

Heinrich Schütz traveled a lot: He received most of his training in Italy, then later worked in Hanover, Weimar, Dresden, and even Copenhagen.

2 Recommended Recordings of Schütz' Christmas Story

Recording 1: Dresdner Kammerchor, Isabel Schicketanz, Jonathan Mayenschein, Georg Poplutz, Tobias Mäthger, Martin Schicketanz, Hans Christoph Rademann (live, 2021)

If you ask me, Schütz’s Christmas Story is still performed far too rarely. Perhaps that’s no wonder – after all, Bach with his Christmas Oratorio and Handel with his Messiah are the top dogs of baroque Christmas music. So it is very welcome if the few performances that do exist set standards right away. This is true, for example, of this performance with the Dresdner Kammerchor and baroque specialist Hans-Christoph Rademann:

Recording 2: Dresdner Kammerchor, Dresdner Barockorchester, Hans-Christoph Rademann (Studio, 2014)

The same contributors already produced this studio recording together with the Dresden Baroque Orchestra in 2014:

1 Quote about Schütz's Christmas Story

The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, as described to us by the holy evangelists.

Opening text of the Christmas Story

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