Right throughout the seventeenth century German church music in general and the the cantata in particular was heavily dependent upon Italy for inspiration. At the start of the century Heinrich Schütz and Michael Praetorius were greatly impressed by Venetian polychoral music and transmitted their enthusiasm to their fellow Germans, so complete was the penetration of the Italian model of German musical consciousness that long after the Italians abandoned it polychoral music continued to be popular with German congregations and German composers continued to produce it to satisfy demand. However during the 1620s and ’30s a new Italian style swept through Germany, like the polychoral style it originated at the Dresden court and like the polychoral its principal originator was Heinrich Schütz.
The new style – which Schütz and his fellow Germans cultivated alongside polychoral compositions met the demand for smaller-scale, more intimate, intimate music with a greater emphasis on emotion and tenderness. The forces involved were small, small numbers of voices, or a single soloist, accompanied by a small obbligato ensemble. This new style demanded considerable technical and expressive skills from its singers and as time went on became increasingly reliant on considerable virtuosity from its performers. In one way Schütz’s setting of the chorale Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott is very typical of this new small-scall and intimate style but it’s unusual amongst his music because in it he uses the sixteenth-century chorale melody associated with Hegenwalt’s text which he takes and then proceeds to modify with some highly decorative and expressive Italianate writing.
Text & Translation: Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott SWV447
Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott,
Erhard Hegenwalt (fl1525-1525) , after PSALM 51: 1–2
Have mercy upon me, O Lord God,