Johann Hermann Schein (1586-1630)
Schein was in the post of Thomas Cantor in Leipzig (the post Bach assumed in 1723) from 1615 to 1630, the year he died at the age of 44. Together with Samuel Scheidt and Heinrich Schütz, he was a member of the renowned triumvirate of German composers of the first half of the 17th century. He was the most versatile of the three: he wrote not only religious works, but also secular songs and instrumental music. Schein’s masterpieces include the collection that appeared in 1623, Israels Brünnlein, auserlesner Krafft- Sprüchlin altes und neues Testaments auf einer Italian madrigalische Manier. In other words, short, well-chosen biblical episodes from the ‘source of Israel’ (meaning the Old and New Testaments), set to music following the model of the Italian madrigal. Schein included about thirty sacred madrigals, mainly using biblical texts.
Today’s motet, O Herr, ich bin dein Knecht, comes from Psalm 116, the appointed psalm for the day in our Episcopal lectionary. The manner in which Schein sets the text, for the most part, is that of early Monteverdi, giving distinct text painting to each phrase. The melodic line is appropriately descending, as a sign of humility. The music becomes intense in "du hat meine Bande zerrissen" to illustrate the breaking of the chains. A pause after "zerrissen" expresses the breaking off.