Schütz' beautiful Dafne

A stunning act of creative historial musicology, caught in a committed performance and fine recording

Schütz' beautiful Dafne

This is beautiful - I’ve been waiting for the YouTube videos of this to arrive since its release in late Summer 2022.

This is fascinating: the music of Schütz’ “pastoral tragi-comedy,” which we know was performed at the marriage of the Elector of Saxony’s daughter to the Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt on 13 April 1627, is completely lost. We know that the libretto, by Martin Oppitz, of this favola in musica (literally “story in music” - as was Monteverdi’s Orfeo, for example) had also been set by Jacopo Peri (1561-1633) and Marco da Gagliano (1582-1643).

So how come we have a recording? This is a brave reconstruction by Roland Wilson, who here drircts the early music groups La Capella Ducale (the chorus) and Musica Fiata (the instrumental emsemble). He has taken other pieces by Schütz and mapped them onto the libretto, adding music by other composers also. Recitatives ar based on Gagliano’s music. The opening track, for example, is what the booklet describes as a “hitherto unknown Intrada’ by Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654) - and it is brilliantly performed by Musica Fiata :


In his introductory note, Wilson refers to “advanced sudokus which have no given numbers but a special set of rules; the hardest thing is deducing the first digit”. The parallel is real: his “in’ was the rferences to Apollo's golden locks, and findingthat Apollo’s first aria, “So ist dann nun dem Drachen” fitted the music to Schütz’s own Goldne Haare (itself a German version of  Monteverdi’s Chiome d’oro. This was the first “digit” in Wilson’s “Schütz sudoku”.

Wilson looked also to Schütz’ other settings of texts by Dafne’s librettist, Oppitz. It works brilliantly - perhaps the most remarkable is that Schütz’ lament (it is designated as a “Klag-Lied”) on the death of his wife Magdalena in 1625 (Mit dem Amphion zwar mein Orgel und mein Harfe) fitted Dafne's final appeal to her father with “minimal change”. Wilson uses a dozen (mainly secilar) works by Schütz in “his” Dafne, which make up about half o f the opera. Wilson also uses music (in teh fourth act) by Johann Nauwach (who also wrote music for the same wedding festivities Dafne was composed for). Music by Biagio Marini and a lament by Schütz”s friend Alessandro Grandi also appear in the score.

The story is based on that of Daphne and Apollo from the first book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In a Prologue set in the Elysian Fields, Ovid himself (here, Ovidius) proclaims the cruelty and intensity of love. Tenor Georg Poplitz is Ovidius, his tone beautiful, his phrasing eloquent:


The drama proper concerns Venus and Cupid punishing the boastful Apollo so that he becomes enamoured with the uninterested nymph Daphne, who escapes the god’s rapacious clutches by transforming into a laurel. A “chorus” of three Shepherds (David Erler, Georg Poplitz and Joachim Höchbauer) periodically act as end-of-act commentators.

Act One is the confrontation of three shepherds with a monster (a dragon) - it is the great God Apollo (the excellent tenor Tobia Hunger), who saves them. The writing is very, very illustrative of the drama and highly effective In such a short space of time (15 minutes) we have the ominous low music of the monster and carefree shepherds’ tunes. The act ends with a Gagliarda by Carlo Farina (c. 1600-1639):

Act I

The second act tells the story of Cupid, like Apollo on Earth (Cupid’s on the lookout for a new lover). Apollo fails to take Cupid seriuosly as an archer , causing offence - Cupid shoots Apollo with a golden arrow, causing Apollo to fall in love with Dafne; Cupid then shoots Dafne with a lead arrow, causing her to hate Apollo. Cunning. Cupido is sung by soprano Magdalene Harer; Venus by soprano Magdalena Poskoscielna and Apollo by Tobias Hunger, and listen out for spme superb:

Act II

The third act concerns the attempted seduction of Dafne by Apollo. Soprano Marie Luise Werneburg is a pure-voiced Dafne, Hunger an ardent, persuasive Apollo, his phrasing remarkably beautiful (as are he underlying harmonies). There is also some transcendental playing from teh cornetti (Wilson himself plays one, Anna Schollthe other):


he fourth act is the briefest (a mere 6"16). Cupid’s jubilation at his success is portrayed by jaunty rhhthms, and Harer’s voice is nicely differentiated against that of teh Venus, Magdalena Poskoscielna:

Act IV

I don't think anything can prepare the listener for the lachrymose opening of the fifth act. Just as the fourth was the shortest act, the fifth is the longest an an expansive 18 minutes presenting a last confrontation of Apollo and Dafne (plus a central Dance of Nymphs and Shepherds). The majesty of the instrumental playing, the strength fo emotions on display all cut to the heart:

Act Y

A stunning act of creative historial musicology, caught in a committed performance and fine recording. Recommended.