Samuel Michael: Psalmodia Regia (Leipzig, 1632)

Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era, 201
Edited by Derek L. Stauff
xxxii + 209pp (plus a facsimile of the tenor part book)
A-R Editions, Inc.
ISBN 978-0-89579-879-4 $230.00

One of the four earliest Leipzig prints of vocal music involving instruments (the others being by Schütz, Schein and the composer’s brother, Tobias), Samuel Michael’s 25 settings of verses from the first 25 psalms is a most important collection. Printed shortly after the liberation of Leipzig by the combined armies of Sweden and Saxony during the Thirty Years War, it contains music for between two and five parts above the basso continuo. These range from vocal duets, through solos or duets with obbligato instruments, up to five voices. They average around the 90 bars in length. The texts reflect the trials and tribulations of the inhabitants of Leipzig (and the German population in general) during the war, while the musical language reveals the increasing influence of Italian music, though really these interesting and worthwhile pieces would stand comparison with Schütz or Schein in concert (or church).

After Stauff’s informative introduction to the composer and the dedicatee of the original print (not something we hear enough about terribly often!), he discusses the context of its creation and publication, goes into some detail about its reception (which seems to have been far more widespread than you might imagine!) before no fewer than five pages of detailed footnotes and the full texts and translations of Michael’s chosen verses. Stauff reveals that a planned second instalment of 25 settings of extracts from Psalms 26-50 does not seem to have materialised – as if Leipzig had not had enough, the composer (and many of his family) fell victim to an outbreak of plague a year after liberation.

While Stauff’s Table 2 is interesting in showing where some of the texts were used in the liturgy of the Lutheran church in various places, the fact that he found no concordances at all for four of them would have been reason enough for me not to feel that this had been the reasoning behind Michael’s print. I would have thought it far more likely that cantors would have chosen pieces from the volume that matched the forces they had available or whose text resonated with a particular sermon or circumstance. Whatever his intentions, Stauff has done an excellent job of making this fine collection of modest works available in clear, practical editions. I hope A-R Editions will make imprints of the individual pieces available to performers who can undertake the next step of re-introducing this fine music to listeners!

Brian Clark