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Hermann Schroeder: Mid-Life & Choral Works

Biography: Mid-Life

Hermann Schroeder’s first professional post of distinction was as teacher of theory at the Rheinische Musikschule in Cologne between 1930 and 1938. (Mohr n.pag.). It was during this time that Schroeder founded his own chamber orchestra in Cologne and directed the church choir of St. Joseph in Duisburg, with whom he could test his first choral compositions, including Te Deum, Op. 16 for mixed choir and brass. Following these appointments, Schroeder became the cathedral organist at St. Paulin in Trier between 1938 and 1945 where he composed his Pauliner Orgelmesse (Paulist Organ Mass). Beginning in 1940 he was made director of the Trier School of Music (Mohr n.pag.).

During and after the Second World War, Schroeder directed the German Soldiers Belgrade, with whom he conducted Mozart's Requiem, Bruckner's Te Deum, Haydn's The Seasons, Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, and Bach's Brandenburg Concerto no. 3, among many other pieces. (Mohr n.pag.) It is clear that during his early professional career as a conductor, Schroeder was immersing himself in the classics of Germany’s musical heritage. Consequently, Schroeder would synthesize these voices into his own neo-classical style over the coming decades during the 1950s and 1960s, which are perhaps some of Schroeder’s most compositionally rewarding periods.

From 1946 to 1948, Schroeder was appointed as professor of music theory, conducting, and history at the Academy of Music in Cologne. Also during this time but persisting until 1972, Schroeder taught at the Institute of Musicology at the University of Bonn where he published with Heinrich Lemacher a number of significant music theory textbooks: Textbook of Counterpoint (Mainz 1950), Harmony (Dusseldorf 1954), and Morphology of Music (Cologne 1962), none of which are available in translation. (Mohr, n.pag.) Also significant to Schroeder’s oeuvre and his interest in the reformation of German Catholic music were his various directorships of choral societies during this time, including the Bach-Verein in Cologne, the Madrigal Choir of the State Academy of Music in Cologne, and the Rhenish Chamber Choir.

The 1950s are significant to the development of Schroeder’s style and stand as an intensive creative period. During this time, he wrote some of his most important works. Among the most significant pieces he composed were his organ works, “The Marian Antiphons" (1953), the First Organ Sonata (1957) and the Partita on “Veni Creator Spiritus " (1959). During this time, Schroeder also began to write demanding chamber works and orchestral concertos including his String Quartet No. 2 (1952), Piano Trio No. 1 (1954), Sextet for Piano and Winds (1957), Sonata for Piano No. 2 (1953), Concerto for Oboe (1955) and Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1956).

Along with his increasing fame as a composer for instruments, Schroeder’s continued interested in the performance of choral music was flourishing with numerous successful pieces of his own. Probably greatly inspired by his work with many Bach choral masterpieces along with interpretations of early Catholic polyphony from the Renaissance, during the 1950s Schroeder produced his own Missa "Regina Coeli" (1950), Magnificat (1951), and Responsory for Holy Week (1954).


This week I would like to present a handful of Schroeder’s works for chorus. His experience with the choral repertoire was vast, having spent much of his career as a director and liturgical music reformer entrenched in choral repertoire from Medieval chant, Renaissance polyphony, 18th century counterpoint (namely Bach), and up to his contemporaries like Hugo Distler and Paul Hindemith. Despite being a prominent reformer and director, Schroeder’s choral works are far less well-known and recorded than his organ works. Much of his choral repertoire, however, is highly accessible to nonmusical audiences and easy to perform for most armature choirs.

Schroeder - Recommended Choral Compositions: (click on underlined/highlighted titles to be linked to posted recordings)


Commentary on the Works for Choir

The chorale motet In stiller Nacht is the earliest piece that I plan to showcase from Schroder’s oeuvre. Though early, it is still of high quality in its contrapuntal writing, particularly favoring a late Romantic style akin to Bruckner and Brahms, whom Schroeder admired greatly at this early point in his compositional life. However, Schroder’s style is much more explicitly polyphonic and less homophonic than his predecessors. Throughout the work, Schroder is also showing the influence of Renaissance polyphony on his work, particularly in his use of point of imitation, vocal pairing, and fluid polyphonic lines. The selection of this piece is unintentionally appropriate to the season, as it is a poetic interpretation of Christ of the Mount of Olives as found in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 22, which forms a part of the liturgy for Good Friday. Below is the original text and my own attempt at a poetic translation.

In stiller Nacht

By: Friedrich von Spee (1591-1635)

In stiller Nacht, zur ersten Wacht,

Ein’ Stimm’ begunnt zu klagen,

Am düstern Ort, im Garten dort

Begann ein Herz zu zagen.

Ach Vater, lieber Vater mein.

Und muß den Kelch ich trinken.

Und wenn es soll nicht anders sein,

Mein’ Seel’ laß nicht versinken!

Ade, ade zur guten Nacht,

Maria, Mutter milde,

Ist keine Seel’, die mit mir wacht

In dieser wüsten Wilde?

Der schöne Mond will untergahn,

Vor Leid nicht mehr mag scheinen,

In dunkler Nacht die Stern’ vergahn,

Sie wollen mit mir weinen.

In Quiet Night

Translation: Jordan A. Key

In quiet night, by early morn

Arose a lamentation.

In shadowed place, in garden there

Was heard the lachrymation.

“Oh Father, my loving father,

If must I drink now from this cup,

And if no other can it be

My soul please take and raise me up.”

“Farewell to this good final night

Mary, my mother so mild,

Is there no soul to wait with me,

To hold in this deserted wild?”

“The lovely moon, she falls below

For my pain she cannot bear.

The stars in stillness pass the night.

Tranquil, they share in my despair.”

As mentioned in Schroder’s biography, the Pauliner Orgelmesse is part of Schroder’s early professional career during his time as organist and choral director of the Cathedral of St. Paulin in Trier between 1938 and 1945. In regards to the place of the organ in this “Organ Mass,” Schroder wrote, “the organ is not merely a choir accompaniment… or prop for intonation. Each part [of the the music (chorus and organ)] has its own role, which has to be fulfilled.” This is but Schroder’s first mass of many. Unfortunately, this is the only one with a recorded performance. The text of the Gloria can be found easily online.

Die Responsorien Der Karwoche was created in 1954 in the midst of Schroder’s most productive period. The central goal of this cycle, which the text and Schroeder tried to achieve, is to portray the Passion of Christ from the most human perspective, moving it from a rarified event-artifact to an emotionally compelling narrative. The first movement, "In Monte Oliveti," for example contains the plea of Jesus to God to "let this cup pass from me," one of Christ’s more “human” moments of fear and weakness. The second movement, "tristis est anima mea," expresses the loneliness and sorrow of Jesus, expressed when he said, "my soul is sorrowful even unto death." The final movement, "Tenebrae factae sunt," shows Christ’s arguable anger, fear, and questioning of faith in God in his last words on the cross, "My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Musically, Schroeder’s interpretation of the text relies on textures of polyphony from the 16th century. However, Schroder’s distinct free and pan-tonal use of modality and dodecaphonics is clearly evident within the smooth polyphonic melismas and homo-rhythmic text declamations. With the harmonic and melodic possibilities of his "extended tonality," Schroeder brings an ancient text into a musical expression of the present. I have chosen to showcase the first movement as its text parallels the text from In stiller Nacht, both being about The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

In monte Oliveti

(text inspired by Luke 22:39-44)

As taken from the First Responsory for Good Friday, “In Monte Oliveti” (found in the Liber Usualis)

In monte Oliveti oravit ad Patrem: “Pater, si fieri potest, transeat a me calix iste. Spiritus quidem promptus est, caro autem infirma: fiat voluntas tua.”

Vigilate et orate, ut non intretis in tentationum.

On the mount of Olives, He prayed to the Father:

"Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me.

The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak: thy will be done.”

Watch ye, and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.

The Magnificat is a standard text to set for most composers of sacred music; the text is easily found online. Schroeder’s setting of the text is a boisterous fanfare, similar to many other composer’s settings. The material of the piece is primarily derived from the opening brass and choir declamation. While Schroder’s Magnificat references chant like rhythms and melodies, this setting never explicitly quotes the Magnificat chant. This is the first choral piece discussed herein that is from Schroder’s highly productive middle years in the 1950s and 1960s. By now his compositional voice has developed and his references to older styles are more suffused in his modern use of free modality and tonality.

The choral motet Rorate caeli (1954) appears in the choir book edited by Schroeder, Exultet: Mottetenbuch für den gottesdienstlichen Gebrauch, (“Rejoice: Motet Book for Liturgical Use”) which contains motets (mostly from the 16th century) for use during the church liturgical year. Within this book, Schroeder has also included a few of his own small choral motets, one of these being Rorate caeli, which is quite different from its companioned pieces by Palestrina and his contemporaries. At first glance, this piece is perhaps more inline with pieces from six centuries before Palestrina. There is a clear influence from early parallel and free organum, such as from sources like the Musica & Scolica Enchiriadis written in the mid-9th century or The Winchester Troper complied between the late 10th and early 11th centuries. The use of parallel and oblique organum is clear from the excerpt of Schroeder’s piece below. Throughout this piece, Schroder rarely uses contrary motion of the voices. However, as the piece progresses, parallel organum evolves into a freer organum with occasional use of contrary motion, particularly between the outer voices. Also Schroder’s use of chromatic alterations escalates throughout the piece. Both of these contrapuntal evolutions work to propel the piece, continually giving it tension until the last organal utterance on “ergo enim sum Dominus.” Except for the opening chant, there is no further use of the chant in Schroeder’s organal setting of Rorate caeli.

Left: Excerpt from the opening of Schroeder’s Rorate Caeli

Right: Traditional Rorate caeli chant as found in the Liber Usualis

Rorate Caeli

Roráte caéli désuper,

et núbes plúant jústum.

Ne irascáris Dómine,

ne ultra memíneris iniquitátis:

ecce cívitas Sáncti fácta est desérta:

Síon desérta fácta est:

Jerúsalem desoláta est:

dómus sanctificatiónis túæ et glóriæ túæ,

ubi laudavérunt te pátres nóstri.

Consolámini, consolámini, pópule méus:

cito véniet sálus túa:

quare mæróre consúmeris,

quia innovávit te dólor?

Salvábo te, nóli timére,

égo enim sum Dóminus Déus túus,

Sánctus Israël, Redémptor túus.

Rorate Caeli (English Translation)

Drop down ye heavens, from above,

and let the skies pour down righteousness:

Be not wroth very sore, O Lord,

neither remember iniquity for ever:

the holy cities are a wilderness,

Sion is a wilderness,

Jerusalem a desolation:

our holy and our beautiful house,

where our fathers praised thee.

Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people,

my salvation shall not tarry:

why wilt thou waste away in sadness?

why hath sorrow seized thee?

Fear not, for I will save thee:

for I am the Lord thy God,

the Holy One of Israel, thy Redeemer.

The last example comes from late in Schroeder’s career but represents a central part of his secular works for voice. There is a clear influence of late Renaissance counterpoint such as that found in the Monteverdi madrigals, with a clear sense of “classical” tonality with highly expressive use of dissonance. However, the “Romanticism” is clear in this poem’s musical setting, appropriate since the poet, Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff (1788-1857), was part of the Romantic movement in poetry during the 19th century. Schroeder was certainly consciously setting this text in a manner appropriate to its time. Indeed, the level of expressiveness and chromaticism found in some of the madrigals of Monteverdi, Gesualdo, Marenzio, and their contemporaries would not be found again until the late Romantic period and into the early 20th century. Schroder is clearly speaking to this reemergence of expressive chromatic polyphonic harmony during his life, synthesizing the Renaissance and the Romantic. This work is a little masterpiece in terms of classical tonality, design, and drama. Below is the original poem and my own attempt at a poetic translation.


By: Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff (1788-1857)

Es ist schon spät, es ist schon kalt,

Was reitest du einsam durch den Wald,

Der Wald ist lang, du bist allein,

Du schöne Braut! Ich führ dich heim!

“Gross ist der Männer Trug und List,

Vor Schmerz mein Herz gebrochen ist,

Wohl irrt das Waldhorn her und hin,

O flieh! Du weisst nicht wer ich bin.”

So reich geschmückt ist Ross und Weib,

So wunderschön das junge Leib,

Jetzt kenn ich dich– Gott steh mir bei!

Du bist die Hexe Lorelei.–

“Du kennst mich wohl– vom hohen Stein

Schaut still mein Schloss tief in den Rhein.

Es ist schon spät, es ist schon kalt,

Kommst nimmermehr aus diesem Wald.”

Forest Conversation

Translation: Jordan A. Key

It’s already late, it’s already cold,

Why do you ride through the forest so bold?

The way is so long, and you are alone,

You lovely maid, I’ll be your chaperone!

“Deceit and guile in men is vast,

And the pain of my heart is unsurpassed,

The hunting horn sounds here and there,

Oh flee! You know me not, so take due care.”

So richly decked are horses and maids,

The beauty of youth through you pervades,

Ah now I see! Good God please keep me by!

You are the sorceress Lorelei.

“You know me well – on cliff on high enshrined

My throne looks deep and still into the Rhine.

It’s already late, it’s already cold,

Too late to escape from this forest’s hold.”


Mohr, Rainer. Hermann Schroeder Gesellschaft: Biografie. Accessed February 19, 2016.

Schroeder, Hermann, ed. Exsultet: Motettenbuch Für Den Gottesdienstlichen Gebrauch,.

Heidelberg: Süddeutscher Musikverlag, 1954.

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