Sound Theology: Musical Morality in the Opera Seelewig

Anthony Alms


Despite its generic dependence on foreign models, Seelewig (Nuremberg, 1644; text by Georg Philipp Harsdörffer, music by Sigmund Theophilus Staden) displays a number of features unique to its Central German context. Harsdörffer and the other poets of Nuremberg’s linguistic society Blumenorden an der Pegnitz, the intellectual crucible from which Seelewig emerged, employed Klangmalerei in the service of a distinctly moralistic-didactic poetic outlook. In Harsdörffer’s linguistic cosmology, pure, unarticulated vowel sounds (without clear beginnings or endings) seem to represent the eternal soul—‘Seelewig’, humankind’s divine part—whereas consonants often mimic the physical world. Staden adopted this sensitivity to verbal sonorities in his setting of Harsdörffer’s text, as well as using word painting, vocal tessitura, and melodic contour to highlight the work’s Protestant theological content.

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ISSN: 1836-8336