9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


The Musical Box: Coffins as Locus for Performance and Composition in Early Modern Germany

Gregory S. Johnston

The present paper explores the relationship of the coffin to musical performance and funerary composition in seventeenth-century Protestant Germany. While contemporary documents describe many ways in which funeral music was performed, some of the most striking and affective seem to be those in which the musicians are placed in close proximity to the body. It is my intention, in the first part of the paper, to examine some of these practices.

The second part of the paper, by extension, focuses more specifically on the practice of inscribing scriptural, chorale and poetic texts on coffins, and the relationship of these to texts to musical practices in the Lutheran Church. While the texts themselves were sometimes selected in advance by the deceased, contemporary documents show that the placement of these texts — as with the careful positioning of family crests on the coffins — was both systematic, hierarchical, and governed by convention. By understanding something of these conventions, it is possible to relate some of them to musical practices. Thus the unique formal design of the opening Concert of Heinrich Schütz’s Musicalische Exequien, attributed variously to Schütz and to the deceased Heinrich Posthumus Reuß, must now be seen in the light of their adherence to a conventional “reading” of the coffin.

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Last updated on 21 March 2000 by Yo Tomita