ISSN: 1089-747X
Copyright © 1995–2012 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

Volume 12, no. 1:

Heilige Seelen-Lust
[2nd edition, 1668]. By Angelus Silesius [Johannes Scheffler]. Introduction by Michael Fischer and Dominik Fugger. Documenta Musicologica, erste Reihe: Druckschriften-Faksimiles 41. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2004. [xxxii, 706 pp. ISBN 3-7618-1755-X. €59.]

Reviewed by Allen Scott*

1. The Heilige Seelen-Lust: The Author, Structure, and Facsimile

2. Introduction to the Facsimile

3. Evaluation


1. The Heilige Seelen-Lust: The Author, Structure, and Facsimile

1.1 The Heilige Seelen-Lust, a collection of Counter-Reformation spiritual poems by Johannes Scheffler and their music, provides an important musical document for the period following the Thirty Years’ War. This facsimile edition makes Scheffler’s work widely available to scholars for the first time. Johannes Scheffler (1624–77), who adopted the name Angelus Silesius after his conversion to Catholicism, was one of the leading mystical poets of the Counter-Reformation in Central Europe. He was born in Breslau to a Polish nobleman-immigrant to Silesia and a German woman. Although orphaned at a young age, he received an excellent education in Breslau and continued his studies at the universities of Strasbourg, Leiden, and Padua. In 1649 he moved back to Silesia, where he came into contact with the prominent mystical poets Daniel Czepko and Abraham von Frankenberg. At this time he developed a strong mystical inclination, “which brought him eventually into conflict with Lutheran orthodoxy, and finally—as he described it himself—to a break with Protestantism” (8).1 In 1653 he converted to Catholicism and was ordained a priest in 1661. Although Scheffler wrote 55 vehemently pro-Catholic polemical pamphlets, his most significant works are two collections of poems, Der cherubinische Wandersmann and Heilige Seelen-Lust, both of which appeared in 1657. According to the editors, “In Scheffler’s literary development these two contemplative, contemporaneous works marked the lyrical and spiritual high point of his career, never again reached” (9). Der cherubinische Wandersmann is an intellectual tour-de-force of 1679 poems, mostly rhymed Alexandrine couplets. The Heilige Seelen-Lust, however, is much more varied in theme and structure. The primary theme of the collection is the personal relationship between Jesus and the individual soul; the poems therefore continue the tradition of pastoral poetry, in which Jesus is cast as the loving shepherd and the soul the love-struck bride. There are also overtones of religious eroticism and sublimation. Structurally, the Heilige Seelen-Lust is a tour-de-force of a different type. According to Jeffrey L. Sammons, “From simple four-line stanzas of rhymed couplets through the larger eight-line stanzas familiar from the Protestant hymn, to involved forms with internal rhymes and shifting meters, the collection is nearly an encyclopedia of the lyrical forms available to German poetry at that time.”2 All but one of the 205 Heilige Seelen-Lust poems include music (the exception is no. 200). 184 of the melodies and their bass lines are apparently original compositions by the Breslau composer Georg Joseph (ca. 1620–ca. 1668). The other 20 settings (scattered throughout the collection) are identified by the phrases “Nach eines andren Melodey” or “Auff eine bekandte Melodey.” Joseph’s original compositions are examples of the seventeenth-century solo aria in the tradition of Heinrich Albert’s Arias for Edification. The editors note that in his History of Catholic Church Music (1976), Michael Härting concluded that the positive popular response to these melodies “signifies the definitive success of the expressive declamatory solo song in the Catholic sphere” (21).

1.2 The Heilige Seelen-Lust was first published in 1657 and contained a total of four books of songs. The second edition, which appeared in 1668, was enlarged with the addition of a fifth book. According to the editors, the first three books constitute a cohesive whole: the sequence of the songs is based on the liturgical year, which can be interpreted as a journey of the soul as bride with its bridegroom, Jesus. The fourth and fifth books break with this organization, in both title and theme. The title of the first three books (the title by which the entire collection is known) is “Heilige Seelen-Lust” (Holy Joy of the Soul). The fourth and fifth books are titled “Geistlichen Hirten-Lieder” (Spiritual Pastoral Songs). The first songs of the fourth and fifth books also delineate the change in theme; they praise Mary, Queen of Heaven, and are based on traditional Latin hymns. Although these two books contain Christ-related spiritual love songs similar to those in the first three, sprinkled throughout are enough pointedly Catholic poems that the reader is constantly reminded to which confession the author belonged. Despite the obvious Catholic leanings, however, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries many of the poems (though not the melodies) were used by Protestants, especially those of a Pietistic orientation. For example, Traute Maass Marshall and Lothar Hoffmann-Erbrecht in their Grove article on Scheffler point out that “the Pietists in particular embraced his poems; 30 were included in the widely used Geistreiches Gesangbuch (1704), edited by J.A. Freylinghausen.”3

1.3 The facsimile, taken from the exemplar in the Martinus Bibliothek (Mainz), is a complete reproduction of the 1668 edition. The editors have also included a poem from a 1675 publication by Scheffler, which, according to the author, he was not able to include in the 1668 edition.4 The quality of the facsimile is excellent; the texts and music can be read easily, and variations in typography are not a distraction.

2. Introduction to the Facsimile

2.1 In an extensive introduction the editors provide a comprehensive overview of the collection. It addresses the traditional areas of inquiry, including the frontispiece art, biographies of the poet and composer, the creation and structure of the collection, major themes of the poetry, and a comparison of these themes with contemporary musical thought, most notably the Musurgia universalis of Athanasius Kircher. Fischer and Fugger devote little attention to factual information, such as the biographies of the poet and composer, but this coverage is adequate for an introduction.

2.2 By far the greatest part of the introduction is taken up with analysis and interpretation of the themes and hermeneutic structures found in the Heilige Seelen-Lust. Fischer and Fugger begin with an examination of the frontispiece art, an engraving by Johann Baptist Paravicinus. The foreground of the engraving is dominated by a seated, lute-playing female figure, a representation of the soul (“Psyche”) in love with God. She is surrounded by flowers, grasses, a bird, and a river, all images found in various poems in the collection. In the background is an epiphany image, in which shafts of light from the heavens shine on two cities, apparently Bethlehem and Jerusalem. According to Fischer and Fugger, the frontispiece art follows Baroque tradition in that it constitutes an “emblematic unity with the associated title of the work and its following content” (5). Following a brief biography of the poet, the editors examine the title page and preface, which establish the “hermeneutic key to the substance and theological development” of the Heilige Seelen-Lust (10). The primary intent of the collection, through emphasizing the affective relationship between man (the soul) and God (Jesus), is clothed in two traditional conceptions: “laus Dei and recreatio cordis, the praise of God and the re-creation of the heart, which was understood as ‘spiritual entertainment’” (11). The two “characters” of the poetry are directly addressed in the prefatory material; the collection is dedicated to Jesus Christ, and the preface addresses the “love-sick soul.” In the Preface, Scheffler alludes to typical themes: bucolic love poetry, weddings, and the vanity of the world. Fischer and Fugger next explain that the affects which play a special role in the Heilige Seelen-Lust are the love of God, longing, and holy joy.

2.3 Following a discussion of the creation and structure of the collection, the editors briefly turn their attention to the melodies of the songs. This reviewer wished for a more thorough analysis of the music, although such an examination would probably take much more space than is practicable.5 A more thorough discussion certainly would help to clarify the following arguments, however. Fischer and Fugger expressly state that, although many of the melodies are as simple as contemporary church song, “Joseph’s compositions were not conceived for congregational singing. They served, rather, for the edification of an aesthetically and theologically educated public, which made use of private performance of music and sufficient financial resources” (21). Immediately following this judgment, they claim that “presumably in order to broaden the possibilities of reception, the Breslau 1668 edition was offered to those who were not proficient in the art of singing or had no opportunity to learn the melodies” (21). Curiously, nothing is offered to back up either assertion. The next section very briefly touches on two performance possibilities: private domestic music-making and public performance with expanded instrumentation. The basis for these speculations is found in images in individual songs (individuals playing lutes and corporate musical celebrations by groups). This section, like the previous one, is loosely written and, perhaps unintentionally, raises more questions than it provides answers.

2.4 The final section of the introduction compares the major themes of the Heilige Seelen-Lust with the ideas found in Athanasius Kircher’s Musurgia universalis of 1650. Kircher, like Scheffler, believed that men could ascend into a holy love-union with God with the help of the angelic orders and through the constant use of all the virtues. Kircher also pictures the soul as a stringed instrument whose strings, he prays, will be set in motion by God. This parallels Scheffler’s concept of the soul as a lute whose highest and purest function is to praise God. Fischer and Fugger conclude their introduction with a summary worthy of Scheffler himself: “Thus comes into being a multi-voiced harmony between text and music, spirituality and aesthetics, godliness and ethics” (26).

3. Evaluation

3.1 This facsimile reprint makes available to scholars a major source of seventeenth-century devotional literature in an easily-accessible form. On the whole, the editorial introduction succeeds in placing the work into an historical context and whets the scholarly appetite for further investigation. Just a few small areas were not addressed. For example, Fischer and Fugger do not discuss the exemplar used for the facsimile. Why was this particular exemplar chosen? What is its provenance? Where can other exemplars be found? In addition, the facsimile contains a few handwritten marginal notations which are neither noted nor discussed by the editors. These small lacunae, however, do not detract from its value and significance as a scholarly source.


* Allen Scott ( is Associate Professor of Music History and Coordinator of Graduate Studies at the Oklahoma State University Music Department. He specializes in music of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, especially in Silesia.

1 The text of Fischer and Fugger’s introduction is in German and is paginated with arabic numerals. The translations here are by the reviewer.

2 Jeffrey L. Sammons, Angelus Silesius (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1967), 106.

3 Grove Music Online, s.v. “Angelus Silesius [Scheffler, Johannes]” (accessed 6 June 2006).

4 Scheffler, Beschreibung der vier letzten Dinge (Schweidnitz: Gottfried Jonisch, 1675).

5 The bibliography, however, cites Klaus Fischer’s “Angelus Silesius: Heilige Seelen-Lust, die Stellung der Gesangsweisen im generalbassbegleiteten Kirchengesang des 17. Jahrhunderts,” Kirchenmusikalisches Jahrbuch 84 (2000): 69–100; and it lists a few sources of modern editions for several songs.



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