Martin Opitz’ "New Year’s Gift with Song” Scheitler-Schmidt, Irmgard
At the turn of the year 1623/24, Martin Opitz published a song of praise honouring Christ’s birth in German Alexandrine verse: Lobgesang Uber den Frewdenreichen Geburtstag Unseres Herren und Heilandes Jesu Christi [Song of praise about the joyous birthday of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ]. This example of erudition is also very personal: The author speaks about his troubles during the gruesome Thirty Years War. It concludes with a Latin Sapphic ode petitioning for absolution and peace. Scholars have never appreciated the ode’s function: It derives its full meaning from the intended melody, which was well-known to the dedicatee. Amazingly, many poets copied Opitz in writing epic-dramatic poems including song(s) to honour friends or superiors with a New Year’s dedication; they imitated his motifs and even his title by way of “aemulatio”. When Opitz’ tendency towards dramatic representation and visualisation is enhanced, we find the work comes close to another musical epic-dramatic genre, the actus. We encounter this in several academic communities, its finest example being a hardly known musical composition by Johann Rosenmüller to words by Johann Ziegler.
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