The quest to rediscover Johann Schop

Detlef Hagge

The author of this article had originally only vaguely heard of the name Schop as an example of an early violin virtuoso and from the mention of him as composer of the chorale melody „Sollt ich meinem Gott nicht singen“ and one or two other chorales published in the Lutheran hymnal. It was only through a performance of a piece by Schop at a concert in Groningen (on 26. May 1972) that my attention was drawn more closely to this Hamburg composer and musician. The piece was performed in a version already reconstructed by the Hamburg musicologist Dr. Gustav Fock before the Second World War. This reconstruction, which must be regarded in parts rather as a new composition in the style of Schop, had proved necessary since the piece had only survived in incomplete form up to then.

So I in my turn embarked on research into Johann Schop. This was not without its fascination, demanding the skills of an archaeologist and even sometimes a detective. It led me to the church archive mentioned by one source (R.1.S.M.) in the village of Udestedt near Erfurt in Thüringen, which turned out to be a wardrobe in an abandoned vicarage. Here I found a collection comprising single parts of music by various, mostly unnamed composers. In fact it belonged to the collection bequeathed on his death by the cantor Tobias Friedrich Bach (1695 1768), son of Johann Christoph Bach. The verger in Udestedt agreed very helpfully to photograph a few parts which bore evidence of being by Johann Schop using his own camera, and to try to send them over the border between East and West Germany - a very risky undertaking at that time! After a few months, the small pile of music from Kassel (microfilm archive), Vienna and Zurich was now augmented by further photostats of Schop’s instrumental music.
Examination of the material from Udestedt, however, produced an unexpected bonanza: in trying to put together this puzzle of individual parts in barely legible reproductions on photostat paper, all the parts of the lost instrumental music of Johann Schop came to light. It proved possible to complete all the fragments of the dances from 1633 and 1640 without any missing parts!
But the job was still far from completed. When assembling the music, it was necessary to begin with the end of a piece, since this was where all the parts had to come together. And it actually proved possible in this way to make a true reconstruction of the fragmentary material which had survived - the foreword of the rediscovered part (Cantus 1) also yields useful information on the person and works of Johann Schop.

How could it happen that a composer who was for a long time mentioned in the same breath with Schein, Scheidt and Schütz fell so utterly into obscurity? One reason for this sorry state of affairs is the paucity of the source material on his life and works which has come down to us. According to a remark by Chrysander, Johann Schop is supposed to have been born in Hamburg. This assumption is supported by the foreword to the Cantus part of 1633 which is now available. To this day it has however not been possible to discover Johann Schop’s exact date of birth. It must be around 1590, however, since Michael Praetorius already offered him a position as musician in his newly organized court establishment in Wolfenbüttel in 1614: „ . . . Johann Schop, ein sehr guter Discant Geiger: kann das das Seine uff der Lauten, Posaunen und Zinken auch prästiren.“
Schop was a member of the Danish court chapel from 1615 to 1619. After an outbreak of the plague had forced him to flee from there, he spent some time in Paris. He entered the service of the city of Hamburg in 1621 as Director of the Rathsmusik, later being mentioned in the records as organist and Städtischer Kapellmeister up to 1665. Johann Schop lived and worked in Hamburg till his death in 1667 (some time between „Johanni und Michaelis“, the 24th June and the 29th September). In the Treasury records Johann Schop himself signed for the receipt of his salary on „Johanni“, while on „Michaelis“ it was his widow. His resting place is no longer known. An address by Balthasar Schupp, Pastor at St. Jacobi in Hamburg, delivered in 1667 (it was probably the funeral address for Johann Schop) tells us much about him and musical life in 17th century Hamburg: „Wann ich nun mich wollte in musica vocali üben / so wollte ich deswegen eben nicht auff eine Teutsche in einem kleinen Land¬städtlein gelegene Universität ziehen / sondern wollte zu Hamburg suchen den edlen Scheidemann / den vortrefflichen Matthias Weckmann / den wohlberühmten Johann Schopen / und andere Künstler / derengleichen in etlichen Königlichen / Chor und Fürstlichen Capellen nicht anzutreffen sind.“ These words bear eloquent testimony to the esteem in which Johann Scop and his music were held by his contemporaries. It is to be hoped that his music can now be made available again in our days to an appreciative audience.