For early modern Lutherans Heinrich Schütz's Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich? would have evoked fears of religious persecution. Its text, from the narrative of Paul's conversion in Acts 9, appears in seventeenth-century devotional writings and confessional polemics about persecution. Moreover, recently uncovered archival evidence shows that Schütz performed his concerto in 1632 at a state-sponsored political festival marking the first anniversary of the Battle of Breitenfeld, a major Protestant victory in the Thirty Years War. Here Schütz's concerto clearly stoked fears of persecution, because the celebrations touted the battle as a victory over Catholic oppression. The political context in 1632 might also explain some of the piece's most notable features. Its unusually brief text and vivid music do not illustrate the whole story of Saul's conversion but solely the moment at which Christ intervened to put a stop to persecution. Schütz's listeners would have heard in Saul's example a parallel to the victory they were celebrating in 1632 and the persecution they feared from their Catholic and imperial adversaries. This performance of Saul, the only one known from Schütz's lifetime, shows how his music partook in a broader campaign of Protestant propaganda designed to reinforce the confessional and political divisions that fueled this phase of the war.
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