On 23 March 1599, one day after the birth of the great Flemish master Anthonius van Dyck, the town of Zörbig in the electorate of Saxony saw the birth of the composer Thomas Selle, who in his lifetime achieved similar fame but today is nearly forgotten. There are only few historiographic data transmitted, so not much can be said about Selle’s youth and professional training. An important early document is Selle’s enrollment in the summer term of 1622 in the matriculation list of nearby Leipzig university. At the time Selle was 23 years of age and probably had been a student of the Leipzig Thomasschule, where his teachers were the cantors Seth Calvisius and Johann Hermann Schein. The musical traditions at St. Thomas would be his shining example in everything he achieved later in his life in the imperial city of Hamburg, situated on one of the main European waterways. From Leipzig Selle was drawn to the far north, where from 1624 he taught as “College” at the Latin school of Heide in the Duchy of Holstein (Dithmarschen). Only one year later he advanced to the position of school principal and director of church music in the neighbouring town of Wesselburen, where during the following nine years he made a name for himself. In 1629 he was married to Anna Weihe, the daughter of a citizen of Husum. After a period at Itzehoe, where from 1634 he was employed as cantor, Selle was called to Hamburg in 1641 to occupy the same position at the Johanneum. In Hamburg he was responsible for organizing the sacred music at the four main churches. In addition he was appointed “Domkantor” in 1642. By the time Selle was – at the age of 42 – introduced to his office as “Chori Musici Directore”, he had already acquired an excellent reputation. He continued in this office with great devotion until his death in Hamburg on the first or second of July, 1663.
One of Selle’s great and lasting achievements was the restructuring of sacred music at Hamburg, which had barely been touched by the Thirty-Years’ War. His activities resulted in such an enhancement of figured music in the city that a musical visitors’ guide was published. Apart from his Kurze doch gründliche anleitung zur Singekunst published in 1642 he composed secular and sacred songs for one or several voices – most of which appeared in print –, passions (after the gospels according to St. Matthew and St. John), motets, historias, intermedios (which are of great significance for the history of the oratoric passion), and chorale settings; due to the responsibilities of his office he wrote only few purely instrumental works. His favourite genre was the sacred concerto, however, as for example the setting of the 150th psalm presented in this edition. Such opulent performances could be realized only in Hamburg, however, and hence Selle’s large-scale compositions were little known beyond the city boundaries; even today the lack of new editions is considered an impediment to a wider reception of his magnificent settings. There are a great number of dedicatory poems attesting to Selle’s great fame. Thus Johann Rist, pastor at Wedel, whose poems (for example the famous hymn Auf, auf, ihr Christen alle) Selle set to music, praised the “excellent music” of the “director of the music choir, my friend, Mr. Sellius”.
(translation by Stephanie Wollny)