Heinrich Schütz (1585–1672)

Heinrich Schütz is one of the most important German composers of the early Baroque. His oeuvre consists exclusively of vocal works, in both the style of the older polyphonic motets as also in the new concertante style with obbligato thoroughbass.

Heinrich Schütz was born in 1585 in Köstritz, today’s Bad Köstritz in Thüringia.

Landgrave Moritz of Hesse-Kassel, who discovered his musical talent in 1599, made it possible for him to receive musical training as a choirboy at the Kassel court school’s Collegium Mauritianum, where he also learned to play the organ and to compose.

As of 1608 he studied law in Marburg. A stipend from the Landgrave enabled Schütz to take a three-year study trip to Venice, where he studied with the organist Giovanni Gabrieli, an important figure during the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque. While in Venice, Schütz composed a collection of madrigals.

In 1613 he was employed as second court organist in Kassel, becoming in 1617 electoral Saxon kapellmeister in Dresden. The Thirty Years’ War broke out a year later, leading to an almost complete collapse of cultural life.

In subsequent years Schütz returned to Italy, followed thereafter by longer stays and professional duties in Copenhagen, Hanover, Braunschweig, Hildesheim, Wolfenbüttel, and Weimar.

Major portions of his life’s work, such as the three passions, including the St. John Passion SWV 481 (1866), date from the period after 1664.

His last work is the complete setting of Psalm 119, also known as his swan song, divided into eleven motets, followed by a setting of Psalm 100, and a German Magnificat.

Schütz died in 1672 at the age of 87 and was buried in the Dresden Frauenkirche.