Heinrich Schütz was one of the most esteemed German composers of all time and a brilliant organist of the 17th century, alongside Claudio Monteverdi. His long and sparkling career was spread across the late Renaissance to the Baroque era. Known for the composition of a large body of vocal and choral music, Schütz had an immense influence on the works of J. S. Bach. He blended Giovanni Gabrieli's polychoral style and protestant church music to yield dramatic masterpieces. He traveled far and wide and served at many courts across Europe. Schütz composed and published several volumes of his collections of sacred music, such as the Psalmen Davids and the Symphoniarum sacrarum. But regrettably, a significant portion of his pieces went unpublished and are now believed lost. He is commemorated as a musician in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church on the 28th of July, along with Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel. Continue reading to know more.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on October 8, 1585 in Köstritz, Saxony Heinrich Schützwas the eldest son of Christoph Schütz, an innkeeper and Euphrosyne Bieger. His family shifted to Weibenfels in 1590, where his father, Christoph was the manager of an inn called, "Zum Ring". In 1599, when Schütz was 14 years old, his musical talents were discovered by Moritz von Hessen-Kassel. After serving as a choirboy and studying music with the court Kapellmeister, Georg Otto, he joined university of Marburg to study law in 1608. But soon, in 1609, he moved to Venice to study music with Giovanni Gabrieli.
After continuing his musical studies for three years, Schütz returned to Moritz's court at Kassel in 1613. Next year, he was appointed to serve as a composer at the electoral court in Dresden for a couple of months. Later, in 1615, the elector Johann Georg I requested him to extend his services for two more years which he unwillingly had to comply with, for political reasons. As Kapellmeister at Dresden, Schütz was responsible for providing music for major court ceremonies, and also had to look after the musical education of the choirboys. His pupils during this time included composers like Bernhard, Theile and Weckmann. Schütz published his first collection of sacred music, the Psalmen Davids, dedicated to the elector in 1619.
Schütz was always on the move and absent from Dresden either for his own or the elector's business. In 1627 at Torgau, Schütz’s Dafne (the first German opera) was performed on the wedding of the elector's daughter, Sophia Eleonora. Later that year, he also visited Mühlhausen and, possibly, Gera. However, the economic pressures of the Thirty Years War in 1620s led to an economic crisis and the court could hardly pay the wages of the musicians. In the face of this economic turmoil, Schütz determined to pay a second visit to Venice in 1628. Here, under the guidance of Monteverdi, he studied developments in dramatic music. In 1629, he came back to Dresden and when two years later, Saxony entered the war, all the musical activities at the court ceased. Schütz then received an invitation to compose music for the wedding festivities of Crown Prince Christian of Denmark. In December 1633, in Copenhagen, he was paid a salary as the Kapellmeister by King Christian IV until Schütz returned to Dresden in May 1635.
In 1639, Schütz vanished again from Dresden. He left for around 15 months to serve Georg of Calenberg. After he returned, he saw that the Kapelle’s financial situation had further worsened and the members were living in penury. During 1642-1644, he remained employed at the Danish court. After spending about a year in and around Brunswick, he went in an apparent retirement. Schütz spent most of his time in Weissenfels, but he still held the title and responsibilities of Kapellmeister at Dresden. Unfortunately, the end of the ‘Thirty Years War’ failed to revive the musical conditions. Schütz published his collection, Symphoniarum sacrarum tertia pars, in 1650. In 1651, Schütz renewed an earlier plea asking for being released from his duties and granting of a pension; this wish wasn’t granted until the death of the elector in 1656. Even during the later years, he hardly ceased composing and continued to offer his compositions for different occasions at Dresden. During this time, Schütz also worked on some of his masterpieces—the Christmas History, the three Passions and the settings of Psalms cxix and c.
In 1619, Schütz got married to 18-year-old Magdalena Wildeck and fathered two daughters, Anna Justina and Euphrosyne, in 1621 and 1623 respectively. In 1625, Magdalena Wildeck passed away leaving Schütz with two daughters. He placed both of his daughters under the care of their maternal grandmother and never remarried.
In 1672, on the 5th of November, Schütz died in Dresden, of a stroke. He was 87 years old. Even during the last days of his life he kept travelling and composing. His funeral was held in Dresden's Frauenkirche on the 17th of November.
- Psalmen Davids, 26 psalms, 1619
- Resurrection History, 1623
- Cantiones sacrae, 41 motets 1625
- Becker Psalter, 1628, (rev. 1661
- 19 madrigals, 1611
- Dafne, opera, 1627