Heinrich Schütz Biography

(German Early Baroque Composer and Organist)

Birthday: October 18, 1585 (Libra)

Born In: Bad Köstritz, Germany

Heinrich Schütz was a German composer and organist known as one of the best composers of the 17th century early Baroque period. Born to a wealthy bourgeois German family, Heinrich was interested in music from an early age. He was spotted by Moritz, the landgrave, at the age of 12 who told his parents that Heinrich was a young musical prodigy. Heinrich received his training in music in Venice, from Giovanni Gabrieli. Heinrich returned to Germany and was appointed at the court in Dresden as the court musician. He mostly composed sacred music that was in the polychoral style which involved multiple singers performing the chorus. Some of his most celebrated works are Psalmen Davids, Cantiones sacrae (Opus 4), books of Symphoniae sacrae and Die sieben Worte Jesu Christi am Kreuz among others. He was the pioneer of bringing the highly revered Italian music influences into German music, which was the beginning of a new era in Germany. Most of his surviving works have been religious in nature, though he also composed secular music as well. Along with Johann Sebastian Bach, Heinrich is widely regarded as one of the best German composers of all time.

Quick Facts

German Celebrities Born In October

Died At Age: 87


Spouse/Ex-: Magdalena Wildeck (m. 1619–1625)

father: Christoph Schütz

mother: Euphrosyne Bieger

children: Anna Justina Schütz, Euphrosyna Pincker, Euphrosyne Schütz

Born Country: Germany

Organists Composers

Died on: November 6, 1672

place of death: Dresden, Germany

Cause of Death: Stroke

Childhood & Early Life

Heinrich Schütz was born October 18, 1585, in Kostriz, Germany, to Christoph Schütz and Euphrosyne Bieger. He was born into a well respected and wealthy bourgeois family of Franconian heritage. A few years after he was born, he moved to Weissenfels with his family, where his father had inherited a big inn from his father. It was a beautiful looking inn which was popular among many prominent people that visited the city.

Heinrich was interested in singing since his early years. He would practice singing for hours. His foray into professional music happened by chance when Moritz, the landgrave of Hessen-Kassel came to live in the inn. He heard a young Heinrich singing. Heinrich was 12 years old at that time and sang beautifully, which impressed Moritz, who himself was an amateur composer.

He had founded a collegium and thought that Heinrich would be perfect for it. Moritz also wanted Heinrich to sing with him at the court. However, Heinrich’s parents were not in favour of their eldest son turning into a musician. They resisted but not for long. Moritz successfully convinced his parents. Heinrich began learning music and excelled at it. However, his parents’ constant pressure was turning out to be a hurdle in his career as a musician and he decided to study law under his parents’ constant pressure.

Moritz intervened once again and asked Heinrich to leave the law studies and join Giovanni Gabrieli, who was a popular Italian composer and an organist at St. Mark’s Basilica. Moritz moved there and learned the ways of Italian music and culture, thus enriching his knowledge of making music.

In 1613, Heinrich returned to Germany and resumed his legal studies. However, by then the landgrave was sure that Heinrich was ready to take on the big jobs. He thus offered Heinrich a job as a second organist in the Kassel court. Heinrich moved to Dresden in 1614 after he was invited to perform at the christening of the son of the elector of Saxony. His music was loved by the Saxon and he was thus appointed the court musician in 1615.

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Heinrich was just 30 years old when he was appointed at the court of Elector of Saxony as a composer. He would work in Dresden until the end of his life and this was the place where he composed most of his all-time classic music compositions.

However, Heinrich had already published his first collection way back in 1611, when he was studying music under Gabrieli. The collection was titled Il primo libro de madrigali. The music was dedicated to Moritz, who had acted as a mentor for Heinrich and the reason for his foray into the world of music. In his first recording itself, Heinrich exhibited his deep understanding of the necessity of paying close attention to both the syntax and content of his texts.

After he was appointed to the court, he published Psalmen Davids sampt etlichen Moteten und Concerten. This religious music had clear inspirations from the style of his teacher Gabrieli. In fact, Gabrieli was the only one whom Heinrich had acknowledged as his teacher.

In 1623, he published Historia der Auferstehung Jesu Christi which was based on the Easter Story. It was his first-ever oratorio in the Italian language. He followed it with another publication titled Cantiones sacrae. His music had clear inspirations from his teacher Gabrieli, which he infused with his own style, thus becoming unique in his own way. He frequently used resplendent polychoral and concertato styles in his music. In addition, he also adopted some Netherlandish style, which became one of his most frequent signatures.

However, he was not very content with the way church music was progressing in Germany in that era. He wanted in imbibe the southern concerted style into the German church music and thus he travelled to Italy again in 1628. In Venice, he studied under Claudio Monteverdi and further honed his skills. The new style he learned was showcased by him in his Fili mi, Absalon.

By the time he returned to Germany in the 1630s, Germany was reeling through religious wars in Saxony. Hence, the once flourishing musical landscape of the country was severely curtailed. Throughout the next two decades, he rarely stayed in Dresden at his job at the court and travelled to different places such as Copenhagen, Wolfenbüttel, Hanover, and Weimar. He did that to not let his music be affected by the political and religious turmoil.

Heinrich’s earlier glorious composition adhered to the Venetian styles where polychoral performances were at the centre stage. The music involved more than two singers singing in choirs and was only possible during large concerts. Following the outbreak of the war, Heinrich faced a severe lack of resources hence, he limited himself to the shorter compositions which were performed on a small scale. Adhering to this new style, he published Kleine Geistliche Konzerte in the mid to late 1630s. However, his work during this period is also hailed as some of the most charming works by him.

By 1647, the situation at the court had significantly improved, which led Heinrich to carry on with his old style of music. Around this time, one of his most hailed masterpieces was titled Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich?, which was composed in his regular polychoral style.

He further recorded Geistliche Chormusik and Symphoniae sacrae II and III, which were known for using various voices and instruments. In the 1660s, he composed The Christmas Oratorio, The Passion According to St. Luke, The Passion According to St. John and The Passion According to St. Matthew.

Heinrich is also credited as one of the pioneers behind Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, one of the oldest and most highly regarded orchestras in the world.

Among all his works, which were said to be in thousands, only 500 survive to this day.

Most of Heinrich’s surviving work has been religious music. He also composed some secular songs such as arien and a little part of sinfonia. Despite the lack of documented versatility in his work, he is known as one of the greatest German organists of all time.

Personal Life & Death

Heinrich Schutz married Magdalena Wildeck in 1619. She died in 1625. Heinrich had two daughters from his wife before she passed away.

Towards the end of his life, Heinrich wanted to retire a few years earlier and wanted to live with his sister. He was granted his retirement but despite that, he was consistently called back to the court to perform.

He passed away from a stroke in 1672 in Dresden, where he worked at the court. He was 87 years old at the time of his death.

He spent the last few years of his life in Weissenfels, the place where he grew up in. The place is now his life museum.

See the events in life of Heinrich Schütz in Chronological Order

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