Heinrich Schutz

1585 1672

Heinrich Schutz



Heinrich Schutz was an early 17th century German Composer, often considered the most important German composer before J.S. Bach.

Schutz was born into a family of innkeepers. He was first educated by his father and later received music instruction in Weissenfels from the local organist and kantor, Heinrich Colander and Georg Weber. In 1598 the Landgrave Moritz of Hessen-Kassel was travelling and stayed at the Schutz family inn, where he heard Heinrich sing. He was astonished by the beauty of his voice and asked if the boy could return with him for his musical education.

After eventually persuading Heinrich’s parents, Langrave Mortiz of Hessen-Kassel was put in charge of Schutz’s education. He arrived in Kassel in 1599 and was educated at the Collegium Mauritianum and sang as a choirboy. He was particularly talented in languages and had the opportunity to study music with Moritz’sKappellmeister Georg Otto.

In 1608 his voice changed and he decided to pursue a law study at the University of Marburg, but after just one year he went to Venice, on Moritz’s advice, to study music on a scholarship withGiovanni Gabrieli. In Venice he published his first set of works, a set of Italian magrigals (pub. 1611).

He returned to Germany in 1613 to continue his studies at the university, but then took up his post under Moritz again as the second organist. The next year, Elector Johann Georg I of Saxony requested to employ Schutz in Dresden temporarily, where Michael Praetorius also worked on occasion. He was so satisfied with Schutz that he kept him in service for two years sparking a disagreement between Moritz and Georg I as they both wanted Schutz in their courts. Schutz, however, remained in the Saxon court and became the official Kapellmeister in 1619. The same year, he published his first collection of sacred music,Psalmen Davids sampt etlichen Moteten und Concerten (SWV 22-47). In the following years he also publishedHistoria der fröhlichen und siegreichen Aufferstehung unsers einigen Erlösers und Seligmachers Jesu Christi(SWV 50, 1623) and theCantiones sacrae (SWV 53-93, 1625), a set of motets.

After the death of his wife in 1625, Schutz sent his two daughters to live with their grandmother and he focused for a period on the Becker Psalter (SWV 97a-256a, 1628). In 1627 he produced the first German opera,Dafne (1627), which was set to a translation of Rinuccini’s libretto of Peri’s opera of the same name. Schutz remained a widower for the rest of his life.

In 1628, Schutz was again inspired to visit Venice, in part due to the economic struggles brought on by the Thirty Year’s War,  where he quite possiblely studied withClaudio Monteverdi, the most important musical figure in Venice at the time. Just before his return, he published hisSymphoniae sacrae (SWV 257-76, 1629) which incorporates the new styles and skills he learned during his visit.

Schutz returned to the Dresden court in 1629 and shortly thereafter published a motet (SWV 277, 1630) dedicated to Johann Hermann Schein. After Saxony entered the war in 1631, the economic situation became dire and he eventually left his post in the elector’s court of Dresden. He then went to the royal court of Copenhagen, where he wasKapellmeister for two years, from 1633 to 1635, for King Christian IV He then returned to his post in Dresden and composed theMusicalische Exequien (SWV 279-81, 1636) and Kleine geistliche Concerte (SWV 282-305, 1696).

After a short break from the electoral court, during which he served as Kapellmeister to Georg of Calenberg, he returned to chaos in the court of Dresden in 1941. The size of the ensemble had been greatly constricted and members were left unpaid. This prompted him to return to Copenhagen.

Schutz spent parts of the year in Weissenfels, where he hoped to retire, but Georg of Calenberg would not allow him to retire completely. During this time he composed theSymphoniarum sacrarum secunda pars (SWV 341-67, 1697), the Geistliche Chor-Music(SWV 369-97, 1698) and the Symphoniarum sacrarum tertia pars (SWV 398-418 1650).

In 1670 Schutz moved to Dresden, where he remained until his death.

After his set of madrigals from Venice, Schutz wrote only works based on sacred texts, both with and without instruments. Many of his works, however, have been lost.

Schutz’s most notable achievement was that he introduced the Germans to the new Italian monodist style, without leaving behind his German feeling and roots. His lifetime spans that of the early development of baroque music in Germany; his works influenced the direction of German baroque music by giving it some Italian qualities.

His first German requiem was the Musikalische Exequien  (1636) which features Italian style writing in the vocal solos and duets with choral sections very much based in the German tradition. His influence from early Venetian composers can be heard in the final section, which is for double choir. The work was commissioned for the funeral of Prince Heinrich. It uniquely brought together old compositional techniques with the modern small concerto and double-chorus format. Other primary works from this time include his two sets ofKleine geistliche Konzerte (pub. 1636, 1639).

His Geistliche Chormusik (pub. 1648) and the three collections of Symphonie Sacraeare also very important. These works are much more dramatic than his previous works. ThePsalmen Davids (1628), dedicated to Georg I of Saxony, is a polychoral work while theSymphoniae Sacrae I uses much more delicate textures. Symphonie Sacrae III has much more in common with the Psalmen Davids, as it incorporates Italian elements with German sacred music.

The Christmas History (1644) precludes his later passions based on the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John. The oratorio is for soloists, choir and instruments while the passions are a cappella.  Schutz’s oratorios in general were based strongly in the German tradition and featured less Italian influence. The Chistmas History, however does use an Italian-style recitative for the Evangelist’s narrative, which was probably the first of its kind in Germany.

Schutz’s music is popular today, especially with the newfound knowledge, thanks to increased interest in research into 17th century performance practice, allowing his music to be played in a much livelier manner.

All images courtesy of public domain