• 1598 — 1662
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Johannes Crüger was perhaps the most important figure in German music to bring renewed interest to the Protestant chorale tradition. He contributed original melodies, arranged old ones and collected forgotten or little-known ones and set them to chorale texts in collections such as his famous Praxis pietatis melica.
Crüger was born in Gross-Breesen, Prussia in 1598. Almost nothing is known about his early years and musical education, except that he studied at Regensburg with Paulus Homberger in 1614. After a period of travel to Austria and Hungary in 1615, he settled in Berlin to become a private tutor to a wealthy family and to focus on composition. His first published works appeared in 1619 in the volume Concentus musicus zu hochzeitlichen Ehren dem Ehrenwerten.
The following year he enrolled at the University of Wittenberg to study theology. In 1622 Crüger secured two posts, the first as teacher at Grauen Kloster Gymnasium, and the second and more important, as cantor at St. Nikolai Church in Berlin, a position he held until his death in 1662.
In 1640 Crüger assembled his first collection of chorales, Newes vollkömliches Gesangbuch, Augspurgischer Confession. He contributed eighteen of his own melodies out of the one hundred thirty-seven contained in the volume. The aforementioned Praxis pietatis melica was published in 1647, but subsequent editions appeared regularly, each with added chorales.
In 1657 Crüger became a close friend of Paul Gerhardt, probably the most acclaimed creator of chorale texts. Gerhardt had become deacon at St. Nikolai Church that year, and thereafter the two collaborated on chorales and produced many further editions of Praxis pietatis melica. In 1661, for example, the tenth edition appeared, its pages containing 550 chorales. The fact that only two of its chorale melodies were original ones by Crüger, indicates that he had largely become an arranger and assembler in the project, moving away from duties as composer.
Still, Crüger produced original melodies for hymns and sacred songs that appeared in other collections at that time, including the two-part Psalmodia sacra (1658). The busy Crüger also wrote several volumes of theoretical essays, including Praecepta musicae practicae figuralis and Kurtzer und verstendtlicher Unterricht, (both 1625), and Musicae practicae praecepta brevia… (1660). Crüger seems to have remained active as an organist and as a composer/arranger up to the time of his death in 1662.