Schütz: Baroque Before Bach
by Ken Myers
Exactly one hundred years before the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach in 1685, his greatest German predecessor was born in Köstritz, a small town in what is now Saxony. Heinrich Schütz was arguably the greatest German composer before Bach, and the first German composer to enjoy an international reputation. Unlike Bach's extensive clan, the Schütz family was more involved in commerce and civil service than in music. Heinrich's father, Christoph, eventually became mayor of nearby Weißenfels, but he worked as an innkeeper in that town when Heinrich was a boy. It was there that Heinrich's natural musical talent emerged through his participation in the local Lutheran church choir.
One night in 1598, Landgrave Moritz von Hesse-Kassel, a nobleman in the Holy Roman Empire, spent the night in the family's inn and apparently heard the charming treble voice of young Heinrich. The landgrave—himself a serious musician—was eager to encourage new talent and eventually persuaded Heinrich's parents to let him come to sing and study as a chorister in his court chapel. They reluctantly allowed their son to leave home, but continued to urge him not to get too involved in music so he could prepare for a real job (sound familiar?). So in 1607 he dutifully followed his brother and a cousin to the University of Marburg to study law, a career path more in keeping with the family's experience and expectations.
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Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also served as editor of Eternity, the Evangelical monthly magazine, and This World, the quarterly predecessor to First Things. He also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.
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