German early baroque composer. He was musical director to the Elector of Saxony from 1614. His works include The Seven Words of Christ (about 1660), Musicalische Exequien (1636), and the Deutsche Magnificat/German Magnificat (1671). He increased the range and scope of instrumental and choral polyphony and was an important precursor of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Schütz was born at Köstritz in Saxony. He learnt music as a choirboy in the chapel of the Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel, and studied law at Marburg University and music under Giovanni Gabrieli at Venice, 1609–12. He returned to Kassel as court organist, but left for Dresden in 1614 with an appointment as music director to the Elector Johann Georg of Saxony. He did much there to establish the fashion for Italian music and musicians, but although he had written Italian madrigals at Venice, he set his own works to German or Latin words, notably the 26 Psalmen Davids of 1619. In 1627 he wrote the first German opera, Dafne, on a translation of Rinuccini's libretto by Martin Opitz, for the marriage of the elector's daughter to the Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt.
After the death of his wife in 1628 he again went to Italy in 1629, where he learnt about the newly established form of opera from Monteverdi. In 1633, the economic depression that followed the Thirty Years' War having disrupted the running of the Dresden court chapel, he obtained leave to go to Copenhagen, and he spent the years until 1641 there and at other courts. Returning to Dresden, he did not succeed in reorganizing the court music satisfactorily until the later 1640s. In the 1650s he became much dissatisfied with the new tendencies among the Italian court musicians and had many quarrels with Giovanni Bontempi, but did not succeed in obtaining his release, and after some improvements later on he remained at the Saxon court for the rest of his life. Schütz was the most important of Bach's German predecessors, uniting the lyric and dramatic elements of Venetian vocal style with German polyphony.
WorksOperaDafne (1627, lost), Orpheus und Euridice (1638, lost).
Sacred and secular music motets, Cantiones sacrae, psalms, Symphoniae Sacrae (1629, 1647, 1650), concertos for voices and instruments, Geistliche Concerte (1636, 1639); Christmas (1664), Passion, and Resurrection oratorios; The Seven Words of Christ; Italian madrigals; Exequien (funeral pieces) for six–eight voices, Elegy on the death of the electress of Saxony.