Music Heinrich Schütz
Stephen Rose
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0033


Heinrich Schütz (b. 1585–d. 1672) was the leading German composer of the first half of the 17th century. He was Kapellmeister at the Dresden court from c. 1617 to 1657 and also served as guest director of music at the courts of Copenhagen and Wolfenbüttel. Schütz was an important figure in the transmission of Italian styles to German-speaking lands, and he established a compositional technique that combined firm contrapuntal foundations with vivid settings of German words. Few of Schütz’s secular compositions survive, and consequently he is best known as a composer of sacred music. His religious output encompasses all the styles and genres found in Lutheran vocal music of the early Baroque, including concerted works for voices and obbligato instruments (such as the Psalmen Davids, 1619, and the three parts of Symphoniae sacrae, 1629, 1647, 1650), as well as polyphonic motets for choir with optional accompaniment (such as the Geistliche Chor-Music, 1648). Particularly notable are his settings of Gospel narratives, including his three Passions and his Historia der Geburt Jesu Christi (1664). Studies of Schütz have been dominated by German scholars, who for much of the 20th century celebrated him as a devout Lutheran who preached via music. More recently, researchers have exposed the nationalist preoccupations behind earlier German revivals of Schütz and have instead emphasized the composer’s role within the courtly cultures of 17th-century Europe.

General Overviews

Rifkin and Linfield 2001 is the starting-point for all serious research; it is the most authoritative and easily obtainable overview of Schütz’s life and music for English speakers. Breig 2006 is the equivalent overview for German speakers. Smallman 2000 offers a reliable and reasonably up-to-date introduction to Schütz’s music for the English-speaking general reader or student. Moser 1959 is an extremely detailed life-and-works study, tainted by the author’s Nazism, yet still worth reading for its contextual information. Breaking away from the standard life-and-works format, Heinemann 1993 offers new perspectives on Schütz’s musical achievements.

  • Breig, Werner. “Schütz, Heinrich.” In Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Personenteil. Vol.15. Edited by Ludwig Finscher, 358–407. Stuttgart, Germany: Metzler, 2006.

    An overview of the composer’s life and music by the doyen of German scholars of Schütz. Includes an up-to-date works list and a bibliography that focuses on post-1980 texts.

  • Heinemann, Michael. Heinrich Schütz und seine Zeit. Laaber, Germany: Laaber-Verlag, 1993.

    Starts with a detailed chronology of Schütz’s life, then six chapters address themes both familiar (such as Schütz’s relationship to Italian music, or the balance of order and expression in his music) and unfamiliar (such as Schütz’s work as an organist and composer of instrumental music).

  • Moser, Hans Joachim. Heinrich Schütz. His Life and Work. Translated by Carl F. Pfatteicher. St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1959.

    Moser’s discursive tome stems from the Schütz revival of the early 20th century and embodies a nationalism that was fueled by Nazism. It venerates the composer as a quintessential German who had an unrivalled ability to set biblical words to music. Refers to a wide range of contextual material, including documents and compositions lost since the World War II. Originally published as Heinrich Schütz: Sein Leben und Werk (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1936).

  • Rifkin, Joshua, and Eva Linfield. “Schütz, Heinrich.” In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 2d ed. Vol. 22. Edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell, 826–860. London: Macmillan, 2001.

    Contains the most detailed and accurate account of Schütz’s life, plus a brief survey of his principal compositions. Particularly useful is the comprehensive bibliography (which covers all Schütz scholarship up to 2000) and the works list (which also includes lost music). Available online.

  • Smallman, Basil. Schütz. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    An account of Schütz’s life and works for the general reader. Includes a detailed introduction to his music, although Smallman avoids using terms from 17th-century music theory that would have helped him accurately describe Schütz’s pitch organization.

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