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Michael Prætorius (c. 1571-1621)

Michael Prætorius’s life spanned the transition from the High Renaissance to the early baroque. Born in Kreuzberg, Thuringia, as Michael Schultheiss (Latinized as Prætorius), he was the son of a Lutheran pastor. He spent most of his professional life as an organist, Kantor and Kapellmei ster in the Lutheran cities and states of Northern Germany. After studies at Frankfurt an der Oder, at 24 he entered the service of Duke Heinrich Julius of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel as an organist, and in 1604 he also assumed the duties of court Kapellmeister. Upon the death of his patron in 1613, Prætorius entered the service of the Elector Johann Georg of Saxony at the Dresden court, where he would remain until 1616, when he returned to Wolfenbüttel. While in Dresden, he also served as Kapellmeister to the administrator of the Magdeburg bishopric and prior of the monastery at Ringelheim. Prætorius returned to his old position in Wolfenbüttel, but due to regular travel and failing health, was not reappointed in 1620. He died a wealthy man the following year, and directed that the greater portion of his fortune go to organizing a found ation for the poor.

A virtuoso organist, an organ builder, a composer and an assiduous musical scholar, Prætorius is celebrated for writing a remarkable three volume musical treatise, the Syntagma musicum, which allows us rare and fascinating glimpses into the musical sensibilities of his time. Prætorius’s musical style was strongly influenced by the Germans Schütz and Scheidt, and by the latest Italian music, which he came into contact with in Dresden in the 1610s. Most of Prætorius’s sacred music is based on Protestant hymns (chorales). A product of post-Reformation bourgeois society, he was for his time a man of tremendous erudition, a polymath who was well versed in philosophy, theology, and languages (including Greek, Hebrew and Latin) in addition to his formidable theoretical and practical understa nding of music. Prætorius was also one of the most prolific composers of his generation in Germany, listing over forty volumes of printed music at the end of the Syntagma musicum, including sacred and secular works of all kinds for voices, choirs, instruments, and organ. His work clearly forms the climax in the history of Protestant church music of alternatim (the practice of alternating the performance of sections of wor ks for different forces).


For more information about the life and music of Michael Prætorius, check out these other websites:

Raybro’s Renaissance Music Pages
Raybro, the music director of the Hanover Consort in Connecticut, has dedicated a number of pages at his site to Michael Prætorius and the Syntagma musicum
Michael Praetorius
A biography and partial discography of Prætorius’ music.
Clasical Archives - Early Music
A collection of MIDI files for Praetorius’ music, mostly from his Terpsichore instrumental dance music
Michael Praetorius
A lengthy biography of Praetorius, written to celebrate his 428th birthday in 1999

Vocal Works Performed by SFBC

Instrumental Works Performed by SFBC

  • Instrumental pieces from Terpsichore, 1612
    • Bransle double
    • Bransle de la Royne
    • Passameze

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