Michael Praetorius

Michael Praetorius

[pree-tawr-ee-uhs, tohr]
Praetorius, Michael, 1571-1621, German composer and musicographer, whose name originally was Schultheiss. He was a prolific composer, his Musae Sioniae (9 vol., 1605-11) alone containing 1,244 choral works. Now he is remembered chiefly for his Syntagma musicum (3 vol., 1615-19), which minutely describes the musical practices and the instruments of his day.

Michael Praetorius (probably February 15, 1571 – February 15, 1621) was a German composer, organist, and writer about music. He was one of the most versatile composers of his age, being particularly significant in the development of musical forms based on Protestant hymns.


He was born Michael Schultze, the youngest son of a Lutheran pastor, in Creuzburg, Germany. After attending school in Torgau and Zerbst, he studied divinity at the University of Frankfurt (Oder). He served as organist at the Marienkirche in Frankfurt before working at the court in Wolfenbüttel as organist and (from 1604) as Kapellmeister. From 1613 to 1616 he worked at the Saxon court at Dresden, where he was exposed to the latest Italian music, including the polychoral works of the Venetian School. His subsequent development of the form of the chorale concerto, particularly the polychoral variety, resulted directly from his familiarity with the music of such Venetians as Giovanni Gabrieli. Michael Praetorius is entombed in a vault beneath the organ of St. Mary's Church in Wolfenbüttel, Germany.


His family name in German appears in various forms including Schultze, Schulte, Schultheiss, Schulz and Schulteis. Praetorius is the Latinized form of the family name.


Praetorius was a tremendously prolific composer, his works showing the influence of contemporaries Samuel Scheidt and Heinrich Schütz as well as the Italians. His works include the nine volume Musae sioniae (1605-10), a collection of over a thousand chorale and song arrangements; many other works for the Lutheran church; and Terpsichore (1612), a compendium of over 300 instrumental dances, which is both his most widely-known work, as well as his sole surviving secular work. His three volume treatise Syntagma Musicum I and Syntagma Musicum de Organographia II (1614-20) are detailed texts on contemporary musical practices and musical instruments, and are important documents in musicology, organology and the field of authentic performance. (See Praetorius for other composers called Praetorius .)



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