Heinrich Schütz (October 8 (JC), 1585 – November 6, 1672) was a German composer and organist, generally regarded as the most important German composer before Johann Sebastian Bach and often considered to be one of the most important composers of the 17th century along with Claudio Monteverdi. He wrote what is traditionally considered to be the first German opera, Dafne (Opitz-Schütz), performed at Torgau in 1627, of which the music has since been lost. He is commemorated as a musician in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church on July 28 with Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel. He was buried in the Dresden Frauenkirche but his tomb has been destroyed.
Schütz’s compositions show the influence of his teacher Gabrieli (displayed most notably with Schütz’s use of resplendent polychoral and concertato styles) and of Monteverdi. Additionally, the influence of the Netherlandish composers of the 16th century is prominent in his work. His best known works are in the field of sacred music, ranging from solo voice with instrumental accompaniment to a cappella choral music. Representative works include his three books of Symphoniae sacrae, the Psalms of David (Psalmen Davids), the Sieben Worte Jesu Christi am Kreuz (the Seven Last Words on the Cross) and his three Passion settings. Schütz’s music, while starting off in the most progressive styles early in his career, eventually grows into a style that is simple and almost austere, culminating with his late Passion settings. Practical considerations were certainly responsible for part of this change: the Thirty Years’ War had devastated the musical infrastructure of Germany, and it was no longer practical or even possible to put on the gigantic works in the Venetian style which marked his earlier period.
Schütz was one of the last composers to write in a modal style. His harmonies often result from the contrapuntal alignment of voices rather than from any sense of “harmonic motion”; contrastingly, much of his music shows a strong tonal pull when approaching cadences. His music includes a great deal of imitation, but structured in such a way that the successive voices do not necessarily enter after the same number of beats or at predictable intervallic distances. Schütz’s writing often includes intense dissonances caused by the contrapuntal motion of voices moving in correct individual linear motion, but resulting in startling harmonic tension. Above all, his music displays extreme sensitivity to the accents and meaning of the text, which is often conveyed using special technical figures drawn from musica poetica, themselves drawn from or created in analogy to the verbal figures of classical rhetoric.