PRAETORIUS, Michael

(c. 1571-1621)
Michael Praetorius stands as the most versatile and prolific Lutheran composer of the first two decades of the seventeenth century. As a chronicle of contem­porary musical fashions and practices, his treatise Syntagma musicum is without peer.
Praetorius was born in Creuzburg an der Werra, near Eisenach, the son of a Lutheran theologian. His brother became a professor of theology, and he himself authored a number of theological tracts no longer extant. He received his edu­cation at Torgau, Frankfurt an der Oder, and Zerbst and served for three years as organist at St. Marien in Frankfurt before moving to Wolfenbüttel, where he served from 1595 as court organist and from 1604 as kapellmeister to Duke Heinrich Julius of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. From 1604 until the death of Hein­rich Julius in 1613, Praetorius enjoyed a period of extraordinary productivity, during which he published the majority of his surviving music. Under Heinrich Julius's successor, Praetorius retained his post but spent much of his time away from Wolfenbüttel. Three years at the electoral court in Dresden, where he came into contact with Heinrich Schütz and the latest Italian music, were followed by sojourns in Magdeburg, Leipzig, and other German cities. By the time he re­turned to Wolfenbüttel, he had suffered a serious decline in health, and in 1620 he was relieved of his duties.
During his short lifetime Praetorius produced an oeuvre of astonishing size and diversity. Above all, however, it was the Protestant hymn that defined and directed his activity as a composer. His more than one thousand hymn-based compositions, which range from diminutive duets to massive polychoral works for voices and instruments, provide a veritable encyclopedia of styles and pro­cedures applicable to this most Lutheran of musical material. At the same time, his enthusiasm for foreign developments imbues publications such as Polyhym­nia exercitatrix (1619-20), which he published to give choirboys practice in the new Italian manner, and Terpsichore (1612), which presents over three hundred dances as performed by French dancemasters. His three-volume Syntagma musicum (1614-19) contains invaluable discussions of contemporary instruments, genres, and performance practices.
Bibliography
W. Blankenburg, "Praetorius, Michael," in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. S. Sadine, vol. 15, 1980: 188-92.
David Crook

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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