Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, classical music composer

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck image

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck

Biography

Like Monteverdi in Italy, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck was a prominent figure in the transition between the late Renaissance and the early Baroque periods. Regarded as one of the foremost organists from the Netherlands, he was equally famous as a composer and as a teacher. Several of his pupils became the core of what would come to be known as the north German organ school, and his compositions, particularly for keyboard, possessed a refinement and technique that looked forward to Johann Sebastian Bach.

Little is known of Sweelinck's early life. He was born in April or May, 1562 in Deventer, the eldest son of an organist. Soon after his birth, his family moved to Amsterdam where his father, Pieter Swybbertszoon, became organist of the Oude Kerk. Sweelinck likely received his first music lessons from his father. However, after his father's untimely death in 1573, it is difficult to trace Sweelinck's continuing education. Nevertheless, his skill at the organ progressed and, according to account given by Cornelis Plemp, a pupil and friend of Sweelinck, in 1577, at the age of fifteen, he took the same organist post his father had once held. This date likewise is also difficult to confirm since church records are missing for the years 1577-80. Nevertheless, Sweelinck held the post for the remainder of his life and was succeeded by his eldest son, Dirck Janszoon, following his death on October 16, 1621.

With the 1578 Reformation of Amsterdam and the city's subsequent conversion to Calvinism, Sweelinck's official duties as organist were limited, leaving him ample time to compose and teach. His first published works, three volumes of chansons, appeared during 1592-94. He later set out on an ambitious project of setting the entire Psalter, which appeared in volumes printed between 1604 and 1621, the last appearing posthumously and purportedly in an unfinished form. His fame as a composer grew steadily and his works made their way into nearby countries, including England.

Equal to his fame as a composer, Sweelinck was greatly in demand as a teacher and restorer and builder of organs. This offered him the chance to travel beyond his established life in Amsterdam. His pupils, such as Jacob Praetorius II, Heinrich Scheideman, Paul Siefret, Melchoir  Schildt, and Samuel and Gottfried Scheidt, were influential in the establishment of the north German organ school, a tradition which reached a pinnacle in Dieterich Buxtehude. In Germany, Sweelinck became known as the "maker of organists."


Composer Title Date Action
Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck Fantasia 05/19/2009 Play Add to playlist