Hieronymus Praetorius

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Hieronymus Praetorius
Born10 August 1560
Died27 January 1629(1629-01-27) (aged 68)
Hamburg, Germany
NationalityNorth German
OccupationComposer and organist

Hieronymus Praetorius (10 August 1560 – 27 January 1629) was a north German composer and organist of the late Renaissance and very early Baroque eras. He was not related to the much more famous Michael Praetorius, though the Praetorius family had many distinguished musicians throughout the 16th and 17th centuries.


He was born in Hamburg, and spent most of his life there. Praetorius studied organ early with his father (Jacob Praetorius, the elder (1520-1586), also a composer), afterwards going to Cologne for further study. In 1580 he became organist in Erfurt, but only remained there two years, returning to Hamburg in 1582. Back in Hamburg he worked with his father as assistant organist at St. Jacobi, becoming principal organist in 1586 when his father died. His son, Jacob, was born that same year, and was also destined to become a composer.

In 1596 he went to Gröningen where he met Michael Praetorius and Hans Leo Hassler; presumably he became acquainted with their music, and through them the music of the contemporary Italian Venetian School, at this time.

He remained in Hamburg as organist at St. Jacobi until his death.

Music and influence[edit]

Praetorius wrote masses, ten settings of the Magnificat, and numerous motets, mostly in Latin. Most of his music is in the Venetian polychoral style, which uses numerous voices divided into several groups. These compositions are the first to be written in north Germany in the progressive Venetian style. Choir sizes range from 8 to 20, with the voices divided into two, three or four groups, and he must have had well-trained and sophisticated musicians at his disposal, considering both the amount and the difficulty of music he wrote for these ensembles.

While progressive in writing in the Venetian style, he was conservative in using Latin and avoiding the basso continuo, which was eagerly adopted by many other contemporary German composers. Most of his vocal music is a cappella.

Praetorius was also the first composer to compile a collection of four-part German chorales with organ accompaniment, a sound which was to become a standard in Protestant churches for several centuries. The music in the collection was compiled from four churches in Hamburg; 21 of the 88 settings are of his own composition.

Some of his organ compositions survive, including nine settings of the Magnificat, which are in a highly contrapuntal cantus firmus style. In addition to these settings, numerous anonymous pieces in north German collections of the time are now attributed with reasonable certainty to Hieronymus Praetorius.

External links[edit]

References and further reading[edit]

  • Article "Hieronymus Praetorius," in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1-56159-174-2
  • Manfred Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1947. ISBN 0-393-09745-5