The Kennedy Center

Michael Praetorius


German composer and organ virtuoso Michael Praetorius was born 1571 in Kreuzberg, Thuringia into a family of Lutheran ministers, and spent his career primarily as an organist and “Kapellmeister” (director of music) for several members of the German nobility.
The name, Praetorius, was the Latinized version of the original family name, variously recorded as Schultze, Schultheis, Schultz, etc.  He was the most famous as well as the most prolific German composer of his time. He was unusually well educated, and fluent in a number of languages.

His musical career began in his teens as organist of the Marien church of Frankfurt. He studied at the University of Frankfurt and the Lateinschule at Zerbst in Saxony. Most of his musical life, from 1595 until 1620, was spent in the service of the Duke of Braunschweig (Brunswick) at Wolfenbuettel, first as organist and then as Kapellmeister and Secretary. These years were the most productive in his prolific career.
The most important of Praetorius’ work were two monumental contributions to the musical literature and musical history and theory of his time – his Musae Sioniae (c.1605 -10) a compendium of over 1200 liturgical compositions, and the Syntagma Musicum, a three volume encyclopedia on contemporary musical theory, instruments and compositional style. He also composed works for many different instrumental ensembles,  The popular Christmas chorale “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming” is often attributed to Praetorius, but is actually his 1609 arrangement of an old folk song some scholars date back to the 14th century.

Michael Praetorius died (it is said) on his 50th birthday in 1621, in Wolfenbuettel, Germany. He had accumulated considerable wealth and bequeathed his estate to charities for the poor.

Michael Praetorius