Bach’s forerunner: Sweelinck

sun 28 feb 2021

In the coming months, Documento will focus on Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, who died 500 years ago. Starting on the 4th of March, we will dedicate every first Thursday of the month to present the many aspects of this important Dutch composer’s repertoire.

Sweelinck is considered to be the most important (Northern) Dutch composer of the transition period from Renaissance to Baroque music. He was stubborn but as a teacher he still had a significant impact on many composers who came after him, like Johann Sebastian Bach.

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck was born in 1562 in Deventer, the Netherlands. When he was four years old, his family moved from Deventer to Amsterdam, where his father found employment as an organist. His father gave Jan Pieterszoon his first music lessons and he became the Oude Kerk church’s organist when he was only 15 years old. He held this position until his death.

Sweelinck’s instrumental music was innovative, but for his vocal music, he drew inspiration from the enormous legacy of 15th and 16th-century polyphonists, like Ockeghem. He used all genres available in the Netherlands at the time. Of course, this says nothing about the quality of Sweelinck’s vocal music. It was, in fact, highly appreciated.

Looking at Sweelinck’s works, you can see that his vocal works, both spiritual and secular, were published almost entirely during his lifetime: for instance, his 150 psalms were published in four books. In addition, there are his Cantiones Sacrae with motets and canons. His secular works consist of a collection of Chansons and a collection of French and Italian Rimes. There is no separate collection of his Madrigals, but several have been found in various places. His vocal works appeared in print. His keyboard works have only been preserved thanks to copies made by his pupils. They were created only about fifteen years before his death, from the moment he started teaching organists. In those fifteen years, he laid the foundation for a school exclusively for organists and composers that would become the fame of the 17th century.

Transmission dates Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck series – his 500th death anniversary

  1. Documento Thursday 4th of March 2021, 7 pm: Sweelinck’s repertoire in a nutshell
  2. Documento Thursday 1st of April 2021, 7 pm: Sweelinck and the music in the Netherlands
  3. Documento Thursday 6th of May 2021, 7 pm: Sweelinck and his musical sources: England and Italy
  4. Documento Thursday 3rd of June 2021, 7 pm: Sweelinck’s pupils
  5. Documento Thursday 1st of July 2021, 7 pm: From Sweelinck to Bach