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Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (April or May, 1562October 16, 1621) was a Dutch composer, organist, and pedagogue whose work straddled the end of the Renaissance and beginning of the Baroque eras. He was among the first major keyboard composers of Europe, and his work as a teacher helped establish the north German organ tradition.


Sweelinck was born in Deventer, Netherlands, in April or May 1562. He was the eldest son of organist Peter Swybbertszoon and Elske Jansdochter Sweeling, daughter of a surgeon. Soon after Sweelinck's birth, the family moved to Amsterdam, where from about 1564, Swybbertszoon served as organist of the Oude Kerk (Sweelinck's paternal grandfather and uncle also were organists). Jan Pieterszoon must have received first lessons in music from his father. Unfortunately, the latter died in 1573. He subsequently received general education under Jacob Buyck, Catholic pastor of the Oude Kerk (these lessons stopped in 1578 after the Reformation of Amsterdam and the subsequent conversion to Calvinism; Buyck chose to leave the city). Little is known about his music education after the death of his father; his music teachers may have included Jan Willemszoon Lossy, a little-known countertenor and shawm player at Haarlem, and/or Cornelis Boskoop, Sweelinck's father successor at the Oude Kerk. If Sweelinck indeed studied in Haarlem, he was probably influenced to some degree by the organists of St.-Bavokerk, Claas Albrechtszoon van Wieringen and Floris van Adrichem, both of whom improvised daily in the Bavokerk.
According to Cornelis Plemp, a pupil and friend of Sweelinck's, he started his forty-four-year career as organist of the Oude Kerk in 1577, when he was just 15. This date, however, is uncertain, because the church records from 1577-80 are missing and Sweelinck can only be traced in Oude Kerk from 1580 onwards; he occupied the post for the rest of his life. Sweelinck's widowed mother died in 1585, and Jan Pieterszoon took responsibility for his younger brother and sister. His salary of 100 florins was doubled the next year, presumably to help matters. In addition, he was offered an additional 100 guilders in the event that he married, which happened in 1590 when he married Claesgen Dircxdochter Puyner from Medemblik. He was also offered the choice between a further 100 guilders and free accommodations in a house belonging to the town; the latter of which he chose. Sweelinck's first published works date from around 1592-94: three volumes of chansons, the last of which is the only remaining volume published in 1694 (for reasons unknown, the composer chose to change his last name to a variant of his mother's, instead of using Swybbertszoon; "Sweelinck" first appears on the title-page of the 1594 publication). Sweelinck then set to publishing psalm settings, aiming to set the entire Psalter. These works appeared in four large volumes published in 1604, 1613, 1614 and 1621. The last volume was published posthumously and, presumably, in unfinished form. Sweelinck died of unknown causes on October 16,1621 and was buried in the Oude Kerk. He was survived by his wife and five of their six children; the eldest of them, Dirck Janszoon, succeeded his father as organist of Oude Kerk.
The composer most probably spent his entire life in Amsterdam, only occasionally visiting other cities in connection with his professional activities: he was asked to inspect organs, give opinions and advice on organ building and restoration, etc. These duties resulted in short visits to Delft, Dordrecht (1614), Enkhuizen, Haarlem (1594), Harderwijk (1608), Middleburg (1603),Nijmegen (1605), Rotterdam (1610), Rhenen (1616), as well as Deventer (1595, 1616) his birthplace. The longest voyage Sweelinck undertook was to Antwerp in 1604, when he was commissioned by the Amsterdam authorities to buy a harpsichord for the city. No documents were found to support a long-standing rumor first recounted by Mattheson that Sweelinck visited Venice, and similarly there is no evidence that he ever crossed the English Channel, however likely that is. His popularity as a composer, performer and teacher increased steadily during his lifetime. Contemporaries nicknamed him Orpheus of Amsterdam and even the city authorities frequently brought important visitors to hear Sweelinck's improvisations.


Sweelinck's duties in Amsterdam included only those connected to organ playing. He did not, as was customary, play the carillon or the harpsichord on formal occasions, and neither was he required to regularly produce any compositions. The Calvinist services did not include organ playing, as a result of the belief that the organ is a worldly instrument, so Sweelinck was employed by the city, rather than the church. Since he was employed from then on by the protestant magistracy, it is likely that he dutifully adhered to the Calvinist-religion. This all the more probable as during the 1590s three of his children were baptized in the Oude Kerk. This position left him a substantial amount of time for teaching, for which he was as famous as for his compositions. Sweelinck's pupils included the core of what was to become the north German organ school: Jacob Praetorius II, Heinrich Scheidemann, Paul Siefert, Melchior Schildt and Samuel and Gottfried Scheidt. The students of Sweelinck were seen as musicians against whom other organists were measured. He was known in Germany as the "maker of organists" and was clearly in demand as a teacher as he was also a very sociable and well liked man. Dutch pupils were undoubtedly many, but none of them became particularly important composers. Sweelinck did, however, influence further development of the Dutch organ school, as works by later Dutch composers such as Anthoni van Noordt show. In the course of his life, Sweelinck was involved with the musical liturgies of three distinctly different church types: the Roman Catholic, the Calvinist, and the Lutheran – All of which are reflected in his work. He was the most important composer of the musically rich golden era of the Netherlanders.
Sweelinck's influence spread as far as Sweden and England. It was carried to the former by Andreas Düben, and to the latter by various English composers such as Peter Philips, who probably met Sweelinck in 1593. The close connection Sweelinck and Dutch composers in general must have had with the English school of composition is highlighted by a number of facts. For instance, Sweelinck's music appears in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, which otherwise mainly contains the work of English composers. Also, Sweelinck wrote variations on John Dowland's internationally famous Lachrimae Pavane, and John Bull, who was probably a personal friend, wrote a set of variations on a theme by Sweelinck after the latter's death.


Sweelinck represents the highest development of the Dutch keyboard school, and indeed represented one of the highest pinnacles attained in keyboard contrapuntal complexity and refinement before J.S. Bach. However, he was a skilled composer for voices as well, and composed over 250 works for voice (chansons, madrigals, motets and Psalms). Some of Sweelinck's innovations were of profound musical importance, including the fugue—he was the first to write an organ fugue which began simply, with one subject, successively adding texture and complexity until a final climax and resolution, an idea which was perfected at the end of the Baroque era by Bach. It is also generally thought that many of Sweelinck’s keyboard works were intended as a studies for his pupils. He was also the first to use the pedal as a real fugal part. Stylistically Sweelinck's music also brings together the richness, complexity and spatial sense of the Gabrielis, with whom he was familiar from his time in Venice, and the ornamentation and intimate forms of the English keyboard composers. In some of his works Sweelinck appears as a composer of the baroque style, with the exception of his chansons which are mostly resemble the French Renissance tradition. In formal development, especially in the use of countersubject, stretto, and organ point (pedal point), his music was far beyond the works of Frescobaldi—its nearest predecessor—and looks ahead to Bach (who was quite possibly familiar with Sweelinck’s music.
Sweelinck was a master improviser, and acquired the informal title of the "Orpheus of Amsterdam." Over 70 keyboard works of his have survived, and many of them may be similar to the improvisations that residents of Amsterdam around 1600 were likely to have heard. In the course of his life, Sweelinck was involved with the musical liturgies of 3 distinctly different church types: the Roman Catholic, the Calvinist, and the Lutheran – All of which are reflected in his work. Even his vocal music, which is more conservative than his keyboard writing, shows a striking rhythmic complexity and an unusual richness of contrapuntal devices.


Further reading

  • Gustave Reese, Music in the Renaissance. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1954. ISBN 0-393-09530-4
  • Manfred Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1947. ISBN 0-393-09745-5
  • The Concise Edition of Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, 8th ed. Revised by Nicolas Slonimsky. New York, Schirmer Books, 1993. ISBN 0-02-872416-X
  • Pieter Dirksen, The Keyboard Music of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck – Its Style, Significance and Influence. (Utrecht, 1997). ISBN 90-6375-159-1
  • Sweelinck Studies, Proceedings of the Sweelinck Symposium, Utrecht 1999, (Utrecht 2001) Edited by Pieter Dirksen. ISBN 90-72786-09-2


sweelinck in Bulgarian: Ян Питерсзоон Свеелинк
sweelinck in Catalan: Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
sweelinck in Danish: Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
sweelinck in German: Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
sweelinck in Spanish: Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
sweelinck in Esperanto: Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
sweelinck in French: Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
sweelinck in Italian: Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
sweelinck in Hebrew: יאן פיטרסזון סוולינק
sweelinck in Latin: Ioannes Pieterszoon Sweelinck
sweelinck in Dutch: Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
sweelinck in Japanese: ヤン・ピーテルスゾーン・スウェーリンク
sweelinck in Low German: Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
sweelinck in Polish: Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
sweelinck in Russian: Свелинк, Ян Питерсзон
sweelinck in Simple English: Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
sweelinck in Finnish: Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
sweelinck in Swedish: Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
sweelinck in Chinese: 斯韦林克
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