Heinrich Scheidemann


Born: 1595; Wöhrden, Holstein   Died: September 26, 1663; Hamburg, Germany  
Scheidemann was one of the leading organ composers of the early to mid seventeenth century; as a founder of the north German organ school, he was an important predecessor of Buxtehude and Bach. From 1611 to 1614, Scheidemann studied in Amsterdam with Sweelinck. It's not clear what he did during the ensuing decade, but perhaps as early as 1625 he was serving as organist at St. Kathrinen in Hamburg. He remained in this position until he died of the Read more plague in 1663.

Hamburg was a vibrant musical city and would remain so at least through the time of Telemann. Scheidemann maintained good relations with his colleagues in the city, made substantial money as church organist, and had his church's instrument enlarged in the mid-1630s; this was about the time he was developing a reputation as an expert on organs themeselves, as well as an able composer, performer, and teacher.

Scheidemann's compositions circulated widely; he wrote almost exclusively for the organ, although he also produced a few harpsichord pieces and very few songs. His organ works combine Sweelinck's interest in virtuoso figuration with more traditional polyphony, all carefully adapted to the resources of the north German Baroque organ. Sweelinck's influence is strongest in Scheidemann's most admired works, his chorale arrangments, with their flowing, minimally embellished use of the cantus firmus in one part while more complex things go on around it. Scheidemann's own innovations included the monodic organ chorale, which was essentially the organ version of the solo song with continuo accompaniment, and the virtuosic chorale fantasia. Many of Scheidemann's chorale preludes have such extensive fugues in the middle that they point the way to the prelude and fugue form that would reach its pinnacle in the works of Bach. Scheidemann's harpsichord music tends to be less innovative, more beholden to the florid variations of Sweelinck, although he also employed more homophonic dance forms that would characterize much of Bach's harpsichord music. Read less

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