The composer Sweelinck.


One of the most famous composers of Amsterdam was a composer called Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck.

His name probably allready may have given you the idea that he lived some time ago. That is correct, he was born in 1562 in the dutch town called Deventer and died in Amsterdam in the year 1621.

He spend almost all his life in Amsterdam. In 1577 , at the age of 15, he followed up his father who was the organ player of ‘De Oude Kerk’ ( the Old Church).

One year later a very important event took place in Amsterdam called ‘de Alteratie’ (the change). It was during the time of the 80-year war between Spain and the Netherlands (which comprised more or less the territory of what we now call the Netherlands and Belgium) and the city made the protestant belief the ruling one. They now chose the ruling belief of the Netherlands and no longer the catholic faith of the spaniards. This meant that many catholics were evicted and catholic rituals were abolished in the churches. Organ playing was no longer allowed during services.

Offcourse this all made a huge impact on the young Sweelinck because he grew up in the tradition of accompanying services in church. But he could stay on as an organ player, it was his job to play the organ before and after the service and on weekdays he gave public concerts in the church.

Nowadays he is mostly known for his music for harpsichord and organ but in his own time he was more renowned for his vocal music. The strange thing is that his harpsichord and organ music were not printed at the time, only manually written manuscripts available, but his vocal music was published in authorised copies.

His fame as an organist was spread especially in the Netherlands and Germany and many organists came to visit him to take lessons.A couple of renowned organist were among them like Jacob Praetorius, Samuel Scheidt and Heinrich Scheidemann. They formed the foundation of the Northern- German organschool which also influenced Johann Sebastian Bach.

Four compositions for harpsichord that Sweelinck wrote were included in a book called the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, an English anthology on harpsichord music from the late renaissance and early baroque periods. He and a composer called Picchi were the only composers that were not english which to me says a lot about his fame during his time!

Not very much is known about his personal life. It is not even very clear which faith he preferred. He remained faithful to his catholic friends but was also in good contact with people who adhered to protestanism. He married Claesgen Dircxdochter Puyner in 1590 in a place called Medemblik about 60 kilometers north of Amsterdam. They had six children.

Sweelinck died on the 16th of october 1621 and was buried at the Oude Kerk. Two famous dutch poets,Vondel and Hooft, honoured him with an epitaph.

I really think his music is great, you can find a lot of diversity in his music, and if you want to hear some just use the following link:

Amsterdam, the 9th of november 2018.