The German composer, organist, copyist and music editor, Hieronymus Praetorius, was the son of Jacob Praetorius. After receiving his first organ instruction from his father, he studied at Hamburg with Hinrich thor Molen during 1573 and at Cologne with Albinus Walran from 1574 to 1576. His first position was as organist at Erfurt from 1580 to 1582, when he returned to Hamburg as assistant organist to his father at the Jacobikirche (with the chapel of St Gertrud); on his father’s death in 1586 he became first organist, and he held this post until his death. He took part in the Gröningen organ examination of 1596, which Hans Leo Hassler and Michael Praetorius also attended; this was probably his only personal contact with other composers of polychoral works. Three of his four sons were musicians too….the third son, Michael, published a five-part wedding motet at Hamburg in 1619 and died at Antwerp possibly in 1624.
All but five of Praetorius’s masses, motets and vocal Magnificat settings were published between 1616 and 1625 in Hamburg as a five-volume collected edition. Some of the volumes had been published in earlier editions and a number of motets from the first two volumes appeared in the printed collections of Bodenschatz, Phalèse and Schadaeus. All of Praetorius’s masses are parody masses, four based on his own motets and the other two on motets by Jacob Meiland and Stefano Felis. His 102 motets set mostly psalm and antiphon texts, but he also composed several wedding motets to non-liturgical Latin texts which were both published separately and in the collected edition. Of the six motets with German texts two incorporate traditional melodies, Ein Kindelein so löbelich and Herr Gott dich loben wir (the German Te Deum). 50 of the motets are polychoral compositions for eight to 20 voices divided into two, three or four choirs. They were among the earliest Venetian-inspired music to be published in north Germany and are Praetorius’s most progressive and important works. These are similar in style to the polychoral motets of Hassler, but the expression of the text is more vivid because Praetorius introduces greater contrasts of texture, harmony and rhythm. They are less homophonic than such works by many other composers because of the extensive use of imitation and the breaking up of basically chordal structures by rhythmically and motivically active inner parts. The total vocal range frequently spans more than three octaves, and there are frequent contrasts of high and low vocal groupings. Apart from an optional basso seguente, no parts are prescribed for instruments, but contemporary documents from Hamburg describe performances of Praetorius’s motets with instruments supporting or replacing voices. His finest polychoral motets are Cantate Domino, Decantabat populus Israel, Ein Kindelein so löbelich and Herr Gott dich loben wir (first performed in 1607). Embellished versions of his motets by Johann Heinrich Scheidemann and other organists are in organ tablatures at Lüneburg, Munich, Pelplin, Regensburg and elsewhere. The nine eight-voice Magnificat settings, one in each tone and an additional one in the fifth tone, provide music for the even-numbered verses; the imitative textures are derived from the tone formulae. The second Magnificat in the fifth tone concludes with settings of the Christmas carols Joseph, lieber Joseph mein and In dulci jubilo.
In 1587 Praetorius compiled and copied a collection of monophonic German and Latin service music for the Hamburg churches, containing the chants for Matins, Mass and Vespers for the Sundays and feast days of the church year. It may have served as the model for Franz Eler’s Cantica sacra (Hamburg, 1588), the contents of which are similar but not identical. Praetorius was also the chief compiler of the Melodeyen Gesangbuch (Hamburg, 1604), a collection of 88 four-part German chorale settings by the organists of the four largest Hamburg churches. It is the first German collection to specify organ accompaniment to congregational singing of chorales and includes 21 of his own harmonizations. The other three composers represented are Joachim Decker, Jacob Praetorius (ii) and David Scheidemann, father of Johann Heinrich Scheidemann.
The only organ works definitely by Praetorius are a complete set of eight Magnificat settings in the Visby (Petri) Tablature, which were composed by 1611, an additional Magnificat in the first tone in the Clausthal-Zellerfeld Tablature, and two chorale settings. The modified cantus firmus technique employed in the Magnificat settings presents the notes of the tone in the tenor, cantus and bass parts, separated by freely contrapuntal and figurative interludes and imitative fugatos on motifs from the tones. Some are closely related to his vocal Magnificat settings of 1602. They are full-textured works, often in five real parts, and were certainly designed for a large organ, including pedal (the organ that Praetorius played at the Jacobikirche, Hamburg, is described by Michael Praetorius in Syntagma musicum, ii, Wolfenbüttel, 1618, 2/1619/R). The eight Magnificat settings in the Visby Tablature are the earliest unified set of organ works by a north German composer. On stylistic grounds it is highly probable that Praetorius also composed almost all of the anonymous organ pieces - settings of hymns, sequences and Mass items – in the Visby Tablature. The case for his authorship is convincingly argued by Kite-Powell. If these works are indeed by him he must be considered the founder of 17th-century German organ music and, next to Michael Praetorius, the leading north German composer of the early 17th century.