Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck,
(born April 1562, Amsterdam—died Oct. 16, 1621, Amsterdam),
Dutch organist and composer, one of the principal figures in
the development of organ music before J.S. Bach.
Sweelinck succeeded his
father as organist of the Oude Kerk (Old Church), Amsterdam,
in about 1580 and remained in this post until his death.
Apparently he never left the Low Countries and traveled only
to Rotterdam and Antwerp.
Although he composed much
sacred and secular vocal music in the polyphonic traditions
of France and the Netherlands (including the Chansons, the
Cantiones sacrae, and settings of the Psalms), Sweelinck was
chiefly known as an organist and keyboard composer. His
keyboard music includes chorale variations, toccatas and
fantasias showing the influence of the Venetian organ
school, and sets of variations on secular tunes.
Sweelinck’s fantasias are
among the first organ fugues in which a single theme is
subjected to augmentation, diminution, and changes of rhythm
and combined with counterthemes. His secular variations drew
upon popular tunes of several European countries; an example
is the set of variations on Mein junges Leben hat ein End’.
It is possible that
Sweelinck met the English composers John Bull and Peter
Philips during their visits to the Low Countries; Bull’s
“Fantasia on a Theme of Sweelinck” was the tribute of one
keyboard virtuoso to another. Sweelinck’s keyboard playing
was widely known. His organ pupils included the German
composers Samuel Scheidt and Heinrich Scheidemann;
Scheidemann’s pupil J.A. Reinken handed on this tradition of
organ playing to the Danish organist Dietrich Buxtehude.
Many outstanding organists of the following generation,
particularly in northern Germany, were pupils of Sweelinck;
Handel and Bach were influenced by this northern German
school of organ playing.