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Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck

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Deventer, Netherlands (1562 – 1621)

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (April or May, 1562–October 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 born in Deventer, Netherlands and died in Amsterdam. Many of his family were musicians—principally organists—and he is known to have studied with Jan Willemszoon Lossy as well as Zarlino, the famous composer and theorist, in Venice.

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. 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 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.

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