Jan Pietersz Sweelinck (1562–1621)

The ‘Orpheus of Amsterdam’ was the nickname lovingly given to Jan Pietersz Sweelinck, an organist, composer and music teacher whose fame reached far beyond the Dutch borders. Through his many German students he even influenced J.S. Bach. Sweelinck succeeded his father as organist of the Oude Kerk (Old Church) around 1580 – at that time the most important church in Amsterdam. The organ could not be played during the Calvinist service so Sweelinck gave concerts at other times. Hundreds of people came to listen. His salary increased rapidly from 100 guilders a year to 360 guilders in 1607 – a considerable sum at that time. Moreover, the city council offered the celebrated musician a rent-free residence in Koestraat, where he lived until his death. Much of Sweelinck’s work has been lost and it is uncertain whether all pieces accredited to him were composed by him. About fifty organ and harpsichord pieces are certainly his. For their time they are extremely modern. Sweelinck also wrote much vocal music, like cantatas and madrigals, and put all 153 psalms to music.


Image: City Archive Amsterdam