Heinrich Schütz's musical talents were discovered by Moritz von Hessen-Kassel in 1599. After being a choir-boy he went on to study law at Marburg before going to Venice from 1609 to 1613 to study music with Giovanni Gabrieli. He subsequently had a short stint as organist at Kassel before moving to Dresden in 1615 to work as court composer to the Elector of Saxony.
Heinrich Schütz held his Dresden post until the end of his life (sowing the seeds of what is now the Dresden Staatskapelle while there), but left Dresden itself on several occasions; in 1628 he went to Venice again, most likely meeting Claudio Monteverdi there - he may have studied with him - and in 1633, after the Thirty Years' War had disrupted life at the court, he took a post at Copenhagen. He returned full time to Dresden in 1641, and remained there for the rest of his life. He died from a stroke in 1672 at the age of 87.
Heinrich Schütz's compositions show the influence of his two main teachers, Gabrieli (displayed most notably with Schütz's use of resplendent polychoral and concertato styles) and Monteverdi. Additionally, the influence of the Netherlandish composers of the 16th century is also prominent in his work. His best known works are in the field of sacred music, ranging from solo voice with instrumental accompaniment to a cappella choral music. Representative works include his three books of Symphoniae sacrae, the Psalms of David, the Sieben Worte Jesu Christi am Kreuz (the Seven Last Words on the Cross) and his three Passion settings. Schütz's music, while starting off in the most progressive styles early in his career, eventually grows into a style that is simple and almost austere, culminating with his late Passion settings. Practical considerations were certainly responsible for part of this change: the Thirty Years' War had devastated the musical infrastructure of Germany, and it was no longer practical or even possible to put on the gigantic works in the Venetian style which marked his earlier period.
Heinrich Schütz was one of the last composers to write in a modal style, with non-functional harmonies often resulting from the interplay of voices; contrastingly, much of his music shows a strong tonal pull when approaching cadences. His music makes extensive use of imitation, in which entries often come in irregular order and at varied intervals. Fairly characteristic of Schütz's writing are intense dissonances caused by two or more voices moving correctly through dissonances against the implied harmony. Above all, his music displays extreme sensitivity to the accents and meaning of the text, which is often conveyed using special technical figures drawn from musica poetica, themselves drawn from or created in analogy to the verbal figures of Classical Rhetoric.
Almost no secular music by Heinrich Schütz has survived, save for a few domestic songs (arien) and no purely instrumental music at all (unless one counts the short instrumental movement entitled "sinfonia" that encloses the dialogue of Die sieben Worte), even though he had a reputation as one of the finest organists in Germany.
Heinrich Schütz was of great importance in bringing new musical ideas to Germany from Italy, and as such had a large influence on the German music which was to follow. The style of the north German organ school derives largely from Schütz (as well as from Netherlander Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck); a century later this music was to culminate in the works of J.S. Bach.