Johann Hermann Schein was born within a year of both Heinrich Schütz and Samuel Scheidt. Together, these three composers forged a new identity for German music during the early Baroque period, combining the traditional Germanic emphasis on contrapuntal setting of Lutheran chorales with modern stylistic innovations from Italy. In addition to his activities as a composer and poet, Schein is remembered as one of J.S. Bach's predecessors as Kantor of St. Thomas in Leipzig.
Although he was born in the small town of Grünhain in 1586, Schein spent most of his childhood years in Dresden. He showed musical promise as a child, and in 1599 was accepted into the choir of the Elector of Saxony as a boy soprano. Schein's musical education continued under the direct guidance of the court's Kapellmeister, and when his voice broke, he left the Kapelle in May of 1603 to enroll at the prestigious Schulpforta School for Music and the Humanities. After briefly returning to Dresden in 1607, he enrolled at the University of Leipzig to study music, literature, and law, remained there for four years. While a student there, he also published his first work, Venus Kräntzlein, a musical setting of his own poems.
Although he had always divided his attention between music and literature, in 1615 Schein was offered the post of Kapellmeister to the Duke of Weimar. However, his time at Weimar was cut short when he successfully auditioned for the job of Kantor at St. Thomas in Leipzig in late 1616. During the 1620s, Schein suffered a number of personal misfortunes, which impeded his successful professional life. His first wife died in 1624, and most or possibly all of the children born by his second wife, whom he married in 1625, died before reaching adulthood. In addition, Schein's health was declining, and, after suffering tuberculosis, scurvy and kidney stones for most of his adult life, he died in 1630, at the age of 44.
Unlike his close friend and colleague Samuel Scheidt, whose fame rests largely on the merits of his instrumental music, Schein was essentially a composer of vocal music. While his early sacred music draws heavily on the motets of Lassus and Bodenschatz -- whose compilation of motets was used for musical instruction at the Schulpforta -- Schein later developed a more modern style of sacred vocal concerto with basso continuo. The Opella nova of 1618 contains some of the earliest examples of this revolutionary new form. The texts used in his secular music are entirely his own; the music, like his work for sacred occasions, develops over time from a relatively simple, homophonic style, as in the early Venus Kräntzlein. More complex textures featuring greater vocal independence and basso continuo appear in Hirten Lust, published in 1624, the first collection of German madrigals with basso continuo.