Though devoting most of his life to church music, Praetorius planned a series of secular publications named after the Greek muses. In the event, only one of these collections, Terpsichore (the Muse of the Dance), ever appeared in print (1612). Containing 312 dances in four, five and six parts, Terpsichore consists of Praetorious's arrangements of dances brought by Antoine Emeraud from France as well as pieces by Pierre Francisque Caroubel.
Praetorius states that Terpsichore is a collection of French dances but although the majority are French, beginning with suites of bransles, followed by courantes, voltas, ballets, passamezzos and galliards, there are a number that originate from Spain, England, the Netherlands and even the Canary Islands. Nos 157 and 158, for example, are versions of a lute piece by John Dowland and a song by Thomas Campion.
The grandest pieces in this enormous collection are the suites of bransles, including Caroubel's opening suite. The bransle was becoming popular at court and by the mid 17th century had evolved from its round dance origins to become a six-section dance, used to open balls all over Europe. The Bransle de Villages, though, evokes a return to the dance's origin in village music, and is suitably 'primitive'.
Michael Praetorius was born c.1571 in Creuzburg an der Werra, near Eisenach in Germany. His father, also called Michael, was a strict Lutheran who had lost his office and been banished several times because of his religious beliefs. It was one such banishment that led to the Praetorius family leaving Creuzberg in 1573 to live in Torgau, the mother's home. At he Latinschule there the young Michael was taught music by Michael Voigt. In 1582 he enrolled at the University of Frankfurt an der Oder, where his brother, Andreas, was professor of theology, breaking his attendance for a year in 1584 to attend the Lateinschule at Zerbst, Anhalt.
As far as is known Praetorius had no musical education after leaving school and thus was largely self-taught. However, it is known that he met Bartholomäus Gesius while he was in Frankfurt, with whom he shared a strong interest in Protestant hymns and alternatim practice. About the beginning of 1587, and after the death of his brother who had been supporting him, Praetorius was appointed organist of St. Marien in the town, a post which he held for three years. The next time that he appears in the historical records is in around 1595 when he appears to have entered the service, as an organist, of Duke Heinrich Julius of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. In 1596 he took part, along with many of the most famous German organists of the day, in the consecration of the organ in the chapel of the castle at Gröningen, near Halberstadt. In the early 1600s Praetorius made a number of trips to Regensburg where he made many close personal friends including the pastor Christoph Donaverus, ten of whose poems he set to music. During one of these trips, in 1605, he published the first part of his Musae Sioniae. A new appointment and consequent increase in salary in 1602 afforded him the opportunity to marry, which he did in September 1603, to Anna Lakemacher.
By 1604 Praetorius was held in so much esteem that he was appointed Kapellmeister. The Kapelle was of a modest size, consisting of only about 6 to 8 singers and a similar number of musicians, but was well supported by the duke, who seems to have taken it with him on several of his journeys. It was during this period (until 1613) that Praetorius wrote and published most of his works, collaborating on some with the organ builder, Esaias Compenius. He also was presented with 2000 thaler of land in Prague in 1612, after he displayed much bravery when caught in an ambush with the duke on 4th April 1605.
The sudden death of Duke Heinrich Julius in 1613 was a vital turning-point in Praetorius’s life. The Elector Johann Gerg of Saxony asked the duke's successor to let Praetorius spend his year of mourning as deputy for the aging Kapellmeister of the electoral court, Rogier Michael. For the next two and a half years Praetorius held this position, taking on such responsibilities as for the music at the Assembly of Electors at Naumberg, held in 1614. For most of this time he lived in Dresden, where he met Schütz , and gained access to the latest Italian music which was to become a significant influence on some of his later works. From 1614 Praetorius also held the position of Kapellmeister to the administrator of the bishopric of Magdeburg, and was appointed prior of the monastery at Ringelheim, near Goslar. In 1616 his period in Dresden officially ended, although he returned the following year to organise the ceremonial music for the Emperor's visit and for the centenary celebration of the Reformation. He went on to wok at Halle and to build up the Hofkapelle of the counts of Schwarzburg at Sonderhausen.
In 1618 he, and Schütz and Scheidt , was summoned to Magdeburg Cathedral to mark the reorganisation of the music there, and he went on to visit Leipzig and Nuremburg, the three of them meeting up again in Bayreuth in 1619. indeed, Praetorius was away so much that there were complaints that the Wolfenbüttel Hofkapelle went into a decline during these years. This and ill health meant that in 1620 he was not reappointed as Kapellmeister there. At his death in February 1621 he left a sizable fortune, most of which was used to set up a foundation for the poor, and an astonishingly large number of compositions, most religious in nature, along with a number of papers on musical theory.