Schütz was born in Köstritz (now Bad Köstritz) and raised in Weissenfels, where his father operated an inn. Young Heinrich probably studied with George Weber, a composer and the local Kantor. At 13, Schütz entered the Collegium Mauritianum in Kassel at the urging of Landgrave Moritz of Hessen, who had established it four years earlier. Schütz became a choirboy in the Landgrave's court and studied under kapellmeister Georg Otto. Shortly after leaving the Collegium in 1608 (such lengthy study was not unusual), Schütz left for Venice to study with Giovanni Gabrieli.
In 1613, he returned to Germany and accepted a post as second organist in the Landgrave's court. Around this time he met Johann Herman Schein, with whom he would remain close friends until Schein's death in 1631. In 1615, Schütz entered service in the Dresden court of Elector Johann Georg of Saxony and two years later became, in effect, kapellmeister, holding the most powerful musical post in Protestant Germany.
Schütz's first sacred music publication appeared in 1619. Psalmen Davids sampt etlichen Moteten und Concerten comprised 26 works for various choruses and instruments. On June 1, that year, the composer married Magdalene Wildeck, 15 years his junior. Throughout the early 1620s, Schütz remained quite active in composition, perhaps finding his personal happiness a springboard for his creativity. In 1625, however, Magdalene died after a brief illness, dealing Schütz a devastating blow.
This tragedy seems to have motivated Schütz in the composition of his Der Psalter nach Cornelius Becker, a huge collection of partsongs, published in 1628. The composer departed Dresden for Venice on August 11, that same year, owing to economic hardship in Saxony from the ongoing Thirty Years War. Upon his return to Dresden in late 1629, he found economic conditions there no better. In fact, things worsened over the eight-year span (1633-1641) he spent mainly in the court of Prince Christian of Denmark. Schütz served most of the period of 1642-1644 in the Copenhagen court of Prince Johann Georg, though he remained officially tied to his Dresden post. The composer's Symphoniarum sacrarum secunda pars, a collection of sacred vocal works, appeared in 1647. After briefly taking a post in Duke Wilhelm's Weimar court in 1648, he spent several months in Weissenfels early the following year and then returned to Dresden. In 1650, Schütz published his collection, Symphoniarum sacrarum tertia pars.
The composer's output slowed to a trickle in his later years, but in the latter 1650s his financial situation, long precarious under Elector Johann Georg, improved when Johann Georg II succeeded his father, who died in 1656. Schütz did much traveling in his last years and lived in Weissenfels for most of his last decade.