Schmieder was born in Bromberg. In 1950, he published the BWV, or Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis ("Bach Works Catalogue"), a catalog of musical works by Johann Sebastian Bach. The numbering system used in the BWV has since become a nearly universal standard, used by scholars and musicians around the world. (BWV numbers are sometimes referred to as "Schmieder" numbers, so that it is possible to encounter the designation S 971 as BWV 971 for the Italian Concerto.) Schmieder served as the Special Advisor for Music for the City and University library at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main from April 1942 until his retirement in 1963. He lived in Freiburg im Breisgau until his death in November 1990 at the age of 89.