Photo: gabor (wikipedia)
This German city dates back to the early part of the 11th century, and shortly became a draw for tradesmen and wandering musicians. By the 14th century, the tradition of Meistergesang emerged. Meistersingers (or “Master Singers”), were usually middle-class guildsmen based in one city center, differing from the traveling Minnesingers who were from the noble class. Both sang in the courtly love tradition, but Meistersingers followed a strict, complicated set of rules that governed both the composition and performance of their songs, often valuing use of meter and rhyme over the actual story content.
Nuremberg became one of the most important centers in Germany for these guilds, with Hans Sachs leading the Meistersinger school there. (That’s the same Hans Sachs of Wagnerian fame in the opera Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg).
Meistersingers often composed text to fit with a melody from an existing collection of tunes, like Sachs’ Gesangweise or “Meistersinger melody” on the tune “Our Lady.” The subtitle of this piece is ‘The tale of a devout wife, falsely accused of murder.”
(Countertenor and harpist Drew Minter performed The Gesangweise or “Meistersinger melody” on the tune “our Lady” by 16th-century Meistersinger Hans Sachs. Sachs settled in Nuremberg, working as a cobbler for most of his life.)
Music printing became an important industry in Nuremberg during the 16th century. Printing centers already existed in Venice and Paris, but Nuremberg was the first German city to print music on a large scale. The printer Hans Ott was responsible for bringing Josquin’s music to a German public and was supposed to publish Heinrich Isaac’s Choralis Constantinus, which contained music for the mass proper. However, Ott died before publication of the work, and it was left to his partner Hieronymous Formschneider.
In 2004, Ensemble Officium released a recording of Heinrich Issac’s Missa Pascalis and some of the pieces from his Choralis Constantinus.
(We heard Ensemble Officium perform an Alleluia and Introit by Heinrich Isaac from his publication Choralis Constantinus, one of the significant works of music published and printed in 16th-century Nuremberg.)
In 1525, Nuremberg became the first city to declare its alliance with the Lutheran faith. Along with this new faith came a ban on the traditional Catholic music of Josquin and his contemporaries. However, in 1537 the ban was lifted, and the publisher Hans Ott now had competition: Johann Petreius. Both publishers came out with books of masses in 1539, and the two books share only two masses out of the thirteen in Ott’s and the fifteen in Petreius’ book.
Johann Heinrich Schmelzer was one of the most important musicians of the Habsburg court and by a contemporary 1660 account, was even considered the “famous and nearly most distinguished violinist in all Europe!” As a composer, Schmelzer produced a varied output, but his most influential works were his instrumental sonatas and numerous suites of balleti. And it is these theatrical works that the the Freiburger Barock Consort explores on their 2012 release, aptly named Barockes Welttheater, or World Theater.
Schmelzer’s ballet suites supplied music for elaborate courtly entertainments such as pageants, masquerades, carnivals and dramas—spectacles in which even members of the imperial family were known to participate.
Even in his more serious sonatas, Schmelzer doesn’t shy away from the theatrical, using imitations of anything from bells to birdsongs, to bagpipes…you name it! His Sonata Battaglia prescribes a military drum, not with an actual drum mind you, but rather impersonated by the violone. The battlefield encounter is waged by two opposing instrumental choirs, which, after their musical skirmish, seem to join in a peaceful resolution.