Here’s a preview of part of the programme notes for our concerts in April.
For whom manuscript 18 810 was created is not known, but soon after its completion it was in the large library of the most wealthy and influential of German merchants of the 16th century, the Fuggers of Augsburg, with Jacob Fugger “The Rich” at the family’s head.
There it remained until the waning of the Fuggers’ power forced the sale of the library of over 13,000 volumes, in 1656, to Emperor Ferdinand III. The entire library was moved to Vienna and was later to become an important cornerstone of the collection of the National Library.
When the Fuggers had been at the pinnacle of their power, Augsburg was a major cultural centre in the southern Holy Roman Empire, under the rule of the music-loving patron of the arts, Emperor Maximilian I (a prince whom Henry VIII aspired to emulate). More than half of the compositions in the manuscript are by the leading musical figures working in Maximilian’s court: Heinrich Isaac, Ludwig Senfl and Paul Hofhaimer. The Flemming, Heinrich Isaac, one of the towering figures in music of the late 15th and early 16th centuries, served in Maximilian’s court from 1496 until his death in 1517. He soon rose to be master of the Hofkapelle and teacher of the boys, one of whom was Swiss-born Ludwig Senfl.
Isaac is represented by 16 works in Ms. 18 810. His pupil and successor at the Hofkapelle, Senfl, was acting as Kapellmeister from early in the century before officially taking up the post on the death of his teacher. He continued in this post until the dissolution of the huge establishment upon the death of Maximilian in 1519. Senfl became of the most prolific composers of German song and secular music of the period and is represented by 25 pieces in this collection. Other composers demonstrate links to the court of Marguerite of Austria, Maximilian’s daughter and ruler of the Netherlands. These include Pierre de la Rue, Josquin, Antoine Brumel and Petrus Alamire (himself a prolific publisher and producer of many of the very finest illuminated manuscripts).
The manuscript includes an unusually large number of unica – 30 in all. 18 of these are by Senfl, most of which appear in the latter half of the collection. Exactly why this is the case, with so many of the works of the most famous German song composer of the day remaining in private hands, can only be surmised. Senfl had always been in the employ of firmly Catholic courts, beginning with that of Maximilian I and later continuing at Munich under Duke Wilhelm IV. Although never openly declaring any leanings towards Protestantism, the composer seems to have had sympathies with the new church. Senfl attended the Diet of Worms in 1521 to observe the interrogation of Luther, and maintained a secret correspondence with the reformer and with Duke Albrecht from 1530. Senfl sent Luther a number of compositions, for which he was thanked with the gift of a chest of books. Could it be that compositions within a manuscript that was created for use in a Catholic court but which revealed connections with the Protestant Prussian ruler were tolerated only because they were not made public?