Germany & The Holy Roman Empire

While other regions of western Europe were comparatively homogenous in terms of country–hood of a kind, Germany remained resolutely particularist, a hodge–podge of little principalities, regions, towns and cities where local authorities ran the show. The Holy Roman Empire proved only a simulacrum of unity: in reality, his electors ensured that the Emperor had almost no real power outside of lands he owned directly. Indeed, the strife among the region’s rulers was part of the reason Luther’s revolt was so successful. The opportunity to seize religious authority, whether spiritual or in the form of more tangible assets like land and buildings, was too good to pass up.

One of the first German musicians to travel to Italy in hopes of rounding out his education in music was the organist Hans Leo Hassler (1564 – 1612) of Nuremberg. In 1584, he arrived in Venice to study with Andrea Gabrieli at Hans Leo Hassler
Hans Leo Hassler
(Wikimedia Commons)
Saint Mark’s cathedral, where he became fast friends with Giovanni Gabrieli. Hassler moved on to Augsburg after the senior Gabrieli’s death in 1585, to take up the position of organist for Octavian II Fugger, Germany’s richest and most influential banker.

Hassler returned to his home town of Nuremberg in 1602 as Kapellmeister — director of town music — and was later named Kaiserlichen Hofdiener (“imperial servant”) to the court of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. The emperor had in 1595 graciously elevated the three Hassler brothers to the nobility. Hassler married in 1604.

The court of Elector Christian II of Saxony in Dresden was Hassler’s final home beginning in 1608 where he served first as organist, then as Kapellmeister. He died of tuberculosis in 1612.

His time in Italy may have been relatively brief, but Hassler’s experience there had considerable effect on his music. His sacred vocal works bring together a traditional German style with some of the new Italianate practices. Before returning to Nuremberg in 1602, Hassler’s Lustgarten neuer teutscher Gesäng, Balletti, Galliarden und Intraden (“Pleasure Garden of New German Songs, Dances, Galliards and Intradas”) was published, a weighty collection of secular songs and dances among which are pairs of dances, with singing, whose melody was retained even when the meter changed.

Hassler, Tanze

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