Music Printing in Leipzig during the Thirty Years' War

By Rose, Stephen | Notes, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Music Printing in Leipzig during the Thirty Years' War


Rose, Stephen, Notes


At the start of the seventeenth century, ambitious musicians in Lutheran lands were keen to have their music printed and published. To be in print was a way of making a public reputation, which could lead to professional mobility and advancement. Thus Johann Hermann Schein, who was Thomaskantor in Leipzig between 1616 and 1630, declared in 1617 that he would publish books of his sacred and secular music in alternation, and in the next decade he brought out twelve such collections. Michael Praetorius, composer a the Wolfenbuttel court, was even more productive, seeing twenty-two large books into print between 1605 and 1619. Numerous pieces were also printed in pamphlets for weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies: Schein had over a hundred such occasional pamphlets to his name.

Despite the evident significance of German music printers in the period, they have been little studied, in contrast to the attention that has been lavished on Italian firms of the sixteenth century. One reason for such neglect is that there were no large printers that could form the focus for research, in the way that Gardano and Scotto have for studies of Italian music printing; the only German firm of comparable size was perhaps the Gerlach--Kauffmann dynasty in Nuremberg. (1) On the whole, German music was printed by nonspecialist firms who produced a handful of music editions among numerous other titles. The music trade was decentralized, with most firms catering to local composers and buyers; it is hence best studied by examining all the printers in a particular town or region.

The present article focuses on the music printers of Leipzig between 1590 and 1660. This period was dominated by the Thirty Years' War (1618-48), which significantly disrupted the city's economic and cultural life. Yet despite such vicissitudes, throughout the first half of the seventeenth century Leipzig produced about a tenth of all printed music in German-speaking lands. (2) Although the city had only about 15,000 inhabitants, it was renowned as a center for both trade and learning. It stood at the junction of trade routes from northwest Europe, from eastern Europe, and from southern Germany and Italy; it was particularly important as a trading gateway to the expanding markets of Bohemia, Pomerania, Prussia, and Silesia. Three trade fairs were held each year (at New Year, shortly after Easter, and at Michaelmas), and by the end of the seventeenth century these fairs had grown to be bigger even than those at Frankfurt am Main. Alongside this mercantile activity, the university attracted students from Protestant territories across northern Europe and trained the elite that would become the future administrators, educators, lawyers, and pastors of Saxony. The combination of trading and learned communities gave Leipzig a rich musical life; its local musicians included leading composers of the day, notably Johann Hermann Schein and Johann Rosenmuller, and there were also strong links with musicians at Dresden such as Heinrich Schutz. (3)

Leipzig was a major center of the book trade. Booksellers met at the trade fairs to exchange stock and settle accounts, and by the 1590s there were formal book fairs running at both Easter and Michaelmas. Some of the dealers were Leipzig residents, such as Henning Grosse and his family, while many others visited from towns across the German-speaking lands. The city was the pivot in the distribution network of books to central and eastern Europe, and the local authorities tolerated Protestant titles that tended to be censored at the other German book fair of Frankfurt am Main. From Michaelmas 1594 each book fair was accompanied by a catalog listing the stock that could be bought or ordered there. The catalogs included many books from Leipzig, titles from other German cities such as Nuremberg and Frankfurt am Main, and numerous foreign books. Music merited its own section in the catalogs, including imports from Antwerp and partbook sets from other regions of Germany. …

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