THE recorded story of German music opens with the Minnesänger, who were the Teutonic counterpart of the Troubadours, and first became widely known in the reign of the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa(( 1152-90; see pp.226ff., 43, 45). It is continued by that of the Meistersinger (see pp. 229, 478), guilds whose members were not of noble birth as the Minnesänger had been, but mostly citizens who graduated through the five stages of Schüler, Schülerfreund, Sänger, Dichter, and Meister. They inherited a fine tradition, but interpreted it with a somewhat pedantic stiffness which led to a rapid decline in quality. Moreover, the invention of new melodies was discouraged by the practice of composing new poems to the old ones, some of which did duty constantly, and not always for congenial texts. Four of these tunes were known as gekrönte Töne, including one by Frauenlob (see p. 275), and another by Heinrich von Mugelîn which has become very familiar through Wagner's use of it in his music-drama, 'Die Meistersinger'.
Contemporaneously with the Meistersinger, another element in German music began to assert itself, at first so humbly that none could have foreseen that from its ranks would emerge the most remarkable dynasty of musicians history has ever known. This was the so-called town-pipers. Originally wayfaring musicians, in the thirteenth century they had begun to band themselves in guilds, and thereby succeeded gradually in raising their social status. Such a guild was, for instance, the Brotherhood of St. Nicholas, established in Vienna in 1288. These guilds, which came to be known as town-pipers, may be looked upon as the ancestors of the town orchestras of later times. But of even greater interest is the fact that Hans Bach, the 'Spielmann', was apprenticed to Caspar Bach, town-piper of Gotha, and that other members of the Bach family followed the same calling. Johann Sebastian Bach was the Spielmann's great-grandson.
But we are anticipating. Whilst first Minnesänger, then Meistersinger and town-pipers were serving the popular taste in music, elsewhere the art itself was being revolutionized by the early polyphonists. But, though in Bach polyphonic art was to reach its culmination, Germany played but