Manchester, 14th-18th July 2004


Stephen Rose (Magdalene College, Cambridge, UK)

Outlawed or obligatory? Composing for the church in Saxony, 1580-1700

During the 17th century there was a U-turn in official attitudes to composing by church musicians in Saxony. An ordinance of 1580 forbade musicians to perform their own compositions in church, telling them instead to use motets by respected masters such as Josquin. In the same decade, other German territories attempted to ban organists from improvising. These edicts were not widely obeyed, despite the best efforts of church visitors. All the same, such strictures may explain why church musicians such as Christoph Demantius and Hermann Schein claimed that their published pieces had been written in their ‘spare time’.

By 1680 attitudes had reversed. As Johann Kuhnau said in his dissertation Jura circa musicos ecclesiasticos (1688), church musicians were now expected to compose regularly—perhaps even a new piece every Sunday. Candidates for a vacant cantorate had to prove their compositional skill by performing one of their own pieces at an audition.

This paper asks why official attitudes to composition changed so markedly. It then explores shifting conceptions of musical authorship and craftsmanship. The 1580 ordinance encouraged the reification of the music of Lasso and Josquin. A century later, by contrast, the compositional powers of individual musicians were recognised but, with so many pieces being written, church music had become ephemeral.

Last updated on 13 May 2004