Elias Nikolaus Ammerbach


Born: 1530; Naumburg, Germany   Died: January 29, 1597; Leipzig, Germany  
Many musical reference books describe Ammerbach as an arranger rather than a composer of music. That is a fair assessment of his work, since much of his writing was purely transcriptive and none of it was entirely original. Among his most important contributions was his introduction of a new tablature for organ music, which when published in 1571 represented the first organ or other keyboard music printed in Germany.

Ammerbach was born
Read more sometime around 1530 in Naumburg, Germany. Like so many Renaissance-era figures, he led a life that was only sparsely documented, leaving many biographical voids. Yet from surviving accounts, it's known that he was a modest man of easygoing temperament, apparently unconcerned with ambition. He himself revealed that he had a love of music from his earliest childhood days. It is likely his first serious exposure to music came a boy chorister in a church choir, though he may also have taken lessons from a local organist, since he seems to have developed strong keyboard skills at least by his mid-teens. He enrolled at the University of Leipzig in 1548, but remained there for only half a year. From 1549 until 1561, he probably served as an organist in Naumburg or Leipzig and may also have privately continued studies. There is also some likelihood that he traveled abroad during this span.

In 1561 he was appointed organist at the Thomas Kirche in Leipzig, a post he held for the unusually long period of 34 years. It was during this lengthy tenure that Ammerbach created the two large collections of keyboard arrangements for which he is primarily known, the 1571 Orgel oder Instrument Tabulatur and the 1575 Ein new Tabulaturbuch. His expansion and revision of the first publication in 1583 is so significant as to almost represent a third complete set of arrangements. Since the 1571 version contained works by a number and variety of then-prominent composers, he may well have traveled to Italy, France, the Netherlands, or elsewhere in Europe during the 1560s. If he did, such action might help account for his financial problems which, according to local records in Leipzig, plagued him throughout much of his life. Ammerbach seemed to have been a somewhat luckless fellow, but he endured his hardships and tragedies with an almost unflappable manner. His first two wives died, though his third outlived him, as did five of his children. Ammerbach died during the last week of January 1597, his burial taking place on the 29th of that month. Read less

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