Oswald von Wolkenstein

Biography

Born: 1377; Schöneck in Pustertal, Germany   Died: August 2, 1445; Merano, Italy  
Oswald von Wolkenstein was a German composer whose music bridged the Medieval and Renaissance eras; the last of the poet-musician knights whose monophonic music explored the ideal of courtly love, he also wrote polyphonic music in more contemporary forms. As noble "von" indicates, Oswald was from a knightly family of the Villanders line. The surname "von Wolkenstein" comes from the name of their property of Wolkenstein in Groednertal, South Tyrol Read more (a mountainous Austrian province that was taken by Italy in World War II). As he was of high birth, there is some information available about his life; key events were written in family archives. Still, as is the norm with composers of the day, there are numerous gaps that can be filled in only imperfectly by extrapolation from his works. Oswald was a second son, which put him at a disadvantage, but also gave him freedom to pursue an adventurous life, and to enter the political sphere. He spent his youth as a page in service, which took him to various countries and gave him fluency in several languages. He became a diplomat for the league of Tyrolean nobles and for Emperor Sigismund and took part in several German councils.

His seat was Hauenstein castle near Bolzano, but in 1407 he inherited only part of Hauenstein itself, and spent the rest of his life in a property dispute with the other tenant, the family of Martin Jaeger. As a result of this dispute, and also because of political intrigues, he was imprisoned several times. Nevertheless, he fell in love with Anna Hausmann, the daughter of one of his adversaries in this dispute. He wrote several love poems to her, continuing even after his marriage to Margarete von Schwangau in 1417. He also wrote poems addressed to a "Barbara," but fortunately did not neglect to write love poetry addressed to his wife.

Oswald himself preserved a quantity of his own in two manuscripts designated "A" and "B." There is also a manuscript "C" that contains text but no music, and a few other sources. His songs are typically in AABB form, with arched, flowing melodic lines. There are some exceptions, such as Es komen neue mer gerant, which is a description of a military raid in northern Italy and is written in an almost parlando style, scoffing at the losers.

Oswald's poetry often drew on events he himself experienced or witnessed. The unusual fit between text and musical line in his music inspired a description of him as the "creator of the individual lied," which is ahistorical. Nor was he, as has sometimes been said, a Meistersinger, the German counterpart to the French troubador or trouvère. His music includes not only monophonic songs but also polyphony in three or four parts. Towards the end of his life he composed religious music in simple textures. Read less

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