Pieter Maessens

Biography

Born: 1505; Ghent, Belgium   Died: December 10, 1562; Benfeld, France  
Dutch composer and soldier Pieter Maessens spent his entire life in the service of Royalty; as a boy chorister, he sang in the private chapel of Margaret of Habsburg in Ghent. As a young man, Maessens joined the forces of Charles V and helped defend the city of Vienna against invading Turks in the Siege of 1529. In 1535, Maessens received an honorific from Emperor Charles V in reward for his bravery and in 1538, Maessens retired from military Read more life. After taking minor orders, Maessens was elected kapellmeister to the church of Notre Dame in Kortrijk and became its music librarian, but he was discharged in 1543 on grounds of excessive alcoholism and for neglecting his post.

Luckily for Maessens, Ferdinand I had already been on the hunt for an assistant kapellmeister to work in his private chapel in Vienna, and Maria of Hungary suggested Maessens. Maessens swiftly accepted the job and, despite his earlier troubles, never gave Ferdinand I reason to regret the appointment. Maessens was named chief kapellmeister in 1546, and a grateful Ferdinand ultimately upgraded Maessens' honorific and granted him printing privileges. Maessens did not make extensive use of these privileges and devoted them mostly to publishing texts rather than music; a prayer book and astrological calendar authored by Maessens were brought out in 1556. Ferdinand proposed a more generous plan of publications in 1562, but Maessens died late in the year and his patron did not follow him by long.

As Pieter Maessens did not succeed in compiling a print of his music, what has survived of his work -- only about a dozen pieces -- has been rescued from scattered manuscript sources and printed collections. They are highly original, even bizarre pieces, particularly the six-voice motet "Dicessu," which can be realized any one of 16 possible ways. The result of some contact Maessens enjoyed with the court of Maximilian II of Prague during his long tenure with Ferdinand, the piece is based on Maximilian's "musical name" of F-E-E-E-F-C. Maessens' musical work only became available in a modern edition in 1995; while he remains among the most obscure figures among Franco-Flemish composers of the Renaissance, the strange qualities of his music have proven attractive to groups that specialize in performing difficult and challenging repertoire of the sixteenth century. Read less

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