Andreas Hammerschmidt


Born: 611 Died: October 29, 1675
Musicologists regard Andreas Hammerschmidt as the most representative composer of mid-seventeenth century German church music, but his works are hardly known to non-specialists. During his lifetime, however, Hammerschmidt's works were widely performed, and they weren't seen as particularly German; Hammerschmidt was one of the first composers in his region to adopt the Italian style of elaborate instrumental accompaniment to polyphonic choral liturgical works.

Though born in Bohemia, Hammerschmidt was of Saxon descent, the region to which his family returned in Andreas' youth. His education is a mystery; scholars have been more successful disproving links to possible teachers than outlining his actual studies. At any rate, Hammerschmidt spent 1633-1634 as organist in the service of Count Rudolf von B√ľnau; he obtained an important organ post in Freiburg in late 1634 (not formally appointed until the middle of the following year). Hammerschmidt dedicated his first published composition to Freiburg's mayor and councilors in 1636, perhaps in an effort to flatter his way into a more liveable wage. In late 1639 he left Freiburg for the position of organist at the Johanniskirche in Zittau, where he spent the remainder of his career (although he is thought perhaps also to have worked in Denmark at some point).

Hammerschmidt flourished in Zittau, despite the hardships of the Thirty Years War. The Zittau church held three organs on which Hammerschmidt could experiment, while also directing the choir, and his compositions soon gained widespread attention; by 1655 one writer described him as "world-celebrated." By taking on a great many pupils, being the only licensed keyboard teacher in Zittau, serving as an organ consultant throughout the region, and gaining a political appointment as village and forest superintendent for Waltersdorf an der Lauscha, Hammerschmidt was able to make quite a comfortable living. This enabled him to finance the publication of some 400 works (mostly sacred pieces) in 14 volumes. Hammerschmidt classified most of them as motets, concertos, and arias, and, aside from the rather old-fashioned motets, they largely adhered to the "sacred concerto" style and format that was gaining currency during his career, with a text-centered, madrigal-like approach. None of the organ works Hammerschmidt surely wrote have survived, but he did publish two collections of pieces for string ensemble, and one that presumably could be played by German village brass bands of the time. Hammerschmidt's position as a once-prominent but now obscure musician is reflected by the description on his tombstone: "Orpheus of Zittau."

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