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Ludwig Daser

born: 1526
died: 27 March 1589
country: Germany

Of the three composers and chapelmasters at the Munich court chapel during the sixteenth century—Ludwig Senfl (1489/91-1543), Ludwig Daser (1526-1589) and Orlande de Lassus (1530/32-1594)—Daser has to this day remained the least known. This may come as a surprise, for it was he who, between Senfl and Lassus, made a decisive contribution to the development of the Munich court chapel choir into a professional ensemble under Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria. The fact that Daser and his work were quickly forgotten after his death cannot be blamed on him personally. His considerable legacy was simply eclipsed by the posthumous fame of other composers, who continue to have a greater impact on our perception today of the musical landscape of sixteenth-century southern Germany—Senfl, Lassus and Leonhard Lechner (1553-1606) being among the best-known.

Daser’s compositions, however, are by no means inferior in quality to those of his better-known contemporaries. His surviving oeuvre includes twenty-two Masses, twenty-six motets, thirty-three Protestant chorale settings, two Magnificats, a Passion and several smaller organ works. The beginnings of this impressive life’s work were quite modest. Daser came from a family of Munich fishermen who, as purveyors to the court, were closely connected with the Bavarian ducal family. He received his musical education at the Munich court chapel, first as a chorister and later probably as a composition pupil of Senfl. After his voice broke, in 1542 he began studying theology at the University of Ingolstadt. In 1550 he was called back to the Munich court chapel as a tenor and composer, and in 1552 he was made chapelmaster, a post which he retained for ten years. This period was overshadowed by many difficulties for him, in part due to disciplinary problems among the musicians of the Munich court chapel, but also because of his increasing inclination towards Protestantism. It is therefore not surprising that when in 1556 Lassus—by then internationally renowned—was engaged as a chapel singer and composer for the secular repertoire of the Munich court, Daser’s fate was effectively sealed. His honourable dismissal followed in 1562, officially justified by health problems.

Nevertheless, Daser remained connected to his former court chapel even after his retirement. During this time, he was commissioned to write his last three Masses—large-scale works with high artistic standards, as revealed in the five- to six-part Missa Pater noster—and a festal motet for twelve voices, which was performed at the legendary wedding of the Bavarian crown prince, later Duke Wilhelm V, at the Frauenkirche in Munich in 1568. The fact that the Munich court again played a significant role in the last major phase of Daser’s career suggests that he had maintained a good relationship with his former employers even after his dismissal. On the recommendation of Crown Prince Wilhelm, Daser moved in early 1572 to the Stuttgart court of Duke Ludwig III of Württemberg to become Kapellmeister. At the beginning of his tenure there, although the Württemberg court chapel was much smaller than that of the Bavarian dukes, one could hardly say it was inferior. For instance, even before Daser’s arrival, the Stuttgart court chapel had switched to the then modern Italian polychoral style of chordal writing. At Munich, Daser had composed works for the Catholic Mass liturgy, such as motets for the Proper of the Mass and settings of the Mass Ordinary in the polyphonic style of Josquin des Prez and the generation of Franco-Flemish composers that followed him. In Stuttgart, on the other hand, the completely different liturgy of Protestant congregational services demanded mainly large-scale motets and German chorale settings. In keeping with the priority given in Protestant liturgy to proclamation of the biblical text over celebration of the sacraments, Daser’s works are characterized by clear text comprehensibility and feature especially beautiful writing.

Due to his employment at two predominantly liturgically oriented court chapels, Daser’s entire oeuvre is dedicated to church music. Composing liturgical music, however, was probably also a personal concern for Daser, who had studied theology. Thus the most important source of his Protestant chorale settings bears the Latin statement: ‘Ubi verbum Dei, ibi adversarii eius’ (‘Where the word of God is, his adversaries can also be found’). Daser observed this dictum as both a person and a musician, for he always preferred to follow his religious convictions rather than to adapt to the circumstances of his time. His compositions, too, with their high quality and symbolic allusions to the theology of their texts, are testament to Daser’s status as an outstanding church musician. As with Daser’s entire life and work, which moved between the two opposing poles of the Lutheran Stuttgart court and the Catholic Munich court, his sacred works for contrasting confessions represent a typical illustration of the time, serving divergent musical requirements in post-Reformation southern Germany during the second half of the sixteenth century. Had he not assumed the position of mediator between the church-music traditions of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, the great variety of genres and musical styles in his work would be inconceivable, and without his integrity as a theologian, composer and chapelmaster, the high quality of his works would be unthinkable. It leaves us full of admiration for a musical personality who succeeded in navigating the contradictory church-music traditions of his time and whose works to this day reveal new and surprising twists and turns.

from notes by Daniel Glowotz © 2023
English: Viola Scheffel


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