Ludwig Daser DE
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.
The selection of Daser’s works presented here accurately illustrates his stylistic range and the genres represented in his oeuvre. The selection includes a large-scale plainchant Mass, seven motets on Latin psalm and hymn texts, and two Protestant chorale settings with German texts—compositions which between them could be found in the Catholic liturgy of the Mass and the Divine Office or in the Protestant congregational service of the sixteenth century. Daser’s motets form an ecumenical framework, for they could be used in both the Protestant and Catholic liturgies. In the Catholic Mass liturgy before the Second Vatican Council, motets were often supposed to represent parts of the Proper of the Mass. However, they were also frequently used in the Liturgy of the Hours, especially when setting psalm texts. Daser composed motets for both occasions. In Protestant services, his polyphonic motet psalm settings were also very well regarded.
Daser’s Protestant chorale settings, on the other hand, reveal a completely different world. They were written at the beginning of Daser’s Stuttgart period for the German-language liturgy of the Württemberg court and are based on German chorales, most of which were taken from contemporary Protestant hymnbooks such as the Geistliches Gesangbüchlein by Johann Walter and Martin Luther. The most artistically demanding among them even reach the level of German-texted motets. The motets and chorale settings from Daser’s Stuttgart period highlight a shift from the polyphonic style with a maximum of six voices to chordal textures of up to eight voices in the Italian style, as is generally typical of southern German vocal church music from the second half of the sixteenth century.
The Missa Pater noster is probably Daser’s most enigmatic work. It survives in only one source, the Munich choirbook (Mus.ms.) 45 of 1565, which was commissioned for the Heidelberg court of the Elector Palatine Ottheinrich, who was related to the Bavarian dukes. However, as Ottheinrich’s successor, Friedrich III, introduced the Reformation in the Palatinate, the choirbook did not make it to the Electoral Palatinate Court and therefore remained in Munich: a church-music work such as Daser’s Missa Pater noster could not have been put to use at a Reformed court. A large-scale plainchant-based Mass, it spans almost 700 breves and incorporates no fewer than four Gregorian chants. These are the plainsong Pater noster (which gives the Mass its name), the Credo of the Missa I and the Agnus Dei of Missa XVIII from the Graduale Romanum, and the antiphon Ave Maria from the Antiphonale Romanum. The Kyrie, Gloria and Sanctus of Daser’s Mass are based on the Pater noster melody, while his Credo combines the Pater noster and Ave Maria chants with the Gregorian Missa I Credo; in the Agnus Dei the Pater noster melody is combined with the Missa XVIII Agnus Dei. This is accomplished most artfully, referring back to classical methods such as the cantus firmus, imitation and canon techniques, as well as paraphrasing chants. In the Missa Pater noster, the third ‘Christe eleison’ from the Kyrie, the ‘Domine Deus’ from the Gloria and the ‘Crucifixus’ and ‘Et ascendit’ from the Credo are particularly noteworthy thanks to their scoring. They are composed as aequales—in other words, for several voices in the same register. These four sections are sung respectively by three discantus, contratenor, tenor and bassus voices, which appear in descending order of vocal range, as if to depict a musical ‘bow’ to the audience. Compositional subtleties such as this have given rise to different musicological interpretations of the Missa Pater noster. For example, in the Credo the simultaneous statement of the Mass text and that of Pater noster and Ave Maria has been read as betokening salvation. In any case, the Missa Pater noster, Daser’s last-ever Mass setting and a highly ambitious work with symbolic allusions, some of which are still not fully understood, represents the pinnacle of his Mass oeuvre. On this recording, the Kyrie and Credo are preceded respectively by the Pater noster and Ave Maria chants.
The four-part motet Ad te levavi oculos meos, a setting of Psalm 122, dates from Daser’s early Munich period, before 1550. Composed in the Franco-Flemish style, it is a bipartite work with an imitative opening. Two main characteristics of Daser’s style—the use of voice pairs and a texture that allows for clear declamation of the text, as well as chordal rather than polyphonic writing—are already apparent in this piece.
The short four-part motet Christe, qui lux es et dies, which comprises only forty breves and one repetition, also dates from Daser’s early Munich period. It is based on the plainsong hymn for Compline, which is performed here in the traditional way as a cantus firmus in the tenor part, while all the other voices imitate the plainsong opening. This form of plainsong setting clearly refers to the Mass and motet writing of Daser’s composition teacher Senfl. For the present recording, the singers of Cinquecento have decided to perform this work in alternatim—that is to say alternating between verses from the original plainchant and those of the eponymous polyphonic motet.
In his Protestant chorale settings, Daser preferred melodies from hymnals of regional origin. His chorale motet Danck sagen wir alle is no exception in this respect. Its model originates from a Strasbourg hymnal, the Köpphl’sches Gesangbuch of 1537, but possibly goes back to an even older model from the eleventh century, the Latin Christmas sequence Grates nunc omnes. Daser’s motet, cast in Mixolydian mode, sets the five vocal parts in a chordal texture, with the plainchant line in the second tenor.
The six-part motet Salvum me fac, from Daser’s Munich period, sets the text of Psalm 68: 2 in imitation style. Due to its Mixolydian modality, the work has a rather high tessitura. The plainchant melody is performed as a canon at the fifth between tenor I and discantus II at the beginning, but during the course of the motet it dissolves into the polyphonic structure to such an extent that it is no longer discernible.
Despite calling for seven voices, the motet Fracta diuturnis from Daser’s Stuttgart period is not set for double choir, but rather, in keeping with the Lutheran ideal of clearly proclaiming the biblical text, features simple, block-like chordal writing. Its structure comprises a slow introduction in an even metre and a fast final section in an odd metre in the manner of a stretta. No musical or textual model has been identified for this composition—indeed, one may never have existed—but the clear orientation towards the Italian style favoured by the Stuttgart court chapel is unmistakable.
With its double-choir scoring in the Venetian polychoral style of Cipriano de Rore (1515/16-1565), the eight-part motet Benedictus Dominus from Daser’s time in Munich anticipates the modern Italian style which was later demanded of him at the Stuttgart court. Its textual basis is Psalm 27: 6-7, and its musical model is the plainchant melody Feria sexta ad Vesperas from the Antiphonale Monasticum. The unusual distribution of the two choirs’ roles is interesting: while the second choir is responsible for the development of the plainchant, the first takes on the function of harmonic accompaniment. Normally this would be set the other way around.
Daser’s setting of Psalm 114 for eight voices, Dilexi, quoniam, follows the same compositional model as Fracta diuturnis by underlaying only one note per syllable within a large-scale chordal texture to aid clarity of text declamation. This motet was surely written during Daser’s time in Stuttgart, but unlike most of his works from that period, it has survived in its entirety exclusively in Polish sources: an organ tablature from Gdańsk and a collection of partbooks from Wrocław. These sources indicate the wide dissemination of Daser’s church music in the Protestant-dominated regions of his time.
What is unusual about the motet Fratres, sobrii estote, written for eight voices and from Daser’s Stuttgart period, is the choice of a pericope from the New Testament (1 Peter 5: 8-9) as its textual basis. The work’s style resembles that of Fracta diuturnis, with which it also shares the structure of a slow introductory section and a tripla (a fast final section in triple metre). In contrast to Fracta diuturnis, however, Fratres, sobrii estote is composed in the Venetian double-choir style, with the music progressing in chords and the two basses leading as foundation voices. Instead of a theme, the word ‘sobrii’ and its characteristic dotted rhythm appear as the central motif of the composition.
One of his Protestant chorale settings, Daser’s five-part Daran gedenck Jacob und Israel contains several special features. First of all, it is unusually long, comprising 150 breves in two parts, and therefore bearing similarity to the dimensions of a Latin motet. Another unexpected feature is the clear emphasis of the upper voice, in the manner of a contemporary madrigal, over chordal writing which, for several stretches, runs in voice pairs. The text of this composition clearly refers to Isaiah 44, but is just as freely invented as its musical material.
Daniel Glowotz © 2023
English: Viola Scheffel