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Johann Eccard (1553-1611)

Johannes Eccard was born in Mühlhausen, Thuringia in 1553, and died in Berlin in 1611. Like most musicians of the time, he started his musical life as a chorister. He sang in the chapel of the Weimar court from age 14 until the chapel was disbanded four years later, when he went to the Bavarian Hofkapelle in Munich. In Munich he was lucky enough to be taken as a pupil by the great Orlando di Lasso (Lassus), whose influence is clearly heard in Eccard’s music. At 26, Eccard entered the Hofkapelle of the Margrave Georg Friedrich of Brandenburg-Ansbach, and there (in Konigsberg) he rose through the ranks, from singer to vice-Kapellmeister and finally Kapellmeister (in 1604 when Elector Joachim Friedrich of Brandenburg succeeded the deceased Margrave Georg Friedrich). In 1608, Joachim Friedrich sent him to his principal residence in Berlin as Kapellmeister, and Eccard remained there until his death three years later.

Eccard was one of the most significant Protestant composers of chorale motets (motets using German hymn tunes, or chorales) of his day. Eccard composed both pieces that used the Lutheran chorale in the top part and a simple harmonization below it (for example, his Geistlicher Lieder auff den Choral of 1597 for five voices), and elaborate polyphonic pieces that freely incorporated the chorale within the texture. In the latter genre he is joined by composers such as Hans Leo Hassler, but especially Michael Prætorius. He published two volumes of such pieces called Preussischen Festlieder in 1642 and 1644 (the two volumes also include compositions by other composers). In these he clearly shows the influence of Lassus, as well as his ability to realize the full implications of his text through the relationship of words to music and in terms of texture. In the 19th century Eccard’s music was regarded as the epitome of the a cappella ideal, and in an age of Protestant revival, he was seen as the counterpart to Palestrina. Brahms is said to have prized Eccard’s music.

Vocal Works Performed by SFBC

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