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Thomas Stoltzer (Composer)

Born: c1480 (or c1475) - Schweidnitz [now Œwidnica], Silesia
Died: August 29, 1526 - Ofen/Buda, or March 1526 - near Znaim [now Znojmo], Moravia, or after 1544 - river in Carpathia

Thomas Stoltzer [Stolczer, Scholczer] was one of the most important German composers in the early half of the 16th century.


Thomas Stoltzer was probably the son of Clemens Stoltzer, the town clerk of Schweidnitz, or was otherwise a member of his family. It is surmised that he studied music with Heinrich Finck, who was in Poland while Thomas was a boy. If not, Thomas certainly learned Finck's music somewhere, for he quotes it frequently.

Earlier in 1519, Thomas Stoltzer was admitted to the priesthood, held the beneficence of St. Elisabeth's Cathedral in Breslau, and was listed as vicarius discontinuus, meaning that he didn't actually live there. Personally, he supported Martin Luther's Reformation, but never took a public stand for it as his private letters show that he was fearful of losing his job if he did so. His fame as a musician began to grow and a writer named Joachim Badian wrote in 1518 about his musical talents, including the ability to play or write out any piece of music after one or two hearings.

His music began to be circulated in eastern Europe. His motet Beati omnes was likely performed at the wedding in 1522 of Ludwig II of Hungary and Bohemia and Mary of Austria, daughter of Philip the Fair. Ludwig (who reigned over both Hungary and Bohemia from 1517 to 1526) was new to the throne - he had inherited it only a month earlier - and five months later, building his royal musical establishments, he appointed Stoltzer Kapellmeister at the Hungarian capital of Ofen (or Buda). It appears that Queen Mary was the force behind the appointment and in gratitude, Stoltzer wrote four Lutheran Psalm settings at her request. Secure in this position and with a good chorus and players at his disposal, Stoltzer became very prolific.

A letter of Thomas Stoltzer, addressed to Duke Albert of Prussia, dated February 23, 1526, is extant, which seems to refer to some offer made to him from the Duke to become his Kapellmeister at Königsberg. He apparently hesitated to become publicly linked with a Lutheran monarch, even though he had written music at Albrecht's request. In 1526, King Ludwig died in the defeat of the Hungarians by the Turks at the Battle of Mohács on August 29, 1526. It was widely believed that Stoltzer died there also, at his monarch's side. But there is no evidence that Stoltzer was with King Louis on this occasion, or that his life came to an end with the taking of Buda shortly afterwards by the Turks. It is very probable that he was still alive between 1536 and 1544, when the greater part of his works appeared in the Collections of the time. Later documentation established that he died by slipping while crossing a flood-swollen river in Carpathia, loosing his footing and being swept away by the current.


Thomas Stoltzer wrote over 150 works, more than 70 of which were published. They remained current for decades, as long as the cantus firmus principle of organising music remained in fashion (i.e., until the 17th century). These are primarily religious works, but he also wrote secular songs. His early music follows the conservative German style of Finck, but in his later works he picks up elements of the Netherlands school, including the use of imitation and split choirs. His greatest works are the Psalm motets (14 in Latin and four in German).

Thomas Stoltzer sent to the Duke an elaborate composition of the 37th Psalm in Luther's German Prose version in seven divisions (motettisch gesetzt) for three to seven voices. There are four other psalms of the same kind which, with the one above mentioned, Otto Kade considers to represent the high-water mark of Stoltzer's abilities as a composer. The manuscrips of these are now in the State Library at Dresden. for which Kade negotiated their purchase in 1858, and one of them, Psalm xii., Hilf, Herr die Heiligen sind abgenommen, he has since published in score in the Beilagen to Ambrose's Geschichte. Ambrose gives considerable praise to the Latin psalms and motets of Stoltzer, which appeared in the various collections 1538 to 1545 and 1569. This praise he largely qualifies in the case of the 39 settings a 4-5 of Latin Church Hymns, which constitute Stoltzer's contribution to Georg Rhau's Lutheran Sacrorum hymnorum liber primus of 1542. These latter he considers somewhat heavy, though showing solid workmanship. Other German works of Stoltzer are seven settings of Geistliche Gesange and ten of Weltliche Lieder in the collections of Schöffer, 1536, Forster, 1539, and Ott, 1544. One of the secular songs, Entlaubet ist der Walde, deserves mention, because the tune in Stoltzer's tenor was afterwards adopted as the Choral - tune for the hymn Ich dank dir, lieber Herre.' The tune itself is said to have been known about 1452, and it also appears in Hans Gerle's Lautenbuch of 1532. Harmonised by J.S. Bach, it forms the conclusion of his cantata, Wer da glaubet und getauft wird (BWV 37). It is given with Stoltzer's own harmony in Schöberlein's Schatz, Bd. iii. n. 443. One of the Geistliche Gesange also deserves mention, König, ein Herr ob alle Reich, because the first words of the three verses form the acrostic 'König Ludwig' (King Louis of Hungary), and the hymn itself first appears in company with the better-known Mag ich Unglück nicht widerstehn, which also forms the acrostic Maria, for Queen Maria, the wife of Louis, and daughter of the Emperor Charles V. A large number of Latin motets by Stoltzer exist in manuscript in the Library at Zwickau.

Source: Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1952 Edition, by J.R. Milne); Naxos Website; All Music Guide Website (by Joseph Stevenson)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (February 2006)

Use of Chorale Melodies in his works


Chorale Melody


Christ ist erstanden, Setting for 4 voices

Christ ist erstanden

Links to other Sites

Thomas Stoltzer (Naxos)

Thomas Stoltzer - Biography (AMG)



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