Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: Conrad Paumann

Conrad Paumann (circa 1410-1473)
Conrad Paumann (circa 1410-1473)

We mark the death on January 24, 1473 – 549 years ago today – of the German organist, lutenist, and composer Conrad Paumann, in Munich at the age of 63. Lest I be accused of dredging up an utterly unknown musician in order to come up with a topic on an otherwise topic-shy day, let us establish the following.

Born circa 1410, by the year 1447, when the 37-year-old Paumann was appointed the official organist for the city of Nuremburg, he was considered the greatest organist in all of the German speaking lands, a position Johann Sebastian Bach would occupy some 275 years later. In that year of 1447, the poet Hans Rosenplüt (1400-1460) praised Paumann as being “master of all masters” as both an instrumentalist and as a composer.

According to the unimpeachable musicologist and Bach scholar Christoff Wolff:

“Despite his very limited surviving output, Paumann must be considered the leading figure in 15th-century German instrumental music, known internationally not only as a virtuoso but also as a composer.”

Even in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries – hundreds of years after his death – Paumann was still remembered as the greatest organist of his time.  Writing in his Lectiones antiquae, published between 1601 and 1604, the Dutch historian Henricus Canisius (1562-1610) called Paumann “the very best organist of his time.” Johannes Staindl, writing in his Chronicon generale (that is, “General Chronicle”) of 1763, asserted that Paumann was:

“in all musical arts the most expert and the most famous.”

Conrad Paumann might be forgotten today but that’s not his fault; time and memory are – as we all known – fickle.

Philip III, “Philip the Good”, Duke of Burgundy
Philip III, “Philip the Good”, Duke of Burgundy (1419-1467)

Maestro Paumann toured Europe quite extensively from around 1450 – at the age of 40 – until his death in 1473 and created a stir wherever he performed. In 1454 he performed on a number of instruments to great acclaim before Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy and his court in Landshut, the capital of Lower Bavaria in what today is southern Germany. During a tour of Italy in 1470, he was offered most lucrative positions in both Milan and Naples, both of which he turned down. In Mantua he performed before the court of the Gonzagas and caused a sensation: he was knighted and received all sorts of valuable gifts from various Mantuan princes and nobles. The following year, in 1471, Paumann performed to great acclaim for the Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich III and the Imperial Diet at Regensburg.…

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