Ludwig Senfl (born around 1486, died between December 2, 1542 and August 10, 1543) was a Swiss composer of the Renaissance, active in Germany. He was the most famous pupil of Heinrich Isaac, was music director to the court of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, and was an influential figure in the development of the Franco-Flemish polyphonic style in Germany. As a renowned composer of Mass settings and Latin motets as well as secular German four-voiced lieder, Ludwig Senfl was known as an effective teacher who contributed greatly to the music culture in Renaissance Europe. He lived not only for himself and his compositions but for the education and entertainment of the community as a whole.
Senfl was probably born in Basle around 1486, and lived in Zürich from 1488 until 1496, when he joined the choir of the Hofkapelle of Emperor Maximilian I in Augsburg. Apart from one brief visit in 1504 he appears never again to have lived in Switzerland.
In 1497 he followed the Hofkapelle to Vienna, and between 1500 and 1504 he probably studied in Vienna for three years, the standard practice for choirboys whose voices had broken, as part of the normal training for the priesthood. During this period he studied with Heinrich Isaac, serving as his copyist by 1509; he is known to have copied much of the older composer's Choralis constantinus, an enormous work which he was later to complete after Isaac's death.
After a trip to Italy sometime between 1508 and 1510, Senfl returned to the Hofkapelle; the Emperor appointed him to fill Isaac's position as court composer when Isaac died in 1517. In 1518 Senfl lost a toe in a hunting accident; evidently the injury disabled him for up to a year. When the Emperor died in 1519, Senfl was out of a job, and his circumstances altered for the worse—Charles V dismissed most of Maximilian's musicians, and even refused to pay Senfl the annual stipend which had been promised to him in the event of the emperor's death. During the next few years he traveled widely, mainly job-seeking, but he was also active as a composer. He is known to have attended the Diet of Worms in 1521, and, while he never officially became a Protestant, his sympathies evidently were with Luther, and he was later examined by the Inquisition and voluntarily gave up his priesthood. Senfl carried on an extensive correspondence both with Lutheran Duke Albrecht of Prussia and with Martin Luther himself, beginning in 1530.
Eventually Senfl acquired a post in Munich, a place which had high musical standards, a strong need for new music, and which was relatively tolerant of those with Protestant sympathies; he was to remain there for the rest of his life. By 1540 he was ill, judging from his correspondence with Duke Albrecht, and he probably died in early 1543.
Senfl was an eclectic composer, at home both in the worlds of sacred and secular music, and he modeled his style carefully on models provided by the Franco-Flemish composers of the previous generation, especially Josquin. In particular, he was a gifted melodist, and his lines are warmly lyrical; his music remained popular and influential in Germany through the seventeenth century.
His sacred music includes masses, motets, vespers settings, and a Magnificat. Technically his music has many archaic features, such as the use of cantus firmus technique, which was more in vogue in the fifteenth century; he even occasionally employs isorhythm. However he also has a typically Germanic liking for singable melodic passages in parallel imperfect intervals (thirds and sixths).
Senfl also wrote numerous German lieder, most of them secular (the handful on sacred texts was written for Duke Albrecht of Prussia). They vary widely in character, from extremely simple settings of a cantus firmus to contrapuntal tours-de-force such as elaborate canons and quodlibets.
The legacy of Ludwig Senfl was his ability to compose for the Catholic Church during the time of the Protestant Reformation movement in Germany as well as writing throughout the time of this change in the cultural climate. Even though the Catholic Church lost much of its power because of the disunity of Christendom through Martin Luther's influence, Ludwig Senfl continued composing his polyphonic Mass settings, Vespers, and sacred motets based on a Latin text. On the other hand, he composed unique four-voiced lieder or art songs filed with unrequited love, joy, wit, and humor which translated emotions and moods into musical song.
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