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ART. VIII-Sehr herrliche, Schone urd wahr hafte Gedichte ernstliche Trauerspiele, liebliche Schanspiele, seltsame Fastnachtspiele. kurzweilege Gespräch', sehnliche Klagreden, wunderburliche Fabeln, sammt andern lächerlichen Schwänken und Possen, des berühmten Meistersaengers Hans Sachs. Kempten, bei Ranisch. 1612-1616.
In the fourteenth century, while Germany was kept in continual agitation by the feuds and broils of rival princes and barons, there sprang up among the inhabitants of the towns, who devoted themselves to commerce and the arts, the first perceptible germ of those MUNICIPAL ORDERS, which for so long a time rendered prosperous and flourishing the incorporated cities of that country; and which, in England, even at this day, is a remarkable feature among our popular institutions. Already in the thirteenth century, the masons in all parts of Germany had formed themselves into a strict corporation, which with uniform laws and ceremonies received into its bosom apprentices, companions, and masters; and which, throughout all Europe, erected to the divinity those sublime temples, which have since been denominated Gothic. In the fourteenth century, all the arts and trades imitated the example of the masons, by dividing themselves into different societies; and, as moral bodies, took part in the administration of public affairs, and deliberated in municipal council upon laws for their internal regulation. These incorporated mechanics usually met together on holidays; and, after the disposal of civil business, either read, in the long winter evenings, the Chronicles of their country, or the ancient Nordic poems, and erotic ballads. These readings could hardly fail to suggest in many the idea of entertaining the company with some composition of their own. And there can be little doubt, that the readings of these assembled artizans were the main cause that awakened in many a bosom the dormant spirit of poetry, in that unlettered age.
The elementary step towards organisation being thus imperceptibly compassed, they proceeded quite naturally to se lect the most excellent from among their company, and, by common consent, established a POETIC CORPORATION under the name of Master-singers. Adopted in a particular city, the genius of the German population soon fastened on the fascinating novelty, and bore it onwards. The intimate, uniform, and constant relations which subsisted between the artisans of those times, and those countries, materially hasten
ed its dissemination, and rendered it universal.-The birthplace of this poetic phenomenon was MENTZ. Thence it passed rapidly into the other cities of Germany-particularly Augsburg and Nuremberg. The masters of Mentz, to give celebrity to their new institution, taught their pupils, that this school of Magistral Song was founded from ancient time, by very noble and illustrious persons-and they named the following.
1. WALTER, Lord of the Vogelweide.
2. WALFGANG ESCHENBACH, Cavalier, or Knight.
4. A. FRAUENLOB, of Mentz.
5. A. MUGELING, of Mentz.
7. M. STARKE PAPP.
and five honourable burghers: namely
8. BARTHOLOMEW REGENBOGEN, a Blacksmith.
9. The ROMAN of Zgwickau.
10. The CHANCELLOR, a Fisherman.
They affirmed, moreover, that the Emperor Oтно I., in the year 962, cited these twelve to appear at the university of Pavia. There they were publicly examined by the professors, in the presence of a multitude of learned persons, and acknowledged masters in their art. On this occasion, OTHо presented these masters and their academy with a diadem of gold, to adorn and crown him who should come off the victor in song. The documents relative to these transactions were preserved for seven hundred years, in the archives of Mentz, whence they were taken and carried into Alsace, at the time of the Smalkaldic war.
It is easy to perceive that this history is an artful invention of the founders of the Magistral Song, to give more importance and sanctity to their corporation. The singers of Augsburg and Nuremberg had, notwithstanding, each of them their own Protomasters-twelve, also: but they dated from more recent times, and did not clash with the pre-eminence of Mentz : on the contrary, they mentioned the masters of that school in their songs always with profound respect.
Be that as it may, we have indicated with great historical precision the epoch in which this sect originated, whose aim was to promote the developement of music and poetry among the German people. To accomplish this, the Masters of the Song assembled together on holidays, generally in the evening,
either in the Halls of the Arts, or in the churches, and there performed their poetico-musical exercises.
It was their custom, by written placards, handsomely ornamented, and exposed in all the public places, to invite the lovers of the fine arts to these assemblies: and the ceremony was arranged as follows. The concurrents for the distinction of Master placed themselves one after the other-in a high chair, whose elevation gave it the appearance of a cathedral throne, By the side of the concurrent sat four judges-Mercker-one of whom was to pronounce upon the subject of the song to the second, belonged its prosody; the rhymes to a third; and a fourth kept an account of its melody. So that to arrive at the mastership, it was not simply requisite to be a good poet, but the candidate must set his verses to music, and sing them too!
On mounting the rostrum, the performer first briefly complimented the masters and the audience. He, then, set forth the subject of his poem:its particular form, whether of three, five, or seven strophes the quality of the rhymes, or verses:
and lastly, the melody he proposed to adopt. Of all this, the judges kept an exact account. In this manner, one after the other, the contending parties sang their compositions from the chair and when they had all finished, the judges began to examine from hand to hand the poem of each competitor, in the quadruple relation already pointed out. This examination over, they called the ordinary president of the assembly, if he did not happen to be among the concurrents; but if otherwise, one of the ancient masters; and gave in their judgment to him. The president then ascended in cathedram, having at each side two judges, and proceeded with a loud, intelligible voice, to announce the JUDGMENT. This comprehended, first, the adjudication of the crown to the most distinguished poet; then, that of the garland to the next best; and finally, the penal sentence, against those who had neglected the rules of the art. At the sound of trumpets and other instruments, the two victor poets now approached the President, who placed upon their heads the insignia of their triumph, amid the shouts of the acclaiming auditory. The bursar went his rounds with a bag, into which all who had incurred a penalty dropped it acquiescingly, as he passed along. This was the signal for the society to separate, which they now did, with a handsome renvoy to the audience; and its members, in good harmony, repaired either to one of their cafés, or some public room. There, seated at the festive board, their only themes poetry and the fine arts, they passed the brimming beaker in quick succession; and improvisation, in those rhymed couplets which are called knittelverse, became the order of the night. Woe to him, who had not always a rhyme at his fingers' ends, or some burlesque
idea to compensate for it; for he would have been the butt of the company!
Such were the singular customs of the Mastersingers: but yet more singular than these customs, were the laws upon which they grounded their judgments. It would be foreign to the purpose of an article like the present, to particularise the many strange regulations and absurdities of their poetic code: but it may be remarked, that they fettered the freedom of the Muse with every impediment that an ingenious fancy could devise. They had thirty-two laws for the minutiae of composition, which it was compulsory on each candidate to observe and to the infraction of any one of these was annexed a penalty, often as fanciful as the law itself. With such obstacles to the attainment of perfection, even upon their own principles, a freedom from faults was almost altogether impossible: consequently, those performers who numbered the fewest errors were crowned as conquerors. Deducting these aberrations of the victors, the next business was to count the faults of the vanquished; and every syllable in excess of such deduction was expiated by a small pecuniary fine, the product of which went towards the entertainments, and similar expenses.† All the
Every song or poem, for instance, had its given number of rhymes and syllables, prescribed and limited by the master; and every singer, poet, or judge, was obliged to count them upon his fingers. The song [Bar] was confined to three, five, or seven stanzas, or verses [Gesetze], which were divided into two principal strophes [Stollen], each finishing with a crotchet, and sung to the same air: then followed the antistrophe [Abgesang], in a different melody; and ordinarily, the song terminated with a strophe, set to the same melody as the two former. The rhymes, or verses, employed in these songs, or poems, were of seven sorts. They had their dumb, or mute rhymes, called Stumpfe Reime: sounding rhymes, or Klingende Reime: sounding and beating rhymes, Klingende Schlagreime: modes, or blank verses, Weisen, oder einfache verse: pauses, Pausen: coronets, Krönlein: and their mute, beating rhymes, or Stumpfe Schlagreime. To each and all of these verses were assigned their several stations in the poem, and often under such hampering restrictions, as must have been very prejudicial to the sense. Neither was it allowable to change this arbitrary location, under any colour of poetic license; for the principal merit in these compositions was their punctilious adaptation to a mechanical standard, from which any signal departure was punished by fine, and disqualification for the prize.
+ This syllabical assessment of the penalties was another peculiar feature in the institution of the Mastersingers; and, from the impossibility of a strict adherence on the part of any performer to such a vexatious canon of composition, must have been a very material and equally certain source of revenue. Exempli gratiá: a verse too long,
certaminal, or master songs, were performed in the high German language, from which no deviation was tolerated under any circumstances. Nor was the plea of his own particular provincial idiom of any service to the offending singer. If he was ignorant of the Teutonic language, he was desired to go back, and study in the received standards:-these were the bibles of Wittemberg, Nuremberg, and Frankfort, and the public records of the lordships and principalities of the empire. It ought to be mentioned here, that the harmonies, or tunes of the mastersingers, were of high antiquity, and held in great reverence by that extraordinary body. They are said, indeed, to have preserved, traditionally, the ancient melodies of the minnesingers, or love minstrels: more especially those, which were supposed to belong to the twelve founders of the School of Song. According to some writers, there were not less than four hundred of these melodies; and their names were singular enough. There was the Feilweis, or Melody of the File: the Preisweis, or Melody of Praise: Zarte Buchstabenweis, the tender Melody of Letters: Geschwinde Pflugreis, the quick Melody of the Plough. Besides these, the high allegro Melody of Praise the hard Melody of the Field-the long Tail of the Swallow-and the long double Harmony of the Dove, were among their constant and familiar favorites. In the certaminal exercises, the singers were confined to a rigorous observation of the ancient metres, as well as notes of these melodies. But the composition of original airs was not, on that account, discouraged; and many of these, in manuscript, are to be found in the library of TRAUBOT at Leipsig, and in that of Vienna, and others.
Such rules and institutions, it is evident, were little calculated to kindle the flame of poetry in ordinary bosoms. And, if these meetings of the United Artisans did not produce any first-rate geniuses, where is the wonder? Has even one, among all the literary academies of cultivated Europe, been able to achieve more? The Society of the Mastersingers has not been wanting, for all this, in many excellent consequences. Music and metre constituted its essential elements, and civilization felt her march quickened by their influence. It preserved, too,
or too short, received its punishment syllable by syllable: --a word too hard, or too soft-a note too high, or too low-a change of measure, or of melody-a pause omitted, or introduced-a strophe more, or less, than the regulation-rhythm violated-rhyme neglected-and twenty other such mechanical minutiæ, paid their forfeit according to the syllabic tariff.