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Finck, Heinrich

(b ?Bamberg, 1444 or 1445; d Vienna, 9 June 1527). German composer.

1. Life.

The scant information about Finck's life given in his great-nephew Hermann Finck's Practica musica (Wittenberg, 1556) must be regarded with caution, for Hermann did not know him personally and had to rely on the reports of others, who may have embroidered the colourful nonconformist biography of the composer. He was probably the son of a master builder and councillor of Bamberg and thus, like Paul Hofhaimer and Thomas Stoltzer, seems to have had his origins in the wealthy middle class. According to Hermann Finck he was in Poland when still a boy, probably as a choirboy after 1454, staying on there in the service of the king. Hermann further described him as one of the musicians active about 1480 who were better composers than the representatives of the older art such as Du Fay and Busnoys. In summer 1482 a ‘Henricus Finck de Bamberga Bavaria’ matriculated at Leipzig University. The designation ‘bonus cantor’, then a high distinction and usually reserved for a famous musician with an above-average reputation, almost certainly refers to the composer. By that time he was 37 or 38, but in the 15th and 16th centuries it was not uncommon for men of that age to study at university. Finck must have returned to Kraków, there meeting the German humanist Conradus Celtis, who taught at Kraków University from 1489 to 1491. In a letter to Celtis of 7 April ?1492, which is the earliest surviving document written by him, Finck told how he left Poland as a poor man and visited kings, princes and other high-ranking people to obtain an appointment, but without success. After travelling for several years he returned once more to Poland. By 1498 at the latest he was in Vilnius as Kapellmeister to Prince Alexander of Lithuania. In 1501 Alexander became King of Poland and Finck moved back to Kraków again with the chapel. His name appears in the royal account books until 1505. By 1510 Finck had left Poland for good. After long negotiations he was appointed ‘Singemeister’ of the ducal Kapelle in Stuttgart on 5 November 1510 with the high yearly allowance of 60 florins. He appears to have composed his splendid mass for six to seven voices for the extravagant wedding of Duke Ulrich and Sabina of Bavaria on 22 March 1511. The disbanding of the Kapelle in 1514 left him once more without a livelihood. Moser supposed, probably correctly, that for a short time he was in the court Kapelle of Emperor Maximilian I. In March 1517 he sent greetings from Mühldorf, Bavaria, to his friend the humanist Joachim Vadian; he had probably belonged to the household of Cardinal Matthäus Lang in Mühldorf from 1516. After Lang became Archbishop of Salzburg in 1519 Finck seems to have moved there, where he worked as composer to the cathedral chapter. In a letter from Salzburg of 10 May 1524 to Vadian he bemoaned the turbulent life at court and hinted that he wanted a change. It is clear from the letter that he was not a priest as was formerly thought. Finck spent the last years of his life in Vienna, where he formed a Kantorei in the Schottenkloster with Erasmus Lapicida. On 1 January 1527 Ferdinand I appointed him court Kapellmeister, but five months later Finck died. Ferdinand had a memorial medal struck for him (now in the British Museum; see illustration), which captures his impressive likeness. Among his pupils were Johann Zanger, Stephan Mahu and, in Salzburg, Rupert Unterholtzer. In his later years in Kraków he probably also taught Thomas Stoltzer.

2. Works.

Finck's unusually long composing career stretched from about 1465 until the third decade of the next century, that is, from the period of Du Fay's later works to that of Josquin's last years. Hermann Finck’s claim that his great-uncle was an established composer as early as 1480 is borne out by the appearance of works by him in three manuscript collections (written in about 1500) of music from that period: the manuscript which belonged to Magister Nikolaus Leopold of Innsbruck (D-Mbs Mus.ms.3154), that of Magister Nikolas Apel (D-LEu 1494) and the manuscript D-Bsb Mus.40021. Unfortunately these sources contain relatively few pieces by Finck. Most of his works written before 1500 are lost; all that remains from his Polish years are some small incomplete pieces in organ tablature (mostly in H-BA). Similarly, only a small proportion of works from his last 20 years survives. Partly to blame is the rule which was in force in almost all courts, including that of Salzburg, forbidding composers to give their compositions to outsiders, but other circumstances must also have been responsible for the particularly large losses in Finck's output. The 1544 inventory of the Neuburg court Kapelle lists (according to Lambrecht) 26 compositions by him, including three masses and no fewer than 18 motets for the Mass Proper, but of these only the Missa super ‘Ave praeclara’ (which exists in other sources) and two motets have survived. Modern research has authenticated a total of 119 compositions by Finck: seven masses or settings of parts of the Mass, 42 single motets and motet cycles for the Proper of the Mass, 28 hymns and 38 songs and instrumental pieces. Whereas the masses and motets have frequently come down in incomplete form, with parts missing, the hymns and songs have survived almost without loss because they were printed in the 16th century by Rhau and Formschneider. As with Stoltzer, a strong interest in the Reformation is evident in Finck's work. The most important manuscripts and publications either come from or have close connections with mid- and south Germany. No works printed after 1570 survive. But as late as 1650 a manuscript copy of his Christmas sequence, Grates nunc omnes, was in the possession of Zachariáš Zarewutius.

Finck's creative life, which lasted for about 60 years, spans three generations of composers, beginning with the first flowering of German polyphony. His style was therefore subject to considerable change. He retained into his 60s and 70s an admirable readiness to rethink his ideas and to assimilate the ‘modern’ music written after 1500 by Isaac, Josquin and others. After Finck's death, young musicians had difficulty in understanding his early works, and described his style as crude (‘hart’) in its harmonies (Hermann Finck) or as ‘a peculiar art, turned in a strange manner’ (Ulrich Brätel in his song So ich betracht und acht der alten Gsang), and likened his style to Alexander Agricola's. These judgments did not, however, lessen Finck's importance for his contemporaries; on the contrary, the 16th century could not resist the peculiar fascination and exotic charm of this bold and masterly style.

The striking differences between the work of Finck's youth and his old age are best shown by his four surviving masses. His mass for three voices, much of which is composed without a cantus firmus, is an early work. Its difficult contrapuntal lines, frequent melismas and canon and sequence technique make great demands on singers. The Missa dominicalis, on the other hand, was probably composed during the last ten years of his life. It is indebted to late Netherlandish examples in its imitative technique and migrant cantus firmus, but in the details of its construction Finck's personal stamp is unmistakable, for example in the Sanctus and Agnus Dei. The extent to which his later style was characterized by full harmonic textures and the increased use of the bass as the foundation of the composition can be seen in the six- to seven-voice mass probably composed for Duke Ulrich's marriage in 1511. The mass is based on a plainsong cantus firmus throughout except in the Credo where a songlike melody is used; although this has not yet been identified, it may have some connection with the probable occasion for the composition. The Missa super ‘Ave praeclara’ for five and six voices, discovered in the 1970s, is probably one of Finck's late works. All the movements are linked by a characteristic head-motif, and the virtuosity of the Kyrie and Agnus Dei is balanced by constructivist elements (such as are found in the Credo) and word-painting. The few extant complete settings of parts of the Proper of the Mass are all of a late date with the exception of an old-fashioned alleluia and two introits. The sequence Quae miris demonstrates how far the elderly Finck adopted Josquin's choral style and timbre. There is an enormous gulf between the transparent composition technique and graphic interpretation of the text and the melismatic style of the three-voice mass.

The other surviving motets probably date from Finck's middle and late periods. Ambros recognized the seven-voice motet O Domine Jesu Christe as a mature work. The clear, expressive setting and the climax in the last section, which includes the canon O passio Domine magna, once more show his individual treatment of the Netherlands style. The three complete and one incomplete four-part Magnificat settings can also be classified as late works because of their varied technique. The seven great five-voice responsories now in Zwickau (D-Z 73) and Regensburg (D-Rp B 211–15) were probably composed much earlier, perhaps before 1500. In these there is a balance between retrospective features (long-note cantus firmi, fauxbourdon technique, etc.) and ‘modern’ elements (imitation, dividing of choirs and full harmonic textures). They are among the most important examples of their kind.

Finck's hymns and songs are also outstanding, and it seems that the greater part of those written after 1500 has survived. Two early hymns in the Apel Codex (D-LEu 1494) present the melody in a succession of semibreves, without rests. On the other hand, the 22 compositions published by Rhau in his Sacrorum hymnorum liber primus (Wittenberg, 154212) show great variety, particularly in the treatment of the cantus firmus. Long and short notes, migrant cantus firmi with anticipatory imitation in the other parts, some ‘modern’ cadences and other techniques offered a profusion of possibilities of construction, which young composers such as Stoltzer repeatedly quoted in their own settings of the texts. The 28 genuine polyphonic German Tenorlieder, printed in 1536, probably belong to Finck's last 20 years. The two sacred pieces Christ ist erstanden and In Gottes Namen fahren wir resemble motets in their size and scope and strong cantus firmi, whereas many of the secular songs are limited, and often set syllabically in semiminime. It is striking that Finck preferred folksong texts to the stilted court song. He was particularly fond of simple, warmhearted love songs such as Allein dein G'stalt, Ach herzig Herz and Von hinnen scheid ich. Many of the melodies of his Tenorlieder are unique and he may have written them himself. Song melodies play an important part in many early sacred works too. Outstanding among the earlier songs, circulated only in manuscript, are Lieber Herr St Peter, the five-voice Greiner zanner, which is based on an unusually coarse text, and the five-part quodlibet Amica mea/Ich stund an einem Morgen.


only complete works and principal sources are given; for sources of concordances and fragments see Hoffmann-Erbrecht (1982)

Edition:Heinrich Finck: Ausgewählte Werke, ed. L. Hoffmann-Erbrecht, EDM, 1st ser., lvii (1962), lxx (1981) [H i-ii]


Missa, 3vv, H i; also ed. AmbrosGM, v, ed. O. Kade (Leipzig, 1882, 3/1911)

Missa super ‘Ave praeclara’, 5–6vv, H ii

Missa dominicalis, 4vv, H, i

Missa, 6–7vv, H ii (as Missa in summis); also ed. in Cw, xxi (1932, 2/1953), as Missa in summis

other sacred

Magnificat septimi toni, 4vv, H ii

Magnificat octavi toni, 4vv, H ii

4 motet cycles, 4vv, H i

7 responsories, 5vv: Apparuerunt apostolis, D-Z 73; Christus resurgens, H ii; Felix namque, Z 73; Illuminare Jerusalem, Z 73; Ite in orbem, H ii; Petre amas me, H ii; Verbum caro factum est, Rp B.211–15

2 ants, 5vv: Et valde mane una sabbatorum, Veni Sancte Spiritus: H ii

2 ints, 4vv: Puer natus, Resurrexi: ed. in EDM, 1st ser., xxxii (1956)

9 other motets (in Bsb Mus.ms.40021 unless otherwise stated): Ave Jesu Christe, 4vv; Deo dicamus, 4vv; Dies in laetitia, 4vv, 15671; Gloria laus et honor, 4vv; In medio ecclesia, 4vv, ABG 1248; Lieber Herr St Peter, 4vv; Misereatur Dominus, 4vv; O Domine Jesu Christe, 4–6vv; Salva nos, 5vv, H ii

24 hymns, 4, 5vv, 154212, LEu 1494; ed. in EDM, 1st ser., xxi (1942), xxv (1943), xxxii (1956), 10 also ed. in Cw, ix (1931), xxxii (1935)


[30] Schöne ausserlesene Lieder, 4, 5vv (Nuremberg, 1536) [2 doubtful], 27 ed. in H ii

3 songs: Amica mea/Ich stund an einem Morgen, quodlibet, 5vv, H ii; Greiner zanner, 5vv, H ii; Wär ich ein Falk, 4vv, ed. in EDM, 1st ser., xxxiii (1960)

5 textless pieces, 4vv, ed. in EDM, 1st ser., xxxiii (1960)



R. Eitner: ‘Musikerbriefe aus dem Anfang des 16. Jahrhunderts’, MMg, xxxv (1903), 165–75

R. Eitner: ‘Das deutsche Lied im mehrstimmigen Tonsatze aus der ersten Hälfte des 16. Jahrhunderts im Druck und Manuskript’, MMg, xxxvii (1905), 1–7

A. Chybiński: ‘Polnische Musik und Musikkultur des 16. Jahrhunderts in ihren Beziehungen zu Deutschland’, SIMG, xiii (1911–12), 463–505

G. Bossert: ‘Die Hofkapelle unter Herzog Ulrich’, Württembergische Vierteljahrshefte für Landesgeschichte, new ser., xxv (1916), 383–430

H.J. Moser: Paul Hofhaimer (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1929, enlarged 2/1966)

P. Mohr: Die Handschrift B 211–215 der Proske-Bibliothek zu Regensburg (Kassel, 1955), 6ff, 11, 25

L. Hoffmann-Erbrecht: ‘Das Opus musicum des Jacob Praetorius von 1566’, AcM, xxviii (1956), 96–121

P. Matzdorf: Die ‘Practica musica’ Hermann Fincks (Frankfurt, 1957), 16, 19

L. Hoffmann-Erbrecht: ‘Heinrich Finck in Polen’, GfMKB: Kassel 1962, 119–21

L. Hoffmann-Erbrecht: Thomas Stoltzer: Leben und Schaffen (Kassel, 1964)

M. Bente: Neue Wege der Quellenkritik und die Biographie Ludwig Senfls (Wiesbaden, 1968)

M. Just: Der Kodex Mus. Ms. 40021 der Staatsbibliothek Berlin (Preussischer Kulturbesitz): Untersuchungen am Repertoire einer deutschen Quelle des 15. Jahrhunderts (Tutzing, 1975)

W. Steude: Untersuchungen zur mitteldeutschen Musiküberlieferung und Musikpflege im 16. Jahrhundert (Leipzig, 1978)

E.F. Fiedler: ‘Heinrich Finck, Gaspar van Weerbeke und die Göttin Venus: ein Beitrag zur Cantus-firmus-Praxis im frühen 16. Jahrhundert’, Renaissance-Studien: Helmuth Osthoff zum 80. Geburtstag, ed. L. Finscher (Tutzing, 1979), 29–55

L. Hoffmann-Erbrecht: ‘Heinrich Fincks fünfstimmige Missa super Ave praeclara: eine wichtige Neuentdeckung’, ibid., 73–90

C. Bonorand: Joachim Vadian und der Humanismus im Bereich des Erzbistums Salzburg (St Gallen, 1980)

L. Hoffmann-Erbrecht: ‘Heinrich Fincks Weinachtsmotetten’, Gedenkschrift Hermann Beck, ed. H. Dechant and W. Sieber (Laaber, 1982), 11–17

L. Hoffmann-Erbrecht: Henricus Finck, musicus excellentissimus (1445–1527) (Cologne, 1982)

J. Lambrecht: Das ‘Heidelberger Kapellinventar’ von 1544 (Heidelberg, 1987)

L. Hoffmann-Erbrecht: ‘Stufen der Rezeption des niederländischen Stils in der deutschen Musik der Dürerzeit’, Florilegium musicologicum: Hellmut Federhofer zum 75. Geburtstag, ed. C.-H. Mahling (Tutzing, 1988), 155–68

H.M. Brown: ‘Hans Ott, Heinrich Finck and Stoltzer: Early Sixteenth-Century German Motets in Formschneider's Anthologies of 1537 and 1538’, Von Isaac bis Bach: … Festschrift Martin Just, ed. F. Heidlberger, W. Osthoff and R. Wiesend (Kassel, 1991), 73–84

R.A. Murányi: Thematisches Verzeichnis der Musiksammlung von Bartfeld (Bártfa) (Bonn, 1991)

L. Hoffmann-Erbrecht: ‘Heinrich Finck in Polen und Litauen’, Die Musik der Deutschen im Osten und ihre Wechselwirkung mit den Nachbarn: Cologne 1992, 191–6

R. Wieczorek: ‘Nochmals zum Thema Heinrich Finck in Polen: aus der polnischen Sicht’, ibid., 197–227

D. Hiley: ‘Das Chorbuch Regensburg, Staatliche Bibliothek, 2o Liturg.18 vom Jahre 1543, Chorbuch S im Inventar von 1544 der Kapelle des Pfalzgrafen Ottheinrich’ (forthcoming)


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