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Melchior Franck

1579 - June 1, 1639
composed during the Baroque period
Melchior Franck was one of the most important German composers of the beginning of the Baroque era. He sought a way to reconcile the elaborate character of the Catholic motet to Lutheran worship, and wrote large amounts of sacred and instrumental music.

His father, Hans, was a painter. He may have been the brother of a minor composer named Johannes Franck. Since Christian Demantius was the Kantor of Zittau from 1597 to 1604, Franck may have studied with that composer. By 1600, Franck was in the choir of St. Anna's Church, Augsburg. In 1601, he became a teacher at St. Egidien's Church in Nuremberg, which aroused a lifetime interest in teaching. The composer Hans Leo Hassler was also present in Nuremberg and either formally taught him or at least strongly influenced him in the Netherlandish style of motet writing and in Venetian antiphonal writing. Around the beginning of 1603, Franck accepted the position of concertmaster to Prince Johann Casimir of Saxe-Coburg, who had a strong interest in music and provided a situation that was ideal for Franck, who began to write and publish prolifically. He married in 1607, though details are not known, but by 1634, his wife and two of their children (a son and a daughter) had died.

The onset of the Thirty Years War also marred Franck's final decade. Coburg was not involved directly in the war, but its economy was shattered. Prince Johann Casimir died in 1633 and his successor, Prince Johann Ernst, had to economize and cut back drastically on the size and salaries of the princely Kapelle. Franck's finances took so strong a hit that he even complained about them in prefaces to his books of music.

Franck was part of bringing German music into the Baroque era. In some ways, it is more conservative than the music of contemporary Italians or of Schütz. However, he was adventurous in experimenting with ways to use the new concept of basso continuo. He wrote some of the finest Protestant German music of the time. He argued in an essay at the start of his book Contrapuncti (1602) that, in emulation of the elaborate polyphony of Catholic music, the simple chorale tunes of the Lutheran worship could be ornamented for the appreciation of the educated and for the glory of God. At the same time, he wrote his versions of the motet conservatively. Since the Lutheran church stressed congregational singing, he took care to avoid unusual dissonances and difficult leaps in any of the parts, which move in step-wise motion as much as possible. Even so, all the motets in the Contrapuncti are actually fully formed fugues. Franck also published 13 secular vocal collections, which also include purely instrumental dance pieces. Franck's music is expressive and a true synthesis of beauty and simplicity. It was exceptionally popular and appreciated for the evident care the composer took to make singing it as easy as possible. ~ Joseph Stevenson, Rovi
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