Haack [Haacke, Haak, Haake], Friedrich Wilhelm

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III. Polyphonic Latin

Polyphonic settings of Latin hymns have been a regular feature of Vespers of major feasts in most important centres since the 15th century. This section is concerned exclusively with those that seem designed for use in the Divine Office and does not include motets that make use of all or part of a hymn text. The two criteria are the use of a cantus firmus commonly associated with the hymn text in the monophonic practice (in those periods in which cantus firmus techniques are common) and the setting of single stanzas of the hymn text as separate entities. This forces the omission of such works as the settings in the Ambrosian motetti missales repertory of texts made up of fragments of hymn stanzas and of works like the Ave maris stella attributed to Josquin des Prez fin which all the stanzas are set continuously. (For keyboard settings of hymn melodies see Organ hymn.)

1. 15th century.

2. 16th century.

3. 17th and 18th centuries.


Hymn, §III: Polyphonic Latin

1. 15th century.

Except for a few isolated examples, such as the famous voice-exchange hymn found with a number of texts in sources up to 1400 (Stäblein, 1956, pp.532ff), the history of the polyphonic hymn properly begins with the group of ten settings for three voices in the Apt manuscript (F-APT 16bis). These are undoubtedly only a small part of a substantial collection intended to supply settings for all the major feasts of the year and were probably composed for the papal court at Avignon during the last quarter of the 14th century. Rather small in scale, they established the basic principle of polyphonic hymn writing followed during the next 200 years: each has the melody traditionally associated with the hymn text in one voice in ornamented form (the superius in all but one instance). Except for cadential ornaments, the style is note-against-note. The setting of Iste confessor (ex.6) is of particular interest in that its rhythms are clearly related to the accents of the Sapphic stanza.

The next important collections of polyphonic hymns are in two early 15th-century manuscripts at Bologna (I-Bc Q15) and Modena (I-MOe α.X.1.11). These contain a complete cycle by Du Fay for every feast of the liturgical year that is of a semi-duplex rank or higher, with additional settings by Johannes de Lymburgia in the former and Benoit in the latter. Almost all the hymns follow the same pattern, generally providing a single polyphonic setting for all the even-numbered stanzas; the chant melody is given in chant notation and is underlaid with the odd-numbered stanzas. This alternation of chant and polyphony was common throughout the Renaissance (see Alternatim), the principal change in the 16th century being that composers generally wrote separate settings for each of the odd- or even-numbered stanzas (a procedure that also appears in I-Bc Q15 in Johannes de Lymburgia’s settings of Ad cenam agni providi and Christe redemptor omnium/Ex Patre).

The Du Fay cycle was probably composed in Savoy in the years 1433–5; according to Besseler it was composed in Rome before 1433, but the melodies Du Fay used do not conform to the monophonic tradition of the papal court. The settings, some of which use Fauxbourdon, are all for three voices. With one exception, the hymn tune is present in the superius in ornamented form (ex.7), and in general it is only this voice that is provided with a complete text. In two cases (Conditor alme siderum and Vexilla regis prodeunt) the chants are presented in I-MOe α.X.1.11 in mensural form, this being retained more or less closely in the polyphonic setting. Evidently these melodies served as models for later composers; in some cases a Du Fay superius was simply borrowed and two or more lower voices composed to fit it, or two new voices appear with an indication that a Du Fay superius is to be used with them. Du Fay’s settings and adaptations of them remained in use (as manuscript copies show) until the 1490s, when they were replaced by settings for four voices.

The trend in collections for the rest of the 15th century was to include settings for Vespers of all feasts of semi-duplex or higher rank. This meant that each collection shared a basic corpus of texts with others from the same region (texts commonly found in settings in Italian sources are listed in Table 1), but it also meant that each collection included one or more settings that were not found elsewhere, since they reflected local rather than regional liturgical practices (e.g. hymns for the patron of a church, city or diocese). Regional differences are also apparent in the melodic tradition, and different melodies or significant melodic variants can often identify the place of origin of a setting. Generally the hymn collections seem to have been composed or compiled for purely local needs. The hymns themselves are rather brief, functional pieces; many survive in only one source without attribution, which may indicate that they are the work of a local figure. Occasionally a composer of the stature of Du Fay wrote settings that spread throughout Europe, but this was exceptional.




Sundays of Advent

Conditor alme siderum


Christe redemptor omnium/Ex



Hostis Herodes impie

Weekdays of Lent

Audi benigne conditor

Sundays of Lent

Aures ad nostras

Passion Sunday

Vexilla Regis prodeunt

Easter (or its octave)

Ad cenam agni providi


Jesu nostra redemptio


Veni Creator Spiritus

Corpus Christi

Pange lingua

Trinity Sunday

O lux beata Trinitas

Sundays throughout the year

Lucis Creator optime

Marian feasts

Ave maris stella

St John the Baptist

Ut queant laxis

SS Peter and Paul

Aurea luce

St Michael

Tibi Christe

All Saints

Christe redemptor


Dedication of a church

Urbs beata Jerusalem

Common of Apostles

Exultet caelum laudibus

Common of One Martyr

Deus tuorum militum

Common of Many Martyrs

Sanctorum meritis

Common of Confessor

Iste confessor

Common of Virgins

Jesu corona virginum

The period 1450–1500 is the earliest from which enough hymn settings survive from different parts of Europe to exemplify clearly the differences in regional traditions. In this period in Italy the hymn tune most frequently appears in an ornamented version in the superius. Du Fay’s hymns were included in two major Italian collections (I-Mc 871N and Vc St Peter B80) along with more recent works by Johannes de Quadris, Damianus and Gaffurius, whose settings incorporate the most obvious innovation – the use of four voices. An important pair of choirbooks (I-MOe α.M.1.11–12) includes hymns by Johannes Martini and Johannes Brebis in which the alternation between chant and polyphony is dispensed with; one setting is provided for the odd-numbered stanzas and another for the even-numbered ones. The collection appears to have been part of the repertory of the Este chapel in Ferrara in about 1479, and is the earliest source to contain polyphonic hymns for antiphonal choirs.

Two important sources were copied in Verona in the last two decades of the 15th century. The earlier one (I-VEc 759) contains settings for three voices and a few settings for four that are also found in the later manuscript (I-VEc 758). The two collections differ primarily in the number of voices used in the settings; those for four voices are also slightly more complex. Another northern collection, probably from Venice or nearby, is found as a manuscript addition to a copy of Petrucci’s Motetti de la Corona (F-Pc Rés.862). By far the largest and most interesting collection is that found in I-Rvat C.S.15. The hymn section of the manuscript, probably copied in the mid-1490s, is the first in which the alternation between chant and different polyphonic settings is used systematically. The settings are diverse, ranging from the works of Du Fay to compositions by Marbrianus de Orto and Josquin that probably date from about 1490. The Du Fay settings are found in their original form and in more recent adaptations. The adaptations incorporate either the Du Fay superius or the superius and tenor with newly composed voices to make a three- or four-voice composition. Unlike the earlier versions, all the voices are underlaid in an obvious attempt to update the archaic but venerable settings of Du Fay. The collection seems to have been compiled from materials at hand with new compositions added only when needed. The adaptations of Du Fay’s settings occur chiefly in the settings for the Common of the Saints, among the less important feasts in the collection; they are also the last works in the manuscript, and the adaptations may have been made simply to complete the cycle. One other important Italian source extant from this period is a small collection of hymns in Milan (I-Mcap 2269) that may be by Gaffurius. These settings differ from all the others only in liturgical matters: they were composed for use in the Ambrosian liturgy.

German manuscript sources of polyphonic hymns of the period 1400–1520 are numerous. The largest number of hymns is in the Trent manuscripts, which contain nearly 150 settings; the repertory is mixed, ranging from Du Fay settings and settings originating in Italy to more recent German settings, some as late as 1470. The most interesting compositions are those of German origin. A number of them use a technique that was very common in Germany by 1500 and in all parts of Europe during the 16th century: the cantus firmus is stated in one voice in equal values, usually of one or two beats’ duration. The origin of the cantus firmus is emphasized in some of these settings by the use of chant notation in the voice carrying it (generally the superius or tenor). Against this slowly moving part the other voices weave a very active contrapuntal background; the technique is at times imaginative, as in Veni redemptor gentium, where the chant melody is stated in equal values in the tenor and each phrase is preceded by an ornamented statement in the bass (ex.8). The other settings in the Trent manuscripts usually have the chant melody in the tenor or superius in an ornamented form. Similar settings can be found in the manuscripts CZ-Ps D.G.IV.47, the Glogauer Liederbuch and in the first few fascicles of D-Mbs 3154.

The major German sources from the end of the 15th century are D-Bsb 40021, LEu 1494, Mbs 3154 and PL-WRu 2016, which contain a large repertory of settings by such composers as Adam von Fulda and Heinrich Finck as well as less familiar ones like Egidius Rossely and Flordigal. The cantus firmus techniques are similar to those of the latest settings in the Trent manuscripts with the chant melody stated in either the superius or tenor in ornamented form or in equal values. The Nikolaus Apel Manuscript D-LEu 1494 contains the largest number of settings and shows the variety possible within this genre.

Later German sources include the two choirbooks (now in Dresden) from the St Annen-Kirche in Annaberg, the smaller of which contains a complete cycle for the liturgical year that occasionally employs the alternation of chant with two polyphonic settings. The manuscript D-Ju 34 contains a very interesting cycle in which the settings are absolutely uniform in style; the cantus firmus is stated in the tenor in equal values and is written throughout in Hufnagelschrift. Each text has a number of stanzas individually set to be used in alternation with the chant melody. Where one setting is used for more than one stanza it is copied twice, and a small number of minor changes have been made in one of the settings either to improve the text declamation or to incorporate a hypermetric syllable. These hymns were probably composed for the court of Frederick the Wise; all are anonymous and all are unica.

An unusual trait, found only in a small group of hymns from German sources of about 1500, is the use of a second cantus firmus with its own text, which is taken from various sources. In some cases both cantus firmi belong to the same feast, the added text usually being an antiphon or sequence. Other settings incorporate a secular text and melody which are almost always symbolically related to the hymn text or to the feast on which the hymn would be sung. The German collections are notable for the individuality of their liturgical implications. Since Germany lacked a centre like Rome to set liturgical precedents in this genre, it is impossible to make a chart like Table 1 for German hymnody; however, a number of texts and melodies appear only in German settings and distinguish the German tradition from others.

The first hymn settings representing the Spanish tradition are found in a group of manuscripts copied just after 1500. E-Tc 2 contains 20 settings by Pedro de Escobar, Dalva, Juan de Sanabria, Juan de Peñalosa and Urede. The setting of Pange lingua by Urede became one of the most popular compositions of the 16th century, appearing in over a dozen sources and serving as a model for keyboard works and a cyclic Mass Ordinary. Most of the Spanish settings use melodies of a local tradition as cantus firmi. These can be found in the Intonarium toletanum, one of the liturgical books published as a result of the activities of Cardinal Ximenes Cisneros. The Spanish monophonic tradition used a system of explicitly notated durations which were taken over into the polyphonic settings, unlike other traditions (with exceptions noted above), which apparently assumed equal duration for each sign in the chant notation.

Two 15th-century English sources contain polyphonic hymns (GB-Cmc Pepys 1236 and Lbl 5665); they use the techniques of cantus firmus treatment discussed above and add another that is not known elsewhere and marks them as English. Some of the settings in the Pepys manuscript seem to use a faburden to the chant melody as the cantus firmus rather than the chant melody itself; since in these cases the faburden is in the lowest of three parts, however, the top part is effectively a paraphrase of the chant and the outcome is analogous to fauxbourdon though with a free contratenor. The paucity of 15th-century sources makes a complete understanding of English polyphonic hymn practices very difficult.

Hymn, §III: Polyphonic Latin

2. 16th century.

The most important development of the 16th century was the appearance of a number of cycles for the year by individual composers. No copies have survived of the first printed hymn collection, Johannes Martini’s Hymnorum liber primus (Venice, 1507), although Martini’s hymns can be found in 15th-century manuscripts. The implied second book seems never to have appeared.

After a break of nearly three decades a number of cycles appeared in quick succession. Each of the first two, the collections of Costanzo Festa and Francesco Corteccia, appears complete in one central manuscript source and individual settings were copied in a number of other manuscripts. The Corteccia cycle is in a manuscript that was probably a presentation copy; the preface states that the composer has followed the usages of Florence and of Rome. The Festa cycle survives complete in a manuscript from the Cappella Sistina and was composed in 1539 for use in Rome.

The printed cycles undoubtedly reached a much larger audience. The cycle by Carpentras was printed in Avignon about 1535 with some other collections by the same composer, but may have been composed, at least in part, in Rome. The fact that it includes settings for the feasts of St Margaret and St Anne, two saints who were particularly venerated in the Avignon region, may indicate that at least this part of the collection was composed there. Jacquet of Mantua’s cycle was probably composed between 1539 and 1542, but it did not appear until 1566. In addition two of his works are included in Willaert’s hymn collection, the Hymnorum musica (Venice, 1542). However, some hymn settings by Willaert are extant in manuscripts from the cathedrals of Piacenza and Treviso that were copied before 1542, which may indicate that the collection was compiled from existing works and not composed expressly for publication. The hymns of these cycles formed the basis for the numerous manuscript collections copied in various Italian centres: the extant cathedral repertories suggest that each chapel put together a cycle to meet its own needs from both printed and manuscript settings. Any settings of purely local significance were generally composed by a local figure, often in imitation of the settings in the printed collections. The result is a very large number of manuscript copies of the hymns in these printed collections.

The style of the settings in all these cycles is similar. The composers set either all odd- or all even-numbered stanzas, the other stanzas being sung in unison to the chant melody. The cantus firmus is present in one voice, usually the tenor or superius, in values that are often somewhat longer than those in the other parts, at least at the beginning of each phrase. Motifs from the cantus firmus appear in all the voices in points of imitation (ex.9) and in some settings the cantus firmus voice is canonically duplicated. Generally two to six voices are used, a smaller number for internal stanzas and the larger number for the last.

Two important collections were printed in Germany during this period at the Wittenberg press of Georg Rhau; although they were intended for use by Lutheran establishments, they include the traditional Latin texts. Some of the works included in the first, the Sacrorum hymnorum liber primus (1542), must have been composed for use in the Catholic liturgy since they appear in manuscript sources as early as 1500. Alternative settings are frequently provided, some using different cantus firmi. The print seems to have been intended as a repertory from which works could be selected rather than a fixed, liturgically correct cycle: the composers include Thomas Stoltzer, Heinrich Finck, Wilhelm Breitengraser, Arnold von Bruck, Balthasar Resinarius, Virgilius Haugk, Thomas Pöpel, Adam Rener and Johann Walter (i). Rhau’s second publication, the Novum opus musicum tres tomos sacrorum hymnorum of Sixt Dietrich (1545) is a complete cycle providing settings for all important feasts. Hymns are also included in the Vesperarum precum officia (1540). A collection of hymns for the liturgical year composed for the Heidelberg chapel by Benedictus Ducis, which has not survived, is listed in a chapel inventory with a number of other collections by the same composer.

An important characteristic of the settings in these 16th-century cycles is the attempt to achieve proper text declamation. Hymns present unique problems in that, although they are strophic with each stanza supposedly in the same metric scheme, variations in accent patterns and hypermetric syllables are not uncommon. This makes the use of the same setting for different stanzas difficult, as Corteccia mentioned in the preface to his collection. In some of these collections the same setting is used with more than one text. In the collection in D-Ju 34, the second setting is often revised just enough to allow for a hypermetric syllable or to correct the declamation.

An extremely large number of cycles appeared in Italy in the late 16th century, including those by Jacobus de Kerle (1558, lost; 2/1560), Giovanni Contino (1561), Diego Ortiz (1565), Paolo Aretino (1565), Michele Varotto (1568), Lassus (c1580, manuscript), Victoria (1581), Ippolito Sabino (1582), Francesco Guerrero (1584), Giammateo Asola (1585) and Palestrina (1589). Each contains 30 or more hymns, one to three stanzas being set polyphonically in each hymn. Victoria usually set the even-numbered stanzas and used no more than four voices, the internal stanzas having only three; he did not use canon or five- to six-voice culminating stanzas. Palestrina departed from the more common practices in that he consistently set odd-numbered stanzas and left the first line of the first stanza to be sung to the chant melody, beginning his setting at the second line.

The last of the polyphonic cycles appeared in the 1590s and the early 17th century; they include the works of Giaches de Wert (I-MOd 167–8), Pietro Pontio (1596), Orfeo Vecchi (1600), Costanzo Porta (1602), Orazio Vecchi (1604), Giovanni Cavaccio (1605), M.A. Ingegneri (1606), Girolamo Giacobbi (before 1629) and Filippo Vitali (1636). These collections continue the traditions of the early 16th-century cycles. The collection of Wert is remarkable for its size and its emphasis on St Barbara.

Although the majority of the 16th-century hymn collections originated in Italy, a few came from other places, such as the Hymni sacri by Cosmas Alder (1553) and the cycle by W. Perckhaimer (1564) in Germany. A large manuscript collection compiled in the Munich chapel during Ludwig Senfl’s tenure has yet to be fully investigated. Jacobus de Kerle composed a cycle for Augsburg (c1577) which in its marked differences from his Orvieto cycle demonstrates the importance of local liturgical practices in the formation of polyphonic collections. The cycle by Leonhard Schröter and works by Blasius Ammon, Jacobus Vaet, J. Febure, Cesare de Zacharia and Bartholomäus Gesius date from the later 16th century; the settings by Michael Praetorius (1611) and Christian Keifferer (Dillingen, 1613) mark the end of the old tradition. 17th-century composers such as Johann Stadlmayr and Antonio Draghi employed instrumental doubling, concertante instruments, basso continuo and sinfonias in their hymns, as did their Italian contemporaries. In France important collections were composed by François Gallet (Douai, 1586), Charles d'Helfer (1660) and J.-V. de Bournonville (1612); in England Byrd, Sheppard and Tallis all composed settings characteristic of the main 16th-century tradition. Italy was to remain the chief centre of polyphonic hymn writing, however, primarily because the liturgy was sufficiently uniform throughout the peninsula to make both the composition and publication of an entire cycle feasible.

Hymn, §III: Polyphonic Latin

3. 17th and 18th centuries.

The stylistic innovations of the Baroque period, particularly concertato, were introduced into the hymn at the beginning of the 17th century. Optional doubling of the vocal bass by an organ, as in Asola’s second cycle for eight voices (1602), later became ‘obligato’ and special partbooks were provided, as in the Hymni per tutto l’anno a quattro voci con il basso per l’organo of Pietro Lappi (Venice, 1628). Like the concerted madrigal and motet, hymns were also written for various combinations of voices and instruments (Amadio Freddi, Hinni novi concertati, Venice, 1632) and made use of a solo voice (Andrea Mattioli, Hinni sacri concertati, Venice, 1646). The concertante style of Maurizio Cazzati’s important cycle (1662) for solo voice ‘con violini e beneplacito’ is also evident in the works of C.D. Cossoni (1668), Sebastiano Cherici (1672), G.A. Florimi (1673), Bonifatio Gratiani (1674), G.B. Vitali (1681) and G.A. Silvani (1702). The older style is used in the collection by Filippo Vitali (Rome, 1636) in which the texts of the reformed Breviary (1632) appear for the first time in a polyphonic setting. Cazzati also composed a cycle (1670), for four voices ‘da cappella’ with optional basso continuo, which has been cited as an early example of the attempt to recapture the Palestrina style. This kind of setting was subsequently very common, as in Silvani’s Inni sacri per tutto l’anno a quattro voci pieni, da cantarsi con l’organo e senza (Bologna, 1705).

A number of 17th-century hymn settings appear in collections of music for Vespers, mainly psalms; the best example of this genre is the Ave maris stella in Monteverdi’s Vespers (1610). As collections of this kind increased in number, collections devoted solely to hymns decreased. The scale of the settings, generally larger than that of 16th-century works, may have made the idea of a cycle less popular. Individual hymn settings made less use of cantus firmus technique and more of free composition; some collections, as early as that of Orazio Vecchi (1604), indicate the tendency with such statements as ‘partim brevi super plano canto, partim propria arte’, and early 18th-century collections sometimes include both techniques. The hymn collection composed by Joannis Georgi for S Maria Maggiore, Rome, in the mid-18th century has settings for four unaccompanied voices and for one to four voices and organ. In the former category the imitation of the Palestrina style even extends to beginning the setting with the second line and leaving the first to be sung in chant. Similar settings were composed for the same church in the early 18th century by Pompeo Cannicciari. A number of settings from the 18th century and even the 19th show this attempt to recapture an archaic style that was now valued as specifically sacred.

The tendency to compose individual settings instead of cycles grew during the late 17th century and the 18th until, in the late 18th century and the 19th, no major works were composed. Most of the cycles of the last two-thirds of the 18th century are by minor composers in rather isolated areas; the form was superseded by single settings and particularly large numbers of hymns for major feasts. A composer’s hymn output might include a number of settings of Ave maris stella or Pange lingua and nothing else. There are also settings from this period of single internal stanzas like Tantum ergo sacramentum or O salutaris hostia which were not intended to be used as regular Office hymns but were for the Elevation in Mass or the Salve services.

18th-century hymn composers include Padre G.B. Martini, who composed 60 single settings between 1740 and 1770. These do not form a cycle, nor do those of another large collection of individual settings (for four voices, some with strings and continuo) by A.M. Pacchioni for Modena. G.A. Bernabei composed a collection of hymns for Munich in which he alternated settings for four voices and continuo with settings for solo voice and concertante instruments; Eberlin and Adlgasser composed single settings for use in Salzburg Cathedral. Single settings for Viennese chapels were composed by Ziani, Fux, Georg Reutter (ii) and Wagenseil. A few of these settings retain the cantus firmus techniques of earlier periods, but most are freely composed. The settings by Fux remained in regular use at Göttweig well into the 19th century. J.G. Albrechtsberger composed at least 27 hymn settings for use at Melk (1760–61). Single settings are also known by Charpentier. All these single settings seem to be occasional works by local composers for local use. The only important 19th-century composer who wrote hymns was Bruckner, and those were early works.

Hymn, §III: Polyphonic Latin


R. Gerber: ‘Die Hymnen des Apelschen Codex (Mus. Ms. 1494 der Universitäts-Bibliothek Leipzig)’, Festschrift Arnold Schering, ed. H. Osthoff, W. Serauky and A. Adrio (Berlin, 1937/R), 76–89

R. Gerber: ‘Die Textwahl in der mehrstimmigen Hymnenkomposition des späten Mittelalters’,GfMKB: Lüneburg 1950, 75–9

R. Gerber: ‘Spanische Hymnensätze um 1500’, AMw, x (1953), 165–84

R. Gerber: ‘Römische Hymnenzyklen des späten 15. Jahrhunderts’, AMw, xii (1955), 40–73

R. Gerber: ‘Die Hymnen der Handschrift Monte Cassino 871’, AnM, xi (1956), 3–23

R. Gerber: ‘Zur italienischen Hymnenkomposition im 15. Jahrhundert’, AcM, xxviii (1956), 75–86

B. Stäblein: Hymnen, MMMA, i (1956)

R. Gerber: Zur Geschichte des mehrstimmigen Hymnus: gesammelte Aufsätze, ed. G. Croll (Kassel, 1965) [incl. all articles by Gerber cited above]

G. Haydon: ‘Ave maris stella from Apt to Avignon’, Festschrift Bruno Stäblein, ed. M. Ruhnke (Kassel, 1967), 79–91

T.R. Ward: The Polyphonic Office Hymn from the Late Fourteenth Century until the Early Sixteenth Century (diss., U. of Pittsburgh, 1969)

T.R. Ward: ‘The Polyphonic Office Hymn and the Liturgy of Fifteenth Century Italy’, MD, xxvi (1972), 161–88

T.R. Ward: The Polyphonic Office Hymn 1400–1520: a Descriptive Catalogue, RMS, iii (1980)

J. Roche: ‘“Musica diversa di Compietà”: Compline and its Music in Seventeenth-Century Italy’, PRMA, cix (1982–3), 60–79

J. Bettley: ‘“L'ultima hora canonica del giorno”: Music for the Office of Compline in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century’, ML, lxxiv (1993), 163–214

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