Georg Rhau, one of key figures of music printing and publishing in Wittenberg and Reformation Germany, published almost one hundred editions containing music notation. Besides his popular hymn books, music-theory treatises and pamphlets, his workshop printed twenty-two known polyphonic music books until 1550, making his workshop one of the most productive in all German-speaking lands. Rhau, a trained musician and former cantor of St Thomas’s Church in Leipzig, had close personal and professional connections to many key figures of the Reformation. The music books published by Georg Rhau in Wittenberg disseminated an extensive repertoire of songs, hymns and polyphonic for the Lutheran liturgy.
Many of Rhau’s editions served a political purpose as well. This chapter argues that pamphlets, hymnbooks and polyphonic collections were central elements of the tense political discourse of the Reformation period, and were used to establish and foster a network of Protestant scholars in the Saxon zone of influence. Paratexts like dedicatory letters, short poems and addresses to the readers or woodcut illustrations such as coats of arms or portraits explicitly or implicitly create political meanings. Printed music books containing polyphony written for specific occasions could communicate the ephemeral acoustic splendour of a singular event across time, and through the whole electorate and beyond.
As an example of such political functions, this chapter focusses on a polyphonic music book printed by Rhau, hitherto unknown to musicological scholarship. It contains a motet by Johann Walter for seven voices with a text in honour of the Saxon city of Annaberg. The analysis and comparison of the extant paratexts, and the visual and musical designs of the other occasional polyphonic collections printed by Rhau’s Wittenberg workshop, reveals the strategies behind these publications and raise further questions about better-known collections of polyphonic music.